Crispy Gamer

Scribblenauts: How a Nobody Game Became the Talk of This Year's E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo isn't an accommodating place for upstart games without marketing money to spend. With show floors dominated by enormous video screens and earthshaking audio systems, an unknown game with a few small kiosks has little chance to cut through the spectacle. Every once in a while, though, a game manages to create a buzz without the aid of celebrity press conferences and jet-engine subwoofers. Such was the case last week for a practically unknown Nintendo DS game called Scribblenauts. Hidden away in the movie license-dominated Warner Brothers booth, Scribblenauts wowed early adventurers with its simple, impressively executed concept: Almost anything you type into the game's interface will come to life on the screen and interact with the world.

Scribblenauts: How a nobody game became the talk of this year's E3

Those early players set off a chain reaction of interest, through after-show party chatter, blog posts, videos and tweets. By the end of the week, several big gaming media outlets reserved a space for Scribblenauts on their best-of-show lists. Here's a slice of that chain reaction:



Wednesday, June 3


  • Freelancer and former 1UP writer Nick Suttner posts on Twitter: "Keyboard Cat is in Scribblenauts. Game of the show, by far. Mind is absolutely blown." The mention of Keyboard Cat, the Internet meme of the moment, would surface as a major selling point later in the week.

  • Nintendorks.com posts a video on YouTube of, strangely enough, the very same Nick Suttner playing the game on the show floor. In the video, a Kraken massacres a stegosaurus, a griffin and a jackalope before succumbing to the brutal fighting power of God. The video would eventually find its way onto several blogs and forums, racking up over 100,000 views.

  • I pay a visit to the Scribblenauts kiosk, taking my place in a short line. Soon afterward, a tall guy lines up behind me, jostling for position and peering over my shoulder for a look at the game. I'm totally annoyed. Then he introduces himself to the developer running the demos: "Hey! I'm Casey Malone. I'm a designer on Rock Band Beatles. This is the only game our team wants to play!" He's literally jumping up and down and clapping.



    Thursday, June 4


    Scribblenauts: How a nobody game became the talk of this year's E3
  • The forums at NeoGAF.com, the central nervous system of grassroots gaming buzz, embark on an epic love-in just after midnight, based on early buzz and info about the game. Sample comments: "Ok, game of show, easily." "This game just blows my mind right out of my head every time I hear about it." "The greatest new gaming concept in years." "Game of the Century." Journos at the show, alerted by the NeoGAF buzz, begin making the trek over to the Scribblenauts booth and reporting back to the forums.

  • Joystiq and Boing Boing's Offworld blog both pick up the Keyboard Cat story.

  • At some point in the day (Scribblenauts creative director Jeremiah Slaczka can't pinpoint it because he was away), IGN and 1UP slap best-of-show nominations on the game's kiosks.

  • The booth receives a steady lineup of interested journalists and game developers. Jeremiah Slaczka: "Word of mouth spread like wildfire. Tuesday was awesome, but Wednesday was a madhouse and Thursday was packed solid until 30 minutes before the show ended. I literally had a tough time eating lunch..."


    Friday, June 5


  • NeoGAF user Feep posts the following first-hand account: "I had played all the big titles at E3. Private showings of God of War III, Heavy Rain, Alan Wake. But at 4:00 on Thursday, I was wandering around the show floor, wondering what else I had to see. I saw a small little booth for "Scribblenauts!" in the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment section. I mean, who goes to that booth? But I remember hearing about it on GAF, and so I decided to check it out. Best game of E3? Without a f***ing doubt. Anyone who says otherwise did not play Scribblenauts. Best game of all time? Jesus Christ, I don't know, maybe. It's a game that challenges your IMAGINATION. No other game has ever done that." Feep's post is quoted again and again for several pages. Interest in the game snowballs.

  • Joystiq's Griffen McElroy posts a hands-on preview of the game. The intro: "There's a growing sect of Joystiq writers who are walking away from E3 2009 with the same title constituting their Game of the Show. Surprisingly, it's not a big-budget blockbuster, or a groundbreaking advancement in storytelling, or a bold new method of how we interact with our video games. It's Scribblenauts, an unassuming DS puzzler with a massive lexicon, charming gameplay and, as far as we can tell, a large infusion of impossible technowizardry."



    This is only a fraction of the chatter that elevated Scribblenauts from obscurity to talk-of-the-show. Gamers often feel jaded by the PR-manufactured buzz of E3, the impersonal adver-tainment of endless video streams, press conferences and "exclusive" trailers. It's a relief to see that a game with excellent ideas but no booth babes can compete for attention in that environment. Scribblenauts got the kind of advertising money can't buy: real grassroots excitement.

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