For many, myself included, E3 is the highlight of the year. New games get revealed, old favorites get sequels, and every half a decade new consoles emerge to make the contents of our collective TV cabinets look tired and outdated once more.
More often than not, E3 leaves us feeling excited, but sometimes the conference goes very, very wrong. Announcements that seem like surefire hits bomb horrifically on stage, tech goes haywire, and motion controls make fools of otherwise professional company executives.
For the most part E3 is a slick business conference, designed to build excitement around another year of products, but we live for those moment when the mask slips, and the entire industry is revealed to be the giggling class of children that it so clearly is.
Ubisoft James Cameron
Remember Avatar? No not the anime series that was subsequently butchered by a film adaptation that went oh-so-Shyamalwrong, but the movie starring the blue cat things fighting against an army of space colonists?
It’s weird to think that there was a period when people were excited for Avatar rather than using it as a short-hand for the whole ‘3D gimmick’ thing, but Ubisoft’s E3 press conference was lucky enough to sit squarely within that period in 2009.
So it’s not surprising that someone from Ubisoft thought it would be a good idea to give the stage to James Cameron, Avatar’s director, for a full 15 minutes of its conference as a promo for the tie-in game.
But when Cameron actually arrived on stage he didn’t have any footage to show off, or any details to deliver. What we got was just one man, talking endlessly about the nerdy sci-fi universe he was creating.
He talked, and he talked, and he talked, and eventually when the last person in the audience fell asleep James Cameron, the man who directed both Aliens and Terminator 2 was still on stage droning on and on about the f*cking Na’vi.
Some games need no introduction, and some games do. Ridge Racer, as Sony found out to their embarrassment at E3 2006, belongs firmly in the latter camp.
Compared to some other items on this list, the initiative Sony was announcing wasn’t entirely terrible. Its PSP console, which at that point had been on the market for just under a year in the west, would soon be able to download and emulate PS1 games.
But the way Sony chose to announce this initiative fell flatter than a dick joke at a eunuch’s dinner party. “It’s Riiiiiiiidge Racer!” Kaz Hirai yelled to an unresponsive audience as he held his PSP aloft.
One person in the audience wooped. One. In an audience of thousands.
In that moment Kaz had two options, both as embarrassing as each other. He could quickly move on, ignore the fact that he’d just yelled the words ‘Ridge Racer’ to a silent conference hall, and focus on showing off the PSP’s admittedly cool new feature.
Or he could double down on the yelling in the hope that the room hadn’t appreciated the implications of this megaton announcement.
In his awkwardness, Kaz Hirai managed to somehow do both at the same time, and yelled the two words once more before immediately moving on and pretending it hadn’t happened.
“Ridge Racer!” indeed.
In 2008 Nintendo was on top of the world. It’s new Wii console had enjoyed a level of success that even Nintendo themselves had failed to anticipate, which had lead to worldwide hardware shortages that lasted for months after release.
The world had gone Wii-crazy, and it was Nintendo’s own pack-in game that was leading the charge. Wii Sports was a game that perfectly encapsulated the possibilities of the Wii console with its light-hearted and approachable motion-controlled gameplay.
Wii Sports was the game that launched a thousand ships, except instead of ships it had launched games consoles, and the millions it had sold made Helen of Troy’s paltry thousand look a little embarrassing in comparison.
A follow up was due, and our expectations were impossibly high. Would we get a new franchise to stand alongside Mario and Zelda as a tent-pole of the Nintendo brand?
As it turns out, no we wouldn’t. What we’d get instead was Wii Music.
Now if Rock Band and Guitar Hero taught us anything, it’s that miming along to music while holding a piece of plastic electronics doesn’t have to be that awkward. In fact, it can even be fun in the way karaoke is fun for those of us who are utterly tone deaf.
But Nintendo’s demonstration of Wii Music proudly displayed every negative stereotype about playing music games. It was embarrassing, awkward, and most hilarious of all, sounded completely awful.
Wii Music would eventually go on to be widely panned upon its release later that year and remains as one of the rare examples of a miss from Miyamoto.
Ubisoft Battle Tag
Another one from a Ubisoft conference, but this one comes curtosy of E3 2010 when the entire hall turned to chaos as dozens of gymnasts invaded to play a round of laser tag.
Battle Tag, as the game was officially known, had no place being shown off at the conference. It wasn’t played on a console of any form, and nor did it introduce anything particularly new to a genre that has existed for literally decades before Ubisoft decided to turn up late to the party.
The thing that really sells Batte Tag as one of the most embarrassing moments in E3 history is the reaction of the host Joe McHale, who for whatever reason was told to remain onstage whilst what can only be described as utter insanity erupted all around him.
At first he just stands there, sarcastically commenting on the madness, but eventually it all gets a bit too much for our poor host, who proceeds to hide behind a bit of scenery from the stage.
If I ever get a chance to speak to the planner behind Ubisoft’s E3 conference that year I promise you now that the first (and indeed only) question that I, Jon Porter, will ask that person will be this:
“What the hell were you thinking?”
But there’s one thing that makes Battle Tag look as professional as the opening ceremony for the Olympics. One thing that makes Wii Music look like a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, and James Cameron like Steven Hawking giving a TED talk.
And that thing is Konami’s E3 conference from 2010.
Konami is a weird publisher. Outside of Pro Evolution Soccer and the Metal Gear Solid franchises its games have never really taken off in the West.
The result is that filling a full hour long conference at a Western trade show with Konami games was always going to be an interesting proposition.
But no one could have anticipated what Konami’s conference eventually became.
We had a developer repeatedly nod to generate some applause after having promised that his game would contain “one million troops” (What does this mean? WE JUST DON’T KNOW) and we had another developer stare intently at the back of his colleagues neck whilst he stood just half a foot away.
Most bizzare of all was the arrival of three luchadoors onstage, who then proceeded to slap each other while the host implored them to “save it for the ring guys”.
It’s hard to get across just how much the whole conference felt like a horrible fever dream, and that’s just from watching the compilation videos that have since appeared online. The whole 1 hour 40 minute conference is available to watch on YouTube…if you dare.
E3 2016 starts next week, and we’ll be there to bring you all the hottest news from throughout the conferences and the show itself. We’re hoping that this year won’t bring us too many cringy moments like those mentioned above, but we’d be lying if it wouldn’t be great to add another couple of entries to our list.