Future of E3 audience interruptions is problematic.

Audience behaviour is a complicated topic in the realm of theatre, let alone tech conferences for fans of video games. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is a showcase of games from developers and publishers to we the players and occurs every year in the first or second week of June. While E3 of 2019 was a “meh” kind of year if you were expecting big titles, consoles, or even satisfying demos of gameplay, audience members were less likely to enjoy the conferences (which were also live-streamed for those who do not have tickets to the event itself) on the account of ongoing interruptions from other ‘gamers’—behaviour that companies would do well to avoid.

During the Microsoft conference, audiences around the world were shocked at the reveal of Keanu Reeves starring in CD Projekt Red’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 (quite the surprise, given that the press conference became quite the leaky boat right until it began).

Side note: Reeves seems like a genuinely nice guy, and his clear humility is astonishing as he takes the stage.

“You’re breath-taking” became an instant meme on the internet. This is not problematic. However, CD Projekt Red then sought this audience member and offer a $200 Collectors Edition of the game. This may set a dangerous precedent for conference-goers and companies in the future. Peter Sark (“You’re breath-taking” man) declined the game and asked the developer to donate a go-kart to a Children’s Hospital instead on Twitter that CD Projekt Red would have been poor to refuse. It locked them into a position where they’re out of pocket if they do (even though it’s an honourable move), and condemned by their fans if they don’t. Not only that, but encouraging problematic behaviour only encourages some audience members to try it again for their five minutes of internet fame, if not for a chance at the Collectors Edition of a game.

CD Projekt Red was not the only developer that encountered an overly enthused crowd. Square Enix had arguably the most well-behaved audience of the conferences this year but also its fair share of heckles when they revealed a trailer for the new Avengers game from Crystal Dynamics (“Where’s Hawkeye!?!”). But Bethesda’s conference had a handful of people engage in a curious standing ovation. The constant jeering over the top of presenters, leaving them almost unable to react, had those streaming the presentation accusing Bethesda of buying their audience.

Which is arguably not a false accusation to make. The Gamer reported that one of those in the front row (the people cheering) is on “a first-name basis with ZeniMax Online Studios, the makers of Elder Scrolls Online, which then got him a paid ticket to E3”, but that “he was under no obligation to scream and shout”. Buying audience members, or faking a crowd, is generally considered a poor business practice—to such a point that no definition for it appears to exist.

We all want to find the reasonable compromise, the middle ground, but what we individually think of as acceptable differs very widely. We all have competing versions of what is reasonable in our own heads.

Kirsty Sedgman
Audience etiquette: what is acceptable behaviour in a theatre? by Lyn Gardner

Audience behaviour is a complicated topic. Companies throwing promotional opportunities in there not only makes murky waters darker but also leaves them in a problematic place. Risk praising interruptions in conferences by rewarding those audience members (be it with cash, tickets, or games) and inevitably end up between a rock and a hard place by their audience if they’re caught? Having the person next to you screaming or cheering in the middle of a conference for no reason can prove to be quite the irritation. Imagine what that will be like three, four years down the line after game studios have awarded the loudest audience members. You wouldn’t be able to hear anything—in person, or on stream. Quite the disheartening experience for any audience member.

Tools for audience etiquette are available, and can apply to any performance. Yes, E3 is a place for gamers to come and enjoy the upcoming events or games of years to come, but don’t let your over-excitement deter others from even going.

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