There's a phrase I've heard a lot lately. "Long tail". The theory is that there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people out there just waiting to give you small amounts of time . It's a good theory, and it's accurate, but there's a corollary to it: there's a small number of people out there just waiting to give you *huge* amounts of time.

As game developers, we, of course, want to harness that. Luckily, there are a few good ways to do so.

Many years ago, back in the SNES days, a game called Chrono Trigger had a clever innovation. You beat the game, and then, after the game was done, you could start the game again . . . with your existing characters, levels, and equipment, and with a whole pile of new endings unlocked. It was called New Game+.

The beauty of New Game+ is the the most devoted players, those who had loved the game and wanted to keep playing it, could keep playing it. It wasn't just a grind either, there were things to do that you could do only in this new mode. For example, killing the boss five minutes into the game, with a single character, resulting in a completely new ending. The game contained a lot of equipment that could be gotten once only, but of course, on the second playthrough you could get it again, allowing for combat strategies that simply weren't possible on a single playthrough. And, of course, you could see the effect of different choices on the plot, without having to spend all the time slowly bashing your way through the game at a normal level.

Most players, I assume, never tried New Game+. Or perhaps they tried it for a few minutes and stopped. But some – a very small number of players – played the game over again, once, twice, maybe more, trying to unlock all the endings and all the equipment, just enjoying their time in the game world that they loved.

Recently, there's been an interesting new financial model for games. It's called Free-to-Play. The idea is that you provide a game that doesn't cost any money, then you ask people to start forking over cash once they're already playing. There's a bunch of variations – some leave you hilariously underpowered unless you're giving them money, some games make it mandatory to give them money to proceed, some games make it frustrating to not give them money, some just constantly hound you for money, and some provide a fun game and let you fork over cash for vanity items and out of laziness.

I think there are a lot of interesting moral comments you can make about the various first variations, but this entry isn't about that, which is why I'm going to talk about the last one. Tribes: Ascend is nearing its release date and it's one of the more elegant and friendly Free-to-Play models I've seen. The only things that require money (known in-game as Gold) are purely cosmetic skins – everything else can be acquired simply through experience, acquired by playing the game.

And we're not talking boring grinding, either. The game is a team-based competitive shooter. You get experience by playing the game in a normal fashion. Now, you might think this means that someone who finds the game fun wouldn't want to give them money – after all, there's no reason to do so, you can still unlock everything without it – but there are two distinct groups of people who happily pay out.

The first group is the obvious group: those with more money than time. The game's fun, they want to unlock classes and items, here you go, have some money.

The second group isn't as obvious. It's the group of players who absolutely love the game.

About two weeks ago the first player reached Rank 50. Ranks have absolutely no bearing on the gameplay, they're merely an indicator of how long you've been playing. He's been playing a lot. He posted a screenshot of his progress, and one of the things quickly noticed was that he had enough experience to unlock every single item in the game several times over, enough gold to unlock every single item in the game several more times over, and enough Boost – an experience-multiplier purchased with Gold – to easily acquire yet more complete experience-based unlocks. And it turns out that he'd recently paid them even more money.

There's no logical reason for him to do this. You literally can't unlock anything repeatedly. He already has enough experience and gold to most likely unlock everything the developers will ever release. And yet, he loves the game, so he's willing to put more time and more money into it.

The long tail is usually a major point of interest with free-to-play games. In theory, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who don't care enough about your game to give you $10, but maybe you can get $2 out of them, or maybe you can get them hooked and get $5. And, yeah, you get a lot of money off those people. But nobody talks about the outliers – the people who give you $300 extra just because they really enjoy playing your game. The people who will finish your game from beginning to end two, three, five times, as long as there are things for them to work on and achieve.

I think there's a lot of crossover between the free-to-play customers and New Game+ players. In both cases, there's a person who has deeply loved your world and wants nothing more than an excuse to give you more money, to spend more time playing, to do something more in the world you've created. Not only is this person going to play more, but they're going to evangelize you to their friends.

That's valuable, whether it be in goodwill or cold hard cash.

If you're making a game with a world, if you're making a game with an experience and not just a final boss, remember to let the player leave your world at their own pace. If they want to stick around, make sure there are things for your player to do. The benefits are hard to calculate, but you'll find them very valuable.

Age of Empires Online came out recently. I played it for a bit.

It's fun. They did a good job with the beginning, at the very least. You have quests, like a normal MMO, but each "quest" is an real-time-strategy mission. It's pretty cleverly built, to be honest – if one mission is too tough, you can come back to it later after you've leveled up a bit. "Leveling up a bit" is what replaces the old tech unlocking process. Instead of saying "after mission 12 you can use ballistas", they say "after you gain 12 tech points you can use ballistas", and each mission gives you a tech point, and you can reset your tech points for a fee if you want to try a different build. So that's cool.

It also has an inventory system. You can collect equipment for your units. Equipping units gives your units bonuses. I didn't get far enough to see if this is a tradeoff deal, where you'll be sitting there saying "hmm, do I want faster cavalry or stronger cavalry", or whether it's just a strict linear upgrade sequence. But it exists. Along with inventory comes crafting, where you can take raw materials that you find and turn them into gear, and I'm assuming there's an auction house and trading and all the standard stuff that comes along with crafting.

It's an interesting approach, and I'm not sure if I think it's a good idea – a good RTS is balanced on a razor wire, and this feels like wildly shaking the razor wire. But this entry isn't about that.

Age of Empires Online is "free-to-play" with "micropayments". You'll notice the scare quotes. First off, the micropayments are pretty damn macro. The cheapest things you can buy are $5, and those are purely cosmetic items for your capital city, and there's four of them. For the price of all the cosmetic items, you could buy the X-Com Complete Pack on Steam – including five games, two of which are great and a third of which is totally playable as long as you don't get frustrated easily – and still have cash left for an overpriced coffee.

You can also buy the Premium Civilization Packs. These take the civilization you choose and give you . . . well, the rest of the civilization. See, it's free to play, but it's not really free to play everything. Large segments of the game, including a lot of the gear you get, including Advisors, including a good chunk of the game's economy, are only available if you buy the complete packs, which cost $20 each. Keep in mind there's one of these per civilization. If I've been playing Greek, and I decide I want to switch to Egypt, I get to fork over another $20 for it. That's the price of an entire game.

Then there's a game mode, Defense of Crete, that costs another $10.

And the thing is that I sorta want to play these modes. I enjoy the game. It's fun. It's a nice timekiller between doing other things. But the game spends an incredible amount of time telling me I'm a second-class citizen. "You should learn a crafting skill! You can learn two! Yay, you've learned one! What, you want to learn a second? Haha, I'm sorry, you need a premium civilization for that. Lol. Loser. Hey go do this mission, you get rare equipment from it! You can't use the equipment, but you can totally look at it. Man. Isn't that shiny? Premium civilization, dude. You could make and sell gear like this! Oh, wait, I'm sorry, you need a premium civilization for that. $20. Fork it over."

Which reminds me a lot of Puzzle Pirates. Puzzle Pirates has a similar system, where large parts of the game are locked away. If you want to do all the trade puzzles, you need a trade badge. If you want to captain a ship, you need a captain badge. If you want to go sea monster hunting, you need a sea monster badge.

The difference is that, in Puzzle Pirates, these badges don't cost money. They cost doubloons. And there's two ways to buy doubloons. First, you can pay money for them. Second, you can pay in-game money for them . . . by buying them from other people who paid real money for them.

Realize that Puzzle Pirates still gets just as much cash either way. It doesn't matter who bought the doubloons. Someone bought them, and then someone spent them, and there's no need for those people to be the same person. For someone like me, who treats the game as a fun timewaster, this is perfect. I can burn some time enjoying my puzzling, make ingame money, use that money to buy doubloons, and get access to further parts of the game.

And here's the brilliant part. If, later, I decide I need a ton of ingame money to buy a boat, I can fork over $10 on doubloons, turn those doubloons into ingame money through the exact same trading system, and buy a boat without having to grind.

No matter what game you're making, there will always be people who would like to trade time for ingame shinies and people who would like to trade real money for time. These people are your best friends because, together, they give you money that you would never have gotten otherwise. But if you don't allow those transactions – if you cater only to the group of people who want to trade real money for ingame shinies – then you're cutting out a significant portion of your userbase.

One last story before I wrap this up. Recently, Eve Online added a new cosmetic item: a monocle. The monocle could be purchased in their online store for Aurum, a currency similar to Puzzle Pirates' Doubloons. A little math quickly demonstrated that this monocle would cost $60 if you were to buy it with real money. The community hated it – what moron would pay $60 for a virtual monocle – but CCP stuck to their guns. In two days, they sold fifty of 'em.

I don't know for sure, but I'd wager that the majority of those weren't purchased with dollars. There are a lot of players in Eve Online who have horrifying amounts of ingame money. I'd wager that a lot of those monocles were the result of a player saying "hey, that space monocle is pretty, and I'm space-rich, so, I'll buy it with my space money!"

And yet, CCP still made $3000 in two days, possibly without anyone giving them a single dollar for a monocle.

Guys: Knock it off with the free-to-play games with twenty-dollar mandatory micropayments. Make a sensible economy, then rig things up so that your devoted players can give you extra money and your broke players can consume it. It benefits us all.

Embracing Unintended Game Design

2011, July 29th 9:51 AM

I've done a lot of pen-and-paper roleplaying over the years.

I started with Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, or, more exactly, I started with a horrifyingly botched interpretation of the rules, filtered through my middle-schooler mind. I vaguely recall rolling a d20 for stats and I'm pretty sure we had no idea what spell slots were. Since then I've played three major editions of D&D, three major editions of Shadowrun, had a brief and unfortunate foray into the world of Rifts and a briefer and far more unfortunate foray into a hand-rolled Xanth roleplaying system, and, to be quite honest, spent far more time thinking about roleplaying than I actually did roleplaying.

Anyone who's hung around roleplayers has heard a bunch of the same horror stories. I played this game, the whole damn thing was on rails, we had to read the GM's mind. The GM was a control freak and everything had to happen his way. It was a great game, except that the story always followed the GM's plan, no matter what. If you've played games, you know this GM. You've probably met him, you've probably played in his games, you've probably spent a frustrating hour coming up with clever plans and having them shot down unilaterally.

I used to be that GM. I'll admit it. My Xanth games were the worst example – little more than a thinly veiled excuse for running through the plot of the books, including skipping entire chapters when I couldn't figure out how to shoehorn the player through the *cough* scintillating plotline. My Rifts game was better, albeit only slightly. I had one of my best moments in that game, when the players managed to spy on the enemy encampment and, as what was intended to be a throwaway bit of scenery, I mentioned a huge dragon sleeping off in the corner of the camp. This kicked off about four hours of violent explosive shenanigans that left the camp in ruins. Followed immediately by one of my worst moments when I Deus Ex Machina'ed the entire thing away so I could give a speech. Seriously, Zorba. What the hell were you thinking.

The nice thing about RPGs is that the GM is sitting there, and the GM is a human. So when the players say "fuck that, we're not going into that cave to rescue the Mayor's daughter, that's way too dangerous" the GM can come up with a solution. Maybe they get driven inside. Maybe the mayor offers a bigger reward. Or maybe they just walk away and in the next town they have to deal with people telling stories about the adventurers that ran from a fight. You can improvise, and a good GM will improvise.

You can't really do that with games. When you release a game, that's the game, that's what the player's going to play. If the player doesn't want to go into that cave, well, tough cookies, the plot isn't going to continue until you do.

And that's not really a bad thing. We've only got so much money we can pour into game development. We can't make a game where the player can go into the cave and kill goblins, or the player can go abandon his adventuring lifestyle and become a farmer, or the player can hire mercenaries to go in and clean out the cave and then turn the cave structure into an amusement park serving Goblinburgers and Gnollshakes. We can't make all that stuff fun, we just don't have the developer time. And, for many years, that's where the limit was: you implement a game, the user plays the game, the user beats the game, hooray.

Then we invented multiplayer games and all hell broke loose.

It turns out that human social structures are unbelievably complicated. It turns out that human motivations are deep and multilayered. It turns out that when you have the goal "kill a bunch of monsters, you are a better player if you kill more monsters", and you expect people to go kill monsters independently, some bright person is going to realize that, hey, you can pay people to help him kill monsters, and then he's a better player because he's killing more monsters!

The industry response to this is swift and predictable: They're playing the game wrong. Put them back in their box and tell them to play the game right this time.

And it doesn't work, because we seal up one exit to the box, and then it turns out there's another exit, and the whole thing happens again.

When World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King was released, a player named Athene had a clever strategy to reach level 80 before anyone else. Despite asking the GMs for permission, he got banned for it because he wasn't playing the game right. When World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released, he tried again, this time succeeding. Wanna guess what will happen when they raise the cap to 90? I'm willing to bet Athene will be there powerleveling to 90.

When someone finds a hole in the rules, our first reaction as game developers isn't "whoa, awesome, they found a new way to play!", it's "We have to stop them, because this is our game and you're not allowed to do that." Which we can do, because it's our world they're playing in, we can just push a button and make them stop doing whatever they're doing. Back on the beaten path, boy. That's where you're meant to be. And the game goes on, and we rest, satisfied that we're the master of our own domain, and that the players are playing the game correctly.

Which goes all to hell when we do something outside our domain.

Example One: Chain World. Jason Rohrer bought a Flash drive and put a copy of Minecraft on it. He gave it to someone, with a single set of rules: Do not copy it. Play the game once, building and creating whatever you wish. When your character dies, pass it on to someone else. These are the rules and these are the only rules.

The rules were broken instantly. Jia Ji was the first person who got it, and he put it on eBay and made the buyer promise to send it to specific people next. The community was outraged. He's playing the game wrong. Then broken again, perhaps – the game may have been destroyed, the game may have moved on, but nobody's saying. The rules lasted exactly as long as it took Jason Rohrer to describe them.

Example Two: Eric Zimmerman's coins. At the most recent GDC, there was a talk, and during that talk, coins were handed out. At the end of the talk, the person with the most coins got to give their own talk. Those were the rules, and the rules were defined by Eric Zimmerman.

Ryan Creighton used social engineering to acquire the entire bag of coins, and the watchers were outraged. He's playing the game wrong. So Eric broke his own rules, and gave the extra talk to someone he felt was more deserving. Then Eric broke his own rules again, and let Ryan talk for ten words. Ryan, of course, broke that rule, and gave a substantially longer talk than ten words.

You make a game. You offer to let someone play the game. They play a different game than you intended. Then you get angry that they're playing the wrong game.

This is a mistake.

When Athene plays World of Warcraft, he's not playing Blizzard's World of Warcraft. He's playing Athene's World of Warcraft. It's a similar game, with some of the same fundamental rules, but with different guidelines. In Blizzard's World of Warcraft, you don't join and drop groups to maximize the amount of experience you gain. In Athene's World of Warcraft, you do. And, critically, these are the same games. Neither game has a rule that says you cannot, or that you must, but in Athene's game, which Athene plays to accomplish Athene's goals, you do.

Jason Rohrer bought a Flash drive to make Jason Rohrer's Chain World. Then he gave it to Jia Ji and Jia Ji turned it into Jia Ji's Chain World. Jason Rohrer invented Jason Rohrer's rules, and Jia Ji invented Jia Ji's rules.

Eric Zimmerman invented a game involving coins, and he made Eric Zimmerman's Coin Game. Then he gave it to a room full of people, and each person invented their own coin game. Many of these were equivalent to Eric Zimmerman's game, but Ryan Creighton's Coin Game was different. You see, Eric Zimmerman's coin game was about collecting coins, and Ryan Creighton's coin game was about collecting coins in a slightly different manner that Eric Zimmerman hadn't thought of.

Jia Ji wasn't following Jason Rohrer's rules, and Ryan Creighton wasn't following Eric Zimmerman's rules. But Jason and Eric had let their games escape, and someone else had found a new way to play it. When they realized that, they tried to bring the game back. No. That's my game. You can't play it like that. You're not playing the game right.

But it wasn't Jason Rohrer's game anymore, and it wasn't Eric Zimmerman's game anymore.

When we make a game, we give it life. We create the rules of its existence. But then we send it out into the world, and other people take the game and change the rules and make it their game. Traditionally, this happened in people's homes, with house rules and tweaks and simple unintended misunderstandings, with people finding a new way to play the game or inventing a strategy that we never considered. But today we make huge multiplayer games. When we let the game go out, we tell people they're allowed to play it, but then we punish them for not following our view of how it should be played. We're telling them to play, then forcing them to follow.

I think this is a mistake. More accurately: I think reflexively doing this is a mistake. With multiplayer games there are certainly situations where someone finds it fun to destroy other people's enjoyment of the game, and that should be taken care of, ideally swiftly. But in a situation where one person has invented a new way to play the game that does not harm others, what's the issue? In a singleplayer game, or a sandbox game, or even a multiplayer game, why, whenever we are confronted with someone who's playing our game in a different manner, is our first instinct to stop them?

We cannot and should not hover over people's shoulders, telling them how to play the game. We should develop games that people want to play, and if they discover a way to play the game that we were not aware of? Maybe that's for the best. Maybe we can learn from that. Maybe we can say, hey, you are not playing the game I invented, but that's cool, and your game looks like fun, how about if I change my game to behave more like your game.

Maybe we need to learn to let go of our toys and let others play with them for a while.

Maybe we'll learn about some new games.

Games, movies, and magic have one major thing in common – misdirection. Show people one thing, then indicate to them that they saw another, and usually they'll believe you. In magic, it's harder because they're trying to figure out what you're doing while you're doing it. In movies, it's easier because the person is really just going along for the ride. In games, it's really easy, because the player is being assaulted by zombies and doesn't have any attention to spare.

At least, they don't the first time they play the game.

The second time, they're probably paying a lot more attention to what's going on around them. The zombies attacking, yeah, sure, they're a problem – but we've dealt with them before. Let's look at the other things around us!

This is when they discover how careful the game is at showing you exactly what they want you to see, and keeping you from doing anything besides what you're supposed to.

Not supposed to go through a door yet? It's locked. Got a cutscene to watch? I can guarantee every door leaving that room is locked – even if you just came through it ten seconds earlier. You can walk through a door, have it lock behind you, and then have the very same door unlock the instant you're done with a cutscene or a movie. Happens all the time.

Sometimes they even force you to look in certain directions. Sometimes, this is to make you look at something you're supposed to see. Sometimes, this is to make you look away from something you're not supposed to see. In the first level, there's an exploding shuttle. I bet you remember seeing it explode, right? It was really cool? No! You didn't. Because you can't have. The camera is jerked away from it at the last second, and when you turn back to it, it's already exploded. You're carefully prevented from seeing the exact moment it explodes.

The reason for that, of course, is that animating something large exploding in a realistic manner is expensive and hard. It's easier to just not show it. And it works great . . . up until the person realizes what's going on and decides to try exploring the boundaries.

This is a common issue in games. There are a good number of games out there that pretend you're given choices, but actually prevent all choice. The Half-Life 2 series is a perfect example – the first time you play it feels like an exploration, but every time after that you realize, hey, wait, I'm not allowed to go anywhere else! That exploration feeling was a ripoff!

I should mention that this is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact is that most people will never start a second playthrough – in fact, many people won't even finish the first. It's arguably kind of silly to triple your budget by making content that 95% of your users will never even see. (It's also arguably not. I'll post an entry about this someday.) But it does mean that going through the game a second time is kind of like being invited backstage at a live performance, or having the magician explain his tricks – all those cute things you noticed the first time turn out to be your own fevered imagination running a bit too fast.

Solution? There isn't one, besides solving the hard AI problem and writing programs that can generate content for us. Unfortunately, this is a ways off, and if we ever do solve it, we've put ourselves out of a job.

All I can say is: be aware of it, and try hard to keep the player from feeling constrained. At least, on the first playthrough.

I am a firm believer that every one of the current consoles has something to recommend it.

The Wii, of course, has a novel control method and a good number of interesting family games built around that method.

The XBox 360 has XBox Live Arcade, an increasingly solid game lineup, and the industry's best multiplayer.

The PS3 has a Blu-Ray player and, as far as I am concerned, four games. Those games are: Ratchet and Clank, God of War 3, Flow, and Everyday Shooter.

However. God of War 3 isn't out yet, Flow is a small game at best, and Everyday Shooter is not only a small game but is now available on Steam as well.

I am being completely honest when I say that Everyday Shooter is one of the reasons I was looking forward to buying a Playstation 3. And now it's on my computer, and I have one less justification to buy that Blu-Ray player with a few games attached to it.

I swear, every time I have a reason to get excited about the Playstation 3, Sony does their absolute best to nullify it as quickly as possible. I have no idea what's going on with Sony right now, but this is one of those cases where they should have offered an extra chunk of money just to get exclusive rights. Of course, if I were Jonathan Mak, I wouldn't have taken it . . . so there we have it.

Yes, there will be a dissection, and yes, I am hard at work on another version of D-Net. Right now I'm off to play Everyday Shooter though.

Why the Old E3 is Better Off Dead

2008, February 16th 3:17 PM

GDC, the Game Developers Convention, is coming up next week. It's the first time I've gotten a full access pass for GDC, and it's going to be kind of crazy – five straight days of game development discussion, from 9 AM to 5 PM every single day. Yeesh. In some ways I'm glad GDC only happens once a year – I'm not sure I could stand more than five days a year of this.

It's also gotten me thinking about the other major gaming conventions and why they exist. A few years ago there were three major conventions, and today there are arguably four.

The Game Developers Convention has been around for all of modern gaming – the first meeting was held in 1987 in a living room. Now it rents out all of Moscone Center in San Francisco. GDC is focused on, as you'd expect, game development, including lectures on everything from design and story to the business, finance, and legal side of things.

The Penny Arcade Expo takes the other side of things, as it's focused entirely towards the players. While it's only a few years old, it's been growing spectacularly, literally doubling in size yearly. This year it has most, if not all, of the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. It's three days long and approximately thirty times cheaper to attend than GDC. While there are many conventions where gaming occurs (practically every major anime convention, just to start with), PAX is the only one I know of where computer and video gaming is the focus.

And then, of course, there's E3.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo started as a business convention. E3 was where you went to find venture capitalists, to sell your game, or to see what Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony had in mind for their next console. It certainly didn't stay that way – it quickly turned into a marketing and PR extravaganza. Business deals still went on behind the scenes, but the "focus" of the convention was glitz and glamour. Companies spent resources putting together "E3 demos", flashy and impressive demos that would be shown during E3 and never again, even when the overall quality of the game suffered thanks to the wasted effort. "E3 booth babes" were hired by the dozens, girls in skimpy outfits (that rarely had anything to do with the game or company) simply for the purposes of attracting a small amount of extra attention.

It was not a good situation, and virtually the entire industry eventually realized this.

About two years ago all of the major exhibitors at E3 withdrew. E3 was canceled and the owners revamped it thoroughly. What emerged is now known as the E3 Media and Business Summit, preserving the original business focus but eliminating all the glamor and glitz that plagued E3. The new E3 is invitation-only, instantly cutting attendance by over a factor of ten, and it has gone back to its original roots.

That's not completely the end for old-style E3, however. There's a new offshoot of E3 known as Entertainment For All, an attempt to make a fourth major convention based around what E3 used to be. There's little I can say about this because it's only a year old by now, but the focus appears to be, again, marketing – providing a place where the common gamer can show up and be advertised at. On their website there's very little on what to do besides the expo floor – it's entirely concerned with, hey, come to E for All! We have new games! And people who want to sell you new games!

This is something that we don't need.

First off, the publishers don't need any help advertising. There are already plenty of ways that you can buy people's attention with money, and we certainly don't need more of them. You could argue that we need more ways for smaller games to carve themselves a market share, but a huge convention like E for All simply isn't going to provide this unless they subsidize smaller developers heavily. Floor space costs money, and smaller developers can't afford that money – even the big publishers generally try to cram as many separate games as possible into their space, frequently managing to squeeze several games into the size of the smallest purchasable floorspace.

But second, and most importantly: a separate "marketing convention" is counterproductive. The largest group of gamers are going to be at the conventions which are fun in their own right. That's PAX. Nobody says "hey let's go down to the advertising center and see what they want to sell us", but people will gladly go to PAX and, once there, they will visit the expo hall. That is where they should be attempting to get people's attention.

Unfortunately, just moving the advertising to PAX doesn't fix the problem. The huge downside to E3-as-it-used-to-be was the sheer cost. If you had a major game coming out in the next year, you had to be at E3, you had to have an impressive booth with booth babes and free stuff and a flashy demo available. All of these costs, plus all of the effort needed to get a demo ready for that day no matter what, was a significant money drain. While PAX thankfully hasn't been allowing booth babes much of the rest could still apply.

Worse, I'm honestly not sure how useful, from a pure marketing standpoint, talking to gamers is. The gamers will no doubt generate some of their own publicity when they see new and exciting games (this is, after all, the point of marketing, right? Showing things to people who might buy them? Not just showing things to everyone, loudly and repeatedly with flashing colors?) but the unfortunate fact is that it's hard to beat the sheer advertising factor of having your game shown on every gaming news site. There's some risk of the PAX expo hall turning into a self-contained incestuous glob of marketing – despite how bad that situation is for everyone involved.

Fundamentally, the idea of an "advertising convention" is broken. Conventions are for large masses of people, when what marketing wants is for their products to show up in magazines. That doesn't require a large number of convention attendees at all, that just requires a few phone calls. Combining the two just leads to nastiness, where the publishers and game studios go to more and more expensive extremes in order to attract the few "important" people.

PAX serves an important purpose as it is now, and GDC certainly does as well. But we don't need another old-style E3.