The death of the press conference

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On Feb. 20, Sony held a press conference. In it, they finally revealed their new game console, the Playstation 4, after months of speculation, rumors and reported leaks. Dozens of developers and producers were trotted on stage to expound upon the virtues of the new system, making grand, fantastical promises without really showing anything concrete. New games were also showcased, although they all fit inside fairly conventional generic moulds — there was a shooting game, a racing game, a couple of action games and a puzzle game. This was all presented to a small group of journalists, and streamed live to thousands of spectators. It was lengthy, flashy, expensive and, more than anything, unnecessary.

Imagine if a large film studio, like Disney, operated in this way. They would refuse to talk to the press about any new projects, staying silent until a large press conference or convention where they would force a handful of producers — who are complete strangers to public speaking — to announce and talk about upcoming films for two hours in front of a small cabal of journalists. This would be an absolutely ridiculous way to go about things for a film studio, yet for whatever reason this is the way nearly the entire video game industry acts.

This system is built around secrecy and a lack of transparency, where companies withhold information from consumers until they can unveil it all in an overblown presentation aimed more at journalists than their fans. Doling out information in this fashion only serves to distance companies like Sony and Microsoft from the people who play their games, and establishes a relationship based on empty promises and distrust. People still haven’t forgotten the many features Sony advertised at their Playstation 3 launch event that never made it into the system, and how some of the games they displayed turned out to be CGI renderings instead of actual footage.

In an age where information can be shared instantly with an enormous audience, there is no reason for game developers to carry on acting like the press conference is the only way to talk to their consumer base. The runaway success of many independent game projects on Kickstarter, such as the Ouya and Double Fine Adventure, has proven the effectiveness of talking directly to fans, and has shown how receptive people are to the open, transparent development of consoles and games. Nintendo has already taken this lesson to heart, and has began making major announcements through a monthly video series called Nintendo Direct. In these videos important people such as Satoru Iwata, Reggie Fils-Aime and Shigeru Miyamoto talk directly to fans in a congenial and often comedic manner, establishing a relationship based on transparency and mutual trust. 

Nintendo treats its fans like old friends, while Sony treats its fans like easily excitable children. As long as people continue to hyperventilate over Sony’s events, this is not going to change.