Hype Check: Debunking E3’s Marketing

If you judged each of E3 2016‘s conferences by the volcanic applause following each announcement, no matter how minuscule or massive, then you probably think everything the developers said was written by God himself on a stone script. But you’re smarter than that. I know you are. So, in continuation of our ‘anti-E3’ coverage, here are some of the moments when the creators and executives of the show were misleading, vague or “economical with the truth”.

The Elder Scrolls Online named “Best MMO” of 2015

When one of the speakers for Zenimax came out to talk about the Elder Scrolls Online, I was surprised. But when he said that it was named the “best MMO of 2015” I was astounded. After all, I reviewed it, and it was not very good. But as many people pointed out: what other MMOs came out that year? And where did this claim come from anyway? The developer was likely talking about this article from MMORPG.com, which was written, halfway through 2015, in July – more than a year since the game’s initial release on PC.

The developer went on to say that TESO “now supports a highly engaged community of over 7 million of you.” But where does that number come from? There were 772,374 subscribers in August 2014, according to the firm SuperData. The game has since ditched its required subscription in favour of a one-off price, but thankfully Bethesda themselves explained where the number comes from. They meant the game has had 7 million players in its lifetime. That means the figure is technically accurate, although you might need to adjust the definition of “now” and “highly engaged.”

Microsoft’s “diagram” of the new Xbox One S

To kick off their conference, Microsoft showed off the new “sleeker” model of the Xbox One, which they said was 40% smaller. But during the video, full of glimmering HD close-ups, this image also appeared. An outline of a box that quickly shrunk to the size of the smaller console. As a human with eyes, your first reaction is “wow, that got a lot smaller”. But as a human with a brain your second reaction is “wait, that is NOT what 40% looks like”. The real difference is much less noticeable when you place the consoles side by side – as IGN journalist Joe Skrebels pointed out afterwards – allowing you to fit a single renowned novella in the slim space Microsoft have shaved away. What’s more, all the big talk during this announcement does not even translate into a better machine.

Everyone’s use of on-stage “players”

Some of your favourite companies are sticking to this timeless pretence. The notable exception being the demo of Final Fantasy XV by Square Enix, which was so clumsy and repetitive that it had to be real. It’s easy to understand why publishers don’t want someone to screw up a dramatic jump and have “YOU ARE DEAD” show up in the middle of a big presentation. But please dispense with the false banter and human puppets on-stage. Otherwise, it will become one of those bizarre lies we all simply accept, like pop stars miming their hits, or Santa.

Nowhere was this stagecraft more obvious than Ubisoft’s stealthy-then-shooty demo for Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Mercifully, they didn’t have the actors on stage but the co-op demo did feature a man switch to his non-suppressed firearm before shouting “they’ve seen me!”. Which was like seeing an actor at the theatre react to a bullet wound and then hearing the prop gun go off.

Ghost Recon’s big claim

The developer for this game also claimed that it was “the very first military shooter set in a massive, dangerous open world that you can play entirely in solo OR in up to four-player co-op.” This is one of those weird spin sentences that only becomes true with the last few words. Like saying: “I am the only man here with the strength to lift a bus!” and then quietly adding “…if I take these steroids and practice.” Even the normally forgiving audience of E3 did not entertain his awkward pause for applause.

The entire Final Fantasy XV VR demo

The VR stuff shown during Sony’s conference was very fetching for the most part. They showed a small roster of games that will be playable using their consoletastic headset. But when the Final Fantasy XV section began the first-person vision was so bad it looked like it was being controlled using a joystick, with absolutely none of the telltale head swiveling that VR headsets create. Depicting the character wearing it in-game along with a first-person view was probably just a placeholder for the final thing but it was still a terrible representation of a promise that was clearly not yet workable. And if you don’t want to believe us, ask some of the journos who got to try it out for real.

Any time someone said a game would be “different every time” or offers “endless replayability”

This is one of the cardinal marketing lies in the industry. EA said this during its Battlefield 1 presentations about it’s huge multiplayer maps and Ubisoft said it about its Underground expansion for the Division, probably in regards to its randomly generated urban dungeons. But honestly, how different can you make shooting people through a red cross-hair “every time”?

Even if the environment slightly changes? Technically (again) they are correct. But we all know these sayings are just a rhetorical trick. When you walk over to your refrigerator, it is “different every time” – the temperature is different, the time of day is different – but you still reach for the same packet of cheap American singles, and you still walk away feeling slightly ashamed of your wasted life.

Look out for more of our anti-E3 propaganda over the next couple of days or check out more pro-E3 2016 news instead.


  1. Rizlar says:

    Best E3 article! More lies than an EU referendum campaign.

  2. BenAttenborough says:

    What are American singles? Have I been living a sheltered life?

    • Meat Circus says:

      Processed cheese slices. He’s being coquettishly Colonial.

      • Boomerang says:

        Americans shouldn’t be allowed cheese. They do awful things with it. Spray-on cheese! No.

        • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

          Ban shredded cheese!!! Make America grate again!

        • skorpeyon says:

          I am American, and I am extremely grateful that we are allowed to have proper, delicious cheese given what we have done to it on average. The only thing processed cheese slices are ever good for is grilled cheese or topping hamburgers, and even that is rather lacking and can be done better with the proper REAL cheese. Basically, it melts really well, and it’s cheap, something most other cheap cheeses around here don’t do all that well. It’s just honestly not that good.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          Clearly, you’re unfamiliar with the entire state of Wisconson, or the almost criminal delight that is Vermont aged cheddar.

          But it’s probably not your fault. I think we only export the gross stuff, like McDonald’s or Budweiser, which are terrible even by our standards.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        Even better is that each individual slice is encased in plastic, and you get a whole block of ’em at once: some images
        I grew up with them for a while and still find them okay as a snack, but after that while, we started getting vastly better American cheese at a local Amish market.

        Best use for American cheese? Breadlessly sandwiching a layer of peanut butter, of course.

        • Premium User Badge

          particlese says:

          But please, please eschew the American singles for some old Cabot. Their “seriously sharp” Cheddar is common in New England and variably obtainable elsewhere, and it’s vaguely along the lines of Davidstow’s 18-month variant but without the cheese crystals. (That Davidstow is the closest other cheese I’ve tasted). But if you can find it, Cabot also has a 5-year “old school” Cheddar which does have the crystals and is way better than any other cheese I’ve had, with the possible exception of a 3-year Gouda I once had which was absolutely divine but, naturally, not Cheddar.

        • Nauallis says:

          Yeah, you know cheese singles are bad when you just stop unwrapping them before melting one onto a burger. Literally no change in taste.

        • MithrilWomble says:

          Cheese on peanut butter? Without sprinkling potato chips on first? Are we savages?

    • Meat Circus says:

      Either that or Brendan has lots of shrink wrapped lonely women in his fridge I dunno.

  3. GWOP says:

    Terry Crews uses mice and keyboards woohoo!

    • Chillicothe says:

      And got rekt buy a bunch of console-playin’ stoners too. :P

      But my deal with E3 in this era has been “this isn’t coming out this year unless they say it’s coming out on a specific date right here in this conference” to keep expectations in check.

  4. Blackcompany says:

    Has E3 finally reached the pathetic stage? This stuff is cringeworthy.

    Why would ANYONE remind us TESO exists? It’s WoW with a TE S skin or close enough to make no difference to me.

    I think this sort of thing is another sign of an industry full of publishers who desperately want to make and market movies, not games, and just couldn’t quite get there.

    • Caelinus says:

      It is a well supported game with significant and fun feature updates, interesting questing, and the one of the best and most fair pricing models around.

      It is also gaining significantly in popularity recently, as people are starting to drop their old, tired rhetoric about it. (Which you stated almost verbatim.)

      Is it a themepark MMO? Of course. But it certainly does not play like WoW beyond the most simple of comparisons. And every feature pack and update they release make it more distinct.

      So, while this marketing may not be entirely accurate, the game is worth looking at for people who like MMOs, as it is easily one of the best on the market right now.

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      I share a similar sentiment about the TES card game, but I don’t actually care in the end since other people will enjoy it (those filthy communists/capitalists/racist Altmer, etc, etc), and it doesn’t take much of my time to read a headline and skip the article or *gasp* paragraph.

      But back to ESO: It’s been great for getting my TES lore & landscape fix while waiting for TES six, and it handily slakes my barely-existent thirst for MMOs. Sufficient cause for a reminder, I think, when all that’s openly coming to the table is a Skyrim re-release and that card game.

  5. spacedyemeerkat says:

    Uncompressed pixels.

  6. MiddleIndex says:

    more of these please

  7. Ancient Evil says:

    Wow, so subversive! Marketing is full of shit, what an amazing exposé! Thank goodness you’re here to expose the truth behind The Man’s propaganda. And you’re right, here at RPS we’re too smart for this stuff. We see through the lies. Not like those other sheeple, those corporate drones who go to those mainstream websites.

    In all seriousness though – I realize I’m hypocritically doing the exact kind of mean snark I deplore right now, but I’m just getting this weird aroma around this “anti-E3” stuff and it smells kind of teenaged. If you add in a little more of that RPS stylistic touch that suggests the writer isn’t taking themselves too seriously, it would probably go away. And needless to say, any selfies of the writer wearing a Green Day shirt or anything that looks like it could have been from Hot Topic probably isn’t going to help matters.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      95% of the gaming media breathlessly laps this crap up, so it’s extremely refreshing to see some cynicism applied.

      RPS, as usual, are getting it just right – calling out the bullshit while reporting positively on the things that actually look good.

    • mika76 says:

      Haha – wrote a whole critique of RPS in general as a response here (I agree with you wholeheatedly) but it won’t let me post it – seems I triggered some security something or other. Nice RPS.

    • ZippyLemon says:

      I get you, but I don’t see the harm. The lies told by marketers in this industry are very regularly borderline illegal, and the only reason they carry on is that people keep swallowing it and saying thank you. So what if writers get a bit churlish when fact checking bullshit of this magnitude? I’d rather have that than ritual acceptance of the same promises made and broken every year.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      You’re seriously getting angry over RPS calling out lies and extreme truth stretching, rather than being another marketing arm of the gaming industry?

  8. Viroso says:

    I was confused by that Ghost Recon chatter, what did Ubi want us to think?
    They didn’t write it like fake player talk but they also wrote it way too reactive to be NPC talk.

    • Apologised says:

      In fairness, Ubi ALWAYS do the fake chatter thing. See their E3 presenations for The Division and R6:Siege from years past. Fake as hell chatter possibly lined up with actual gameplay.

  9. notcurry says:

    Thanks for pointing out all this terribleness. I’m amazed at how many people happily buy into it.

    One day they will accidentally pull off endless replayability and go out of business as a consequence.

  10. Hyena Grin says:

    What is it with marketing? They are so convinced they need to lie and mislead in order for anyone to care about their products, even for games which really ought to sell themselves.

    No matter how big and beautiful a game might be, no matter how many fans are lining up to bask in the hype, marketing will still pinch out some real cringe-worthy claims about the product.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Because the majority of people believe it. Those people also don’t keep up with sites like RPS, or are maybe young enough to be influenced so they nag their parents to buy them shit.

      Those that put a tiny bit of thought into it see through the facade instantly, but it’s also a tiny percentage of the customerbase, so it doesn’t matter. Which means this crap will never go away, which is good for employment all around.

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      That’s the marketers justifying their massive budgets.

  11. XxBrentos9xX says:

    That last little part of the article was quite great, good boost to the work day.

  12. Matys says:

    Just registered an account to comment here. Been dabbling with your site and transitioning over from PC gamer and this story put me over. Every E3 I cringe at most announcements / Cgi hype / Pre-renders / gameplay walkthroughs and wonder if I’m just going crazy or if the people in the audience at E3 are just clapping to be nice. Thanks for being the first site I’ve read at to tell the truth everyone dances around. Love your articles, keep up the good work. You got a new regular

  13. Apologised says:

    The main memories I have of this years E3 coverage are:

    Ubisoft claiming that Watchdogs 1 sold well. I nearly did a spittake at that. Watchdogs did “okay” at best saleswise. The ONLY reason that we’re getting a sequel is that Ubi aren’t doing another Assassins Creed game this year and the guys who normally do that needed something to do. We all know this, it’s fine! Nobody minds Ubi if you call a spade a spade!

    Ubisoft grotesquely misunderstanding what we wanted from For Honor and giving it a plot and a singleplayer mode. Nobody is going to play that, this is a Multiplayer Game like Quake 3 or World of Tanks. I can only assume that this is once again more excess talent that is usually working on this years Assassins Creed needing the work.

    God of War 5…6? That’s looking pretty good, God of War with a dash of The Last of Us, it’d be pretty hard for Sony to mess that up.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Say what now? I wasn’t the least interested in For Honour until they announced an internet people free mode.

  14. Creeping Death says:

    I’m surprised you didnt mention Microsoft’s constant throwing around of the term “HDR”. I’m still not sure what they are referring to with that. Surely they cant mean what Half-Life 2 managed to do 11 years ago?

    • brgillespie says:

      As far as I can tell, they’ve upgraded the hardware just enough to give their games the same performance metrics at a “4K” resolution.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      No, the new HDR they’re talking about is display technology.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Yeah, I’m disappointed too, I clicked on this article to check any references to that.

      It would seem that behind the (current) “HDR” buzzword lies a revolution of 90’s scale, much bigger than the gradual evolution of Liquid Crystal Display resolutions : “HD” => “FullHD” => “UltraHD”.
      It seems to encompass :
      – Larger contrast & brightness (with both LCD and LEDD in mind)
      – Wider color spaces (from 33% sRGB/Rec.709 to 45% DCI P3 or even 63% Rec.2020)
      – A different luminance/color transfer function (“gamma curve”), with the sRGB one designed by HP and Microsoft in 1996 for Cathodic Ray Tubes.
      – More bits to represent colors : while 10 bits is already supported by Rec.709, hardly anyone uses it. It’s the minimum in Rec.2020 (and is needed, due to the larger color space).

      Now, one issue is that there seem to be two “HDR” standards competing right now, HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
      Microsoft putting their weight behind one of them would mean something…

      Also, the inertia of the World Wide Web being currently completely based on sRGB is likely to make the transition to “HDR” very long and arduous…

      Discussion here :
      link to neogaf.com
      Some technical explanations :
      link to ngcodec.com

  15. fish99 says:

    That Xbone S size comparison is pretty funny, and thoroughly misleading. Good to see them getting called out on it.

    The other stuff I picked up on while watching the events live because they were such obvious BS.

  16. ventron says:

    I agree about the ESO numbers thing, but when it comes to the ‘MMORPG of 2015’ ordeal, of course they are going to refer to some judgment from way after launch, most likely at the end of 2015. Which means your launch review might not be up to date anymore. You rightly stated that ESO launched in 2014, which also makes the question ‘What other MMOs launched that year?’ redundant: apparently the judgment was not limited to launch titles, but MMOs in general. The article you were looking for were the MMORPG.com 2015 awards in which technically all MMOs were entered: link to mmorpg.com

    Debunk as you will, all I get from this segment is you are surprised it was named MMO of 2015 in december 2015 because of your review of the game april 2014.

  17. hjarg says:

    “But honestly, how different can you make shooting people through a red cross-hair “every time”?
    Even if the environment slightly changes? Technically (again) they are correct. But we all know these sayings are just a rhetorical trick. ”

    Agree with everything but this. If the environment and layout changes, it removes the “i’ve fought in the very same map for 1000 battles, i know the chokepoints, likely enemy approach locations and all the other stuff by head. Hell, i remember every pixel of the map by head” factor.
    Makes it a bit more fresh experience. Of course, you will still be shooting at people…

  18. chabuhi says:

    Wait. Santa … what are you saying exactly?

    More importantly, how the hell do you know what I’ve got in my fridge, stalker?!?!