Old is New
Last week was E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Known informally to be the biggest video game industry convention in the world, it’s one of the toughest places to get (or even harder, keep) attention. Triple-A gaming companies throw millions of dollars into press conferences and booths every year, with dubious return on investment. In terms of sheer wattage and promotional expenditure, it’s one of the greatest shows on Earth.
Of course, it has to be. The entire event is aimed explicitly at a demographic with the world’s shortest attention spans and most battle-hardened “bullshit detectors”- gamers, primarily belonging to Generations Y & Z. Speaking broadly, it’s really, really, really hard to get members of this group to pay attention to things outside the periphery of their existing interests, let alone “engage” with them. But on Sunday June 11th, a little gaming studio called Devolver Digital accomplished the impossible. They held their first E3 press conference ever, and, in a sea of multimillion dollar events by established industry players, they got some attention.
The press conference, broadcast on Devolver’s Twitch channel and subsequently uploaded to YouTube, is 15 minutes of pure absurdity, sharply-honed satire of the current gaming industry, and copious amounts of fake blood. For cynical online gamer types, it’s about as good as it gets. Several prominent gaming news publications ran stories about the event in the days after the broadcast, Twitter and the comments sections of every upload of the event are filled with glowing praise, and most notably, Google searches for Devolver have skyrocketed at a rate unseen outside United Airlines circa April 2017.
Of course, not every company can afford to be so avant-garde in their promotions. Devolver, which has partnered with Adult Swim on game tie-ins for its shows in the past, knows that its audience is just as likely to be watching clips from “The Eric Andre Show” as they are to be following E3. This is the genius of their E3 conference- it played right to their core audience of irreverent gamers, and had the added benefit of being off-the-wall enough to score free PR coverage for the sheer “WTF” factor the event exuded.
Putting on an event like this was a risky move for Devolver. The joke of the whole show could have fallen completely flat, setting them back thousands of dollars with no buzz or engagement to show for it. There’s any number of ways it could have failed spectacularly. So, how and why did the event go so well, and how did it garner so much attention? In our view, because they used one of the oldest tricks in the book- they challenged the conventions of their category. In the internet age, thinking outside (or openly lampooning) category conventions in a theatrical and/or irreverent enough way can be a powerful differentiator and attention grabber. If your audience also happens to be one of the most jaded/B.S.-savvy demographics on the planet, so much the better.
Devolver’s success story is a testament to the kind of thinking that has inspired us at Mechanica for years- a company restless with the stale confines of their industry and the hollow pageantry of expositions, they took a big risk and reaped ample rewards for it. Their press conference underscores the continual power of challenging category conventions, regardless of industry. In this, the age of content oversaturation and peak noise, it pays to be this “out there.”