Post E3

[In which I discuss that shows like E3 force developers to think about the essence of their games ]

I’m writing this one from the airport. We’re finally packed up and good to go after what seems to have been a pretty good E3 for us. I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been so exhausted. But I’m also happy.

The road to LA started about 2 months ago for us, and when we began this particular journey, it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing. That didn’t last very long with the first crack in the plan appearing when we realized that in order to be featured in magazines at the time of the Divinity – Original Sin announcement, we’d need to show the demos we wanted to show at E3, one month before the actual show.

You’d think that after having been 15 years in this industry I could’ve predicted that one, but for some reason, the thought never occured to me, and the result of course was that we needed quite a few heroic development efforts to save the day.

Actually, when Tom, our PR agent, told us in april that he scored a visit from PC Gamer to our offices, my initial reaction was to cancel the entire thing. At that time we literally didn’t have a lot to show. Our development had been organized such that it would suffer minimal impact from having to make a demo for E3, but that visit meant we had to somehow cram 8 weeks of work in 3 weeks or so.

It was madness, but in hindsight, I’m glad we did it.

The major reason for that is that it gave us an an opportunity to test-run our presentations on a real life journalist and see if what we were trying to communicate actually registered. While I think the presentation we gave to Richard from PC Gamer was probably the weakest of the bunch, it did help massively to make the future presentations a lot better. Richard unwittingly became our guinea pig ;)

Next came the horde of journalists from all over Europe that invaded the Larian offices for a period of two weeks or so. That too wasn’t planned in our original E3 schedule. Given that we knew from the PC Gamer presentation what worked and what didn’t, we rushed to fix as much as we could between the period of the PC Gamer visit and the other visits, making plenty of changes in our approach and again not sleeping a lot`.

Here too  we learnt a lot about how to present our games, because 15 guinea pigs are better than 1 ;)   So when those presentations were done, and there were only three weeks left before E3,  we decided to turn the wheel yet again and made plenty of changes, knowing full well that we were playing with fire. A lot of short nights followed once again, and we actually boarded our plane to LA with builds that had been made only hours before.

It was a very very close call.

Arriving in LA, with a jetlag that received a boost from all those short nights, we spent two days rehearsing nearly every word. Realizing that some things still didn’t communicate as well as we’d wanted them to, we even fired up the game editors and changed things one day before the show.

I’m pretty sure most development directors reading this aren’t approving of this one bit. We could’ve gone with a slightly improved version of what we showed to PC Gamer a month before, and that would’ve worked too, because in the end they are the same games. However, reading the first coverage I think all the effort was really worth it.

For one, what I’m reading corresponds with what we wanted to tell. I’ve read previews in the past that didn’t do that at all. On top of that, reading what’s being written makes me want to try out the games. I’m not sure that was the case with the previous coverage.  People are still being cautious, which makes sense given that they’ve only seen the games for 10 minutes, but they did seem enthusiastic . That I think only happened because for most of the things we told them, there was something happening on the screen that corresponded to the words we were saying.

I read an interview somewhere, I think with somebody who was formerly at EA, that he considered E3 & events like it a necessary evil to force focus on making the essence of a game crystalize. It’s painful for the development teams, buy it ensures that they don’t get sidetracked in features that aren’t important, and it  stress-tests their development pipelines. That observation was  clearly based on experience.

Prior to going to doing all these presentations, we were unsure ourselves about certain things, but this event forced us to think things through and decide about them. It also gave us a couple of new ideas which originated by discussing with industry people. The warrior skills in Divinity – Original Sin for instance will undergo some change based on an idea a journalist gave us.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves how good our presentations were (or not) by posting videos when we get back to the office, but I really need to go board now. Here’s in any case the wrap-up of how people reacted to Divinity – Original Sin.

 

  • Lightinglockey

    I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing the whole backstory to E3.  All I thought of E3 was a week of showing off games, not all the work and money involved.  I astounded quite a few people with how much you ended up spending for your small area.

    Looking forward to the videos and enjoy your rest on the way back!

  • Arne

    At least now you’ll get a few more hours to sleep. How many original sin posters were pasted on that wall? Good night!

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      The correct answer I think was 33 so whoever came close and sent a mail is going to be one T-shirt richer. 

  • Arne

    After all these posts it might seem a stupid question, but still: wat have you exactly gained by going to E3? Do you expect every man that set foot at your stand to write a preview on DC/LS (although they might have experienced only 10min of gameplay)? Or perhaps a review next year? Or do you simply hope people will buy it cause it could be found on E3? Please remind me :|

    • Arhu

      Lar mused about that very topic in an earlier post of his: 
      http://www.lar.net/2012/04/20/the-caveman-who-discovered-fire/

      • Arne

        That’s a good reminder, though it doesn’t guarantee anything. Will it be worth the effort? Since this is Larian’s fist visit to E3 they’re probably just hoping so for themselves (now it’s Lar’s time to become a guinea pig). So a summarizing post should be very educational.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      Your question is very good one, so I’m going to try to write up a separate post on the topic trying to quantify it. It’s an analysis we need to do because it’ll impact our appearance at GamesCom in August, and once we’ve done it, I’ll share the results.

    • Jack Dandy

       Any publicity is good publicity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      E3 is an amplifier of the message, for Disney or for Larian, no matter the size. Throughout the show we got the chance to show the game to perhaps 200 people. Most of them will share their impressions. Sometimes via a blog post, a preview piece, or just through saying at some future meeting – ‘yeah, that game is solid’.

      So there are two ways of looking at the worthiness of the show: a simple is, the cost of E3 = the cost of extra 2.5K units of Larian’s games sold at full-price, digitally. Did we manage to get enough attention so that these extra sales will happen? We definitely did. 

      A more complex way is to consider the relationships that any and every studio must build, and keep, in order to be a part of the industry. As an example, we had high-level guys from three digital platforms that cover, perhaps, 90% of all international digital sales at the moment. All three took their time to look at the games in detail. And of the three, two also stopped by to look at Dragon Commander in August 2011 during GC. How do you quantify this? You don’t. 

      But in a few months, our game will be in their release schedule, and someone will say – do we want game A, game B or game C on the front page for the launch? – and hopefully, the guys who saw our games at this E3, will say – ‘let’s just put Dragon Commander there, because we’ve seen it, it’s great, it’s original, and it’s going to be a discovery for our audience’. Which in turn will help us reach many more users.

      E3 is currently not very efficient as the tool – expensive, difficult logistically, etc., – but there’s no doubt that for a studio/publisher with a message, this is a great way to help that message get around.

  • http://twitter.com/JerreyRough Chris Dempsey

    Nice. Wonderful insight once more! :)