For those of you who might be unfamiliar with EB Expo, essentially, it’s the Australian equivalent to other game related shows such as E3, Tokyo Game Show and GamesCom. Well, except for one core difference. The EB Expo is entirely organised by a retailer, and as the name suggests, that retailer is EB Games, the Australian cousin to America’s GameStop. The concept of an exhibition is pretty straightforward and provides a great opportunity for publishers to get their latest and greatest into the hands of the public. Ultimately, the goal is to spread product awareness, but I was very curious to learn how the concept would adapt with retail being added into the mix.
Let me begin by telling you a little bit about Perth (our hometown), which is one of the most isolated cities in the world with a population of over one million people. Of course, we have all the amenities that you would come to expect from a major city, so please don’t get the wrong impression in that regard. However, one thing we will never have is literal connectivity with the rest of the world. Essentially, it’s always going to be inconvenient for people to reach us without a long plane flight. Naturally, this means Perth would often miss out on a lot of exciting events that the rest of Australia, and especially other locations in the world might take for granted. Admittedly, the number of attractions making the trip to Perth has improved in recent years. However, despite a significant gaming audience that also include many dedicated social communities, there is still not lot going on with gaming in Perth outside what we try to organise ourselves.
EB Expo 2013 was going to be the “Big One” as both Sony & Microsoft were promising Australia’s first ever hands-on with the Xbox One and PS4. Naturally, I anticipated this was an opportunity that Perth was going to miss out on, and considering that the goal of GameCloud was always to represent our hometown to the entire industry; this meant that the EB Expo was an event I could not miss out on. Honestly, the idea of flying across the country on my own was a little intimidating, but I also made sure to remind myself that every great journalist had to start somewhere. I knew I had the ability, so why not take that next big step? It has always been a dream of mine to one day attend E3 as a member of the press, and this meant that EB Expo was going to be the perfect learning ground. And thus, I packed my bags and prepared myself as best I could with the limited information on offer.
As I flew across the Australian Nullarbor, I sat there thinking about all the people I was about to meet, the games I would get to play, and how I could even begin to write about all of my experiences in a way that was completely different. To be honest, a lot of what I was going to see at the expo had already been covered by a hundred websites before me, so how could I keep this article interesting without all my efforts being made redundant by the time it was published? And then it dawned on me; why not write a documented account of my experiences? It was only a year ago that I was playing games the same way as everybody else, so the concept of press coverage was completely new to me. Essentially, I could deliver an article that might be helpful to other aspiring journalists like myself, whilst still providing an exciting account of all the games I played as well. Finally, I had found my angle!
First up, I think the best thing to talk about are my impressions of the expo itself as I specifically went in on the Friday night with a public pass in order scout out where everything was and get a general understanding of how it worked. I have to admit, I was genuinely shocked by how grand everything appeared when I walked through the doors! I’ve been to a lot of different “pop-culture” exhibitions in Perth, so I had a rough idea on what to expect when I arrived. And yet, I definitely wasn’t expecting to see things like the Battlefield 4 tank or the “almost” life-size Titan over at the Microsoft booth. I guess when you’ve got an organiser with lots of money, why scrimp out on the punch? Visually, it looked more like Tokyo Game Show and E3 than I could have ever anticipated; so of course, walking through as a consumer, it was an incredible experience! EB should really be commended for their effort!
However, when I began to examine the expo from the perspective of a media representative; it actually started to come together quite differently than any of the other major trade shows. Initially, I asked what would happen if this type of event was organised by a retailer? Well, the answer is quite simple; there would be a greater focus on selling stuff. Now, I want to make it clear that I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, because using sales as the driving force meant EB Games were willing to invest greatly into the scale of an event which otherwise would not have been possible in Australia. I can live with that, but it’s worth explaining how it differs from similar events. First, the floor was populated with PR representatives; I struggled to find any development crew. Secondly, there were pre-order booths everywhere. Clearly, the idea is to preview the game, offer a purchase incentive, and then lock down the order. It makes sense, and as a consumer it probably a much more exciting way to pre-order.
And yet, as a member of the press, it was an entirely different experience. Unlike E3, this expo was almost entirely consumer focused, with all of the priority queues reserved for those who had paid for VIP Access. Fair call. It was understandable, but when some booths like the PS4, TitanFall and Battlefield 4 had wait times of almost 2 hours, I started to get a little worried. Fortunately, a good attitude can go a long way; instead of complaining, I organised to meet the lead representatives for each booth. Honestly, they were all really inviting towards the media; In fact, each representative took the time to answer all my questions, and Sony/Microsoft even made special arrangements for me to get around the queues. Overall, it was a positive learning experience, and a great opportunity to meet people. And then it clicked; I had done it, I was actually on the other side of the fence!
Naturally, I think a lot of curiosity is going to be focused around the two new consoles, so let me start off by sharing my impressions for each. First off, I’ll start with Microsoft as I need to provide clarification; I didn’t go in with the greatest perception of the Xbox One because of the DRM incident and subsequent policy shifting. However, the Xbox team at the expo really shifted my opinion on the console. Honestly, their booth was easily the best of the show, and immediately I could walk in and pickup a Xbox One controller. Straight away, I got the opportunity to play Forza 5 which looked fantastic and allowed me to experience the improved rumble feedback in the triggers. Looking at the console itself; it was smaller than expected, and the Kinect was larger. Although, the controller was what I had to get my hands on. My thoughts: it was compact, and the triggers were moulded in a really interesting way. It will take some getting used to, but ultimately; it’s better than it’s predecessor in every way.
Speaking about Xbox One games I got to play, I’ll surmise: Killer instinct was fun, and precisely what I expected. Dead Rising 3 had a bit of an aimless demo, so I struggled to get invested; It still looked great, but I needed to see more. Ryse: Son of Rome has received a lot of criticism, but I got to play a co-op match with the Xbox guys, and from what I saw, it was nothing like the E3 reveal. I wouldn’t say any of these games “excite” me, but I was still impressed. However, the real star of the show was Titanfall. Essentially, I went through a briefing session and then got to compete in a 12-player match with other press members. I struggle to be excited by FPS games lately, but this was different. It was empowering whether you were on the ground, or controlling a Titan; and the double jump/wall running works perfectly. I quickly understood why the wait time was over 2 hours. It was great!
I think it’s safe to say that PlayStation 4 has been the “Golden Child” of the next-generation. And yet, I have to vent my frustration towards the design of the Sony booth. It was incredibly difficult to get your hands on a PS4 as they were all upstairs and blocked off by a 2 hour queue. Alternatively, they were also available with Assassin’s Creed IV, but that had an equally long wait time. Without a doubt, a lot of people never got their hands on the PS4, and that was a big shortcoming on Sony’s part. However, the direct representative from PlayStation was absolutely fantastic, and she even organised to take me up to the top floor. My initial impressions: The console itself was smaller than I was expecting, and the PS4EYE was especially tiny; that shocked me a bit. Of course, the core focus was all about the controller, and I have to admit it was my favourite. It’s a little bigger than the Dualshock 3, but the improved thumbsticks/triggers felt just right. To be honest, I was a bit sad going back to the old controller.
In regards to the PS4 games I got to play, I have to admit I wasn’t really feeling the “exclusive” line-up. DriveClub looked great, but I’m not really a fan of driving sim games, and then there was Knack; I guess it’s what I would call “neat”, but it’s really just the PS4 equivalent of Kameo; and who remembers that? Naturally, I enjoyed the indie games on display, but they couldn’t really provide me with a good reason to purchase a PS4. Fortunately, the gameplay presentation for InFamous: Second Son provided that reason; that was definitely the “system-seller”. And yet, it’s not available at launch, which meant all the pressure fell onto Killzone: Shadow Fall. Graphically, it was one of the most impressive games on the show floor, and in my opinion; the multiplayer experience was second only to Titanfall. Honestly, I had a great time playing and can see a lot of potential. To surmise, It’s clear to me that the PS4 also has a lot of potential, but the strength in its launch line-up relies too heavily on 3rd parties right now.
Moving away from the “next-gen” console obsession; there was still so much to see and do! Battlefield 4 was yet another of those games which had a ridiculously long line; bit in this case, the EB Crew let me go VIP! Initially, it began with a briefing session, and then all 32 of us in the group proceeded to step into a large darkened room with 16 PC’s a side. To be honest, it was an incredible amount of fun as I haven’t played Battlefield competitively since the original 1942. It was a really nostalgic experience for me, but I genuinely think fans of the series will be satisfied. From there I stepped across to play Assassin’s Creed IV on PS4, and that was my first actual hands on with the console. The game was pretty much what I expected it to be, with a demo that focused mostly on naval warfare. It’s improved, and I actually think it will be a great entry into the series. At this point, I got busted for taking pictures with the PS4, but they were pretty cool about it as it was the only “no photo” zone in an open area.
Unfortunately, there were no playable demos for Ubisoft’s other big guns, but I did get to sit in on a closed demonstration for both Watch Dogs and South Park: The Stick Of Truth. The Watch Dogs demonstration appeared to be from the same video that featured online a couple of weeks ago. However, the PR staff did a great job to show us a variety of different features; including the Dark Souls inspired “Hacking” mode that allows players to invade each others games. Eventually, the demo ended with a hilarious showdown involving a lot of C4, and based on what I saw, I think I would definitely say that Watch Dogs is one of my most anticipated games. On the other hand, South Park had me worried going in as I had not seen any gameplay footage at all. However, we got to see an actual playthrough, and so I can clarify that it is in fact a turn-based RPG that utilises dialogue options to create a reasonably dynamic narrative. It’s not open-world, but it certainly exceeded my diminished expectations!
A new console generation is always exciting, but let’s be honest; we’re probably not going to find any “Game Of The Year” candidates from either launch line-up. However, as a longtime fan of Dark Souls and Final Fantasy; their prospective successors were definitely what I wanted to get my hands on the most. Straight up; Dark Souls II was precisely what I was hoping for. The new graphics engine looks great, and whilst it’s now a bit more accessible than before, it never compromises the difficulty that the series has become well known for. On the other side of the Namco Bandai booth, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was also playable. I think it would be fair to say that the series has been going through a rough patch this generation. However, I genuinely think fans are going be surprised with this installment. Lightning Returns was the most surprising game of the show and exceeded all of my preconceptions about the game. Introducing players to an all new battle system, I recommend checking it out!
To surmise; I got to play a lot of other upcoming games over the weekend as well, some of which included: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Ninja Gaiden Z, Dying Light, Batman: Arkham Origins; and then there was everything that Nintendo was showing as well. Straight up, there were that many playable games on the show floor that it would be insane to try and write about them all in a single article. However, there was one thing that stood out to me more than anything, and that was that nearly all of the best games were coming to the current generation as well. Ultimately, this gave me the impression that there probably wasn’t any sense of urgency to purchase either of the next generation systems at launch. Naturally, that’s just my opinion; but with Watch Dogs being delayed until Q2 2014, I think anyone who isn’t a hardware enthusiast could comfortably hold off until then.
It really was incredible just how much was going on at EB Expo 2013, and despite spending two entire days roaming the Sydney Showgrounds, there was still so much that I couldn’t make the time to be apart of; there were fireworks, parades, panels, demonstrations, and so much more. Fortunately, I did get the time to join in on some other fun activities such as going hands on with the Oculus Rift, joining the audience of Good Game LIVE, gathering loot to bring back to my friends at home, and relaxing with a drink in the League of Legends Lounge. Admittedly, the extended wait for some games felt a little daunting at times, and yet, with that being said; the intention of EB Games was always to come out and put together a great exhibition for gaming, and that’s exactly what they did. Ultimately, I think the big question is: would I want to come back next year and do it all over again?
As I sat back in my chair for the plane flight home, I reflected on this question. As an aspiring journalist without a lot of experience, I admit that I found the strong consumer focus to be a little challenging whilst learning the ropes. However, there was just something incredible about knowing that I was one of the only people on that show floor representing Perth to the rest of the industry. In fact, it was a topic that I got to talk about a lot throughout the weekend. Honestly, most of the PR representatives were really interested in learning more about the gaming communities of Perth, and even keen in some cases to discuss potential event opportunities to organise back home. As I reflected back on the beginning of this article, it occurred to me; isn’t that what I created GameCloud to do? It might only the first big step in a long journey, but you can bet I’ll be out there again soon!