Who 'won' this year's E3? Devolver, actually

Opinion
4 months ago by Kris Ligman

Every year, videogames' largest advertising event shows us more of the same. But one press conference gave us something different.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is not a three day event held at a convention center in Los Angeles. E3 is more of an idea. "Gamer Christmas" is how I've heard it described, if you consider Christmas a time of hearing about things you might get to pay for three months or three years down the line.

But more realistically, "E3" encompasses not just the show floor but the press events which surround the conference, most of which are offsite and hardly press-only at this point. (As Vlambeer's Rami Ismail points out, the conceit of E3 and its press conferences comes from before the advent of easy streaming and open betas; in the next few years, we'll likely see E3 completely transition into a consumer-facing show where press presence is peripheral at best.) These press conferences start days before the actual expo, with EA's "EA Play" event bolting first out the gate this past Saturday, a full three days before the show floor was set to open.

First-party publishers and hardware giants Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo each held their own press events this year -- Nintendo once again forewent the press conference format entirely and just did a prepared video stream. In addition to these, major third-party publishers including Ubisoft, Bethesda, Square Enix and (as I mentioned above) EA also held their own press and fan shows. And then there was Devolver Digital.

Devolver is not a major publisher... It's basically the very definition of an underdog press.

Devolver is not a major publisher. It typically only puts out a handful of titles a year, and only really came to prominence with its first critical/commercial smash hit in 2012, Hotline Miami. It's growing, to be sure, and has cultivated a strong brand image as a publisher of grindhouse action games and other niche genres -- but for a commercial event at the scale of E3, Devolver is not a major player. It's basically the very definition of an underdog press, an identity Devolver clearly revels in.

So folks were a little perplexed when Devolver announced it would be streaming an E3 press conference on late Sunday night, right on the heels of Bethesda's live show. Did Devolver even have enough to announce? What would the event even look like? Devolver is so aggressively "outside" E3 it hosts its demo event across the street from the actual conference; did a publisher like that even do corporate-y things like this?

And then the stream started. I won't even try to describe it because it's best to just watch it for yourself. Here's the entire archived broadcast:

Social media was quick to deem the stream a toptier "E3 shitpost." There's an "it's three AM and Adult Swim is on and I have no idea what's going on onscreen anymore" vibe to the whole thing, like you walked in on an undergrad's amateur sketch comedy show after taking too many edibles. But it's also full of calculated potshots aimed at the billion dollar games industry against which Devolver loves to position itself. All the nonsensical corporatespeak, the gratuitous ultraviolence, the press "audience" indistinguishable from a loyal fanbase, the reducto ad absurdum sketches on prioritizing the customer as the one true authority on what a game can and should be -- it's not only a parody of the E3 marketing circuit, it's a challenge to why any of us are even here (all 68,000 of us, by ESA's own official estimates).

What a Cronenbergian tech-fetishizing death spiral this industry has become.

"What a Cronenbergian tech-fetishizing death spiral this industry has become." That's what the Devolver press conference seemed to say. A shitpost of glitch art, stock footage, and cheap special effects it may be, but it's also cutting right to the core of what these E3 press briefings even are.

When the expo halls' lights dimmed yesterday evening at the close of the conference, Devolver's little 15 minute stream from Sunday night (and apparently the whole HOURS of strange improv which followed it) was already long forgotten. There was a new Mario game to think about now; discourses on E3's transition to a consumer show to be had, planes to catch; embargoed coverage for journos to file. Gamer Christmas vanished into the night leaving us only with a head full of release dates and trailer screens.

And, lest you think I'm moralizing from on high, the same applies to me. I enjoyed much of what I saw at E3 -- including a couple titles I demoed at Devolver's own offsite event. I find all the memes about Mario's new possession ability fucking hilarious. But whether you attended in person or watched the streams online, you have to acknowledge that most of this year's event resembled what we saw the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Keeping a machine like the E3 advertising/hype cycle going demands this kind of monotony; the same performed enthusiasm and hyperbole-by-committee repeated into meaninglessness.

Devolver Digital's press stream punctuated all that noise. It was unvarnished; unmediated. It was a wooden splinter stuck in E3's smooth alabaster skin. It had someone's head explode.

Nothing else even came close.