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Roundtable: E3 for Everyone?

The GI.biz team discusses the LA show opening its doors to 15,000 members of the public

E3 2017 is going to be open-to-the-public. The Entertainment Software Association yesterday announced that it would sell 15,000 tickets to all comers, giving consumers access to the show floor, panel discussions, and other events at the show that had traditionally been limited to those working within the games industry.

GamesIndustry.biz reached out to a number of developers and publishers to get their feedback on the move, but since the move will impact the press as well, we thought it only appropriate to offer some staff opinions in a roundtable format.

Brendan Sinclair

The ESA's move to open E3 to the public makes perfect sense for a number reasons. First, the internet has allowed developers and publishers to sell their games directly to customers, without the need to go through the gatekeepers E3 was originally set up for, like brick-and-mortar retailers and the press. Social media lets you reach the same enthusiastic young target demographic they always pursued without having to win over magazine editors, and online storefronts let you sell directly to them at a better profit margin without having to worry about how many boxes Walmart will want. Second, members of the public willing to pay $150 to get into the show are going to be far more enthusiastic about what they see than members of the press who develop a thousand-yard stare after a busy week covering way too many games on way too little sleep with way too much pressure to get it all done yesterday. That may sound a bit trivial, but publishers love a circus atmosphere around the show, whether they admit it or not.

"There were so many GameStop employees and fringe bloggers crowding the LACC that it was getting difficult for people to conduct their actual business at the show"

After a massive E3 2006 with 60,000 attendees, the ESA did its best to reformat the show because it was felt there were simply too many people who shouldn't have been there. There were so many GameStop employees and fringe bloggers crowding the LACC that it was getting difficult for people to conduct their actual business at the show. That led to the reviled E3 2007 in Santa Monica, which led to a return to the LACC and an even-more-reviled E3 2008.

With just 5,000 invite-only professionals at the show in 2008, it became clear just how much publishers missed the fans they were trying to keep out. Ubisoft's Laurent Detoc memorably called the show terrible, saying it was "like a pipe-fitters show in the basement." It turns out the unwanted masses they booted from the show were the same ones that made it fun, that cheered and hollered at every big game reveal, that generated a buzz about so much of what was on display. I expect that opening the show to the public will bring back some of that circus atmosphere.

Finally, 15,000 tickets at the early bird price of $150 comes out to $2.25 million, or as much as 15% of the money the ESA brings in from a standard E3, based on the ESA's previous Form 990 filings.

The show itself might not be as easy to cover for the media, and the crowds will mean more waiting in line for games played on the show floor, but the ESA has clearly--and correctly, in all likelihood--decided those are drawbacks worth enduring.

James Brightman

As I walked around the Los Angeles Convention Center and the surrounding area at last year's E3, I continually ran into people who were excited about the show - but many of them could not get in because they were not affiliated with the industry in any way. The ESA tried to appease those people by inviting them to a free-of-charge event held in a few tents next door at the LA Live complex. Enthusiasm for that idea was big, but the ultimate result was quite disappointing. "I expected something bigger where we could play some of the big, upcoming titles," one E3 Live attendee told me at the event.

Clearly, as Brendan states above, opening the show floor itself to the public and letting these fans get hands-on with big, upcoming titles makes a lot of sense. Publishers are recognizing the value of reaching their audiences directly, and E3's resistance up until now to inviting the public in is likely a big reason why companies such as Electronic Arts took it upon themselves to put on a separate show, EA Play. What doesn't make a lot of sense, in my humble opinion, is to allow 15,000 additional people into the show at the same time as everyone else. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but last year's 50,000+ attendees did make it hard to get around at times. Unlike a lot of the so-called professionals who were blocking my path to get to my next important appointment, I'm actually there to do my job. When people are shoving you, or coming close to even trampling others as they rush to get to the front of lines or to enter the West or South Halls at the start of the day, something is amiss and it's certainly not a professional atmosphere.

"When people are shoving you, or coming close to even trampling others as they rush to get to the front of lines or to enter the West or South Halls at the start of the day, something is amiss"

My vote would be to simply follow a system similar to the Tokyo Game Show. Offer a couple days to the fans to see all the games, have fun, and then give the industry a chance to do actual business on the next 2-3 days. This approach would not only be more productive for the press and other professionals, but it would quite literally be more productive for the ESA, which could then double or triple that 15,000 tickets figure. Generating $6 million or more is a lot healthier for the industry than $2.25 million.

If last year's 50,000 figure is jumping up to 65,000, personally I'm not thrilled with that. On the other hand, maybe the ESA is doing some things behind-the-scenes that I'm not aware of, like instituting much stricter registration policies. Maybe a good chunk of the teenage faces that have been running around the show floor will actually have to buy a ticket. Ultimately, while I don't fully agree with the execution, I am definitely encouraged to see the ESA taking steps to keep E3 relevant. The show has been tweaked many, many times in the past, and it can certainly adapt again if the 2017 version isn't quite hitting the right mix.

Christopher Dring

E3 remains the most important week in the games industry calendar. Every year people question its relevance, and every year it surprises - even in 2016, when businesses were missing from the show floor, there were more conferences and announcements and overblown stands (whether that was 2K's Mafia III stand, the Zelda world Nintendo created or the Resident Evil mansion). Blink 182 playing the Bethesda party, and entire building next door dedicated to EA games and even a slightly rubbish consumer element - it was a gluttonous and noisy - noisier in fact - than it's ever been.

The problem is the viability of the central show in the middle of it all. It was initially a retail event where deals were done and signed at the LA Convention Center, but that rarely happens anymore. It morphed into a press event, but with the growth of direct-to-consumer marketing, that's no-longer so important either. To survive it had to change, and letting gamers in through the door is exactly what it needed to do. It's not as if E3 is some stuffy business affair, either, it's always been full of gamers - just ones that managed to find a way in through the ESA's 'professionals only' rule.

"It was initially a retail event where deals were done and signed at the LA Convention Center, but that rarely happens anymore. It morphed into a press event, but with the growth of direct-to-consumer marketing, that's no-longer so important either"

There are two natural suggestions that people are making about E3. The first is that the show should follow the Gamescom lead and split the business and consumer areas up. That works really well in Cologne, but then Koelnmesse (the building it is based in) is absolutely huge and has the floor space to enable that. The LACC is not a small place, but it doesn't have that capacity. The second option is to extend the days over the weekend and allow the consumers in once the business has been done. That makes sense logically, but it's asking a lot from those attending the show. E3 is a busy and exhausting week already. Just imagine being a developer making a major announcement on the Monday, and then running a stand from Tuesday right through to Sunday. It'll require extra resource, money and time.

Of course, they could have an overlapping business/consumer day on the final day of the show. They could (gasp) try a different venue. But rather than making a dramatic change, it is perhaps the prudent thing to do to invite a decent, but still small, number of consumers to the show. See how that goes down with the publishers, and then make a more dramatic move in 2018.

Dan Pearson

As someone whose writing career has been focused on covering the B2B angle for the last seven years, with a particular interest in indies and the unusual, I've actually never found that E3 has the biggest impact on my personal schedule - so much so that I've only actually attended once. GDC is probably my equivalent - with its seemingly endless list of talks and the chance of bumping into just about anyone roaming the halls, the Moscone Centre show is always where I've been able to get most done.

Yes, E3 generates vast volumes of news and a wealth of amazing trailers, but not publishing previews or reviews (and being highly averse to crowded spaces) means that I've never really found it hugely useful to actually attend. It's actually a lot more efficient for me to watch the big platform and publisher conferences from home, and that's certainly not going to be improved by the addition of 15,000 people who are simply there to enjoy themselves and play as many games as possible. I think it's safe to say that I've had my last E3.

Of course, that's an entirely selfish perspective. I still like the fact that E3 happens even if I'm not there myself, and there's no better platform for Sony, Microsoft and to a lesser extent Nintendo, to make a big splash with hardware news and exclusive announcements. But even from a physical remove I understand that many of the problems which E3 was once geared up to address are either no longer issues or more easily solved elsewhere, meaning the show has to evolve to survive. Once you factor in the consideration that social media means 15,000 members of the public are probably going to generate a considerable amount of press copy of their own, even the potential negative impact on press access isn't so much of a blow.

This may well be E3 making a change because it's been forced to, but that doesn't necessarily make it a bad decision.

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Latest comments (9)

Rogier Voet IT Consultant A month ago
I still don't know why the E3 does not copy the formula from the much better organized GamesCom in Cologne (Previously the Games Convention in Leipzig) with a decicated press day / seperate area for Industry Professionals and some huge halls for booths for the general public - with normal ticket prizes. This new attempt of the E3 is halfbaked (again).
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Christopher Dring Senior Editor, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
@Rogier Voet: Hi Rogier. That does work very well, and it definitely makes sense. As I mentioned above, the challenge is the size of E3. Koelnmesse is absolutely massive. It's the size of a village. LACC isn't that big, nor does it have the right transport links and parking facilities for an event the size of Gamescom.

I think maybe a new venue could be considered, definitely an option for them. Perhaps for next year?
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I was at Gamescom last year E3 when it's good like two years ago is great and far better. Last year's E3 wasn't and this further move to a consumer event is the nail in the coffin.
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i suspect E3 IS trying to emulate the popularity lf gamescom, to be relevant...however, this is not very condusive to games dev/business

GDC is probably a better medium and format for both
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Gary LaRochelle Digital Artist / UI/UX Designer / Game Designer, Flea Ranch GamesA month ago
Didn't they already try opening the doors to the public in the early days of E3? I heard they ran into the problem of the general public walking off with (stealing) equipment (controllers).

Also:
As reported by Gamespot, an initial batch of 1000 tickets will be sold at a early-bird price of $149 each, before the remaining 14,000 are shifted at $249.

"Priced at $250 (or $150 as part of an early bird discount available on February 13), tickets provide access to the show floor, panel discussions, and other events from Tuesday through Thursday of E3 week."
http://www.gamespot.com/articles/e3-opens-to-the-public-for-the-first-time-ever/1100-6447663/

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gary LaRochelle on 9th February 2017 3:36pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A month ago
I've always thought that Japanese industry trade shows have given a good example, two days of business, followed by a weekend of public days. However this move comes at least a decade too late, what you're going to do is have a whole bunch of people who drop the price of a new console I'm going to E3, and find out how boring it really is if you don't have a reason to be there. They'll find out that they can't play any of the games they want to play, that two thirds of the games on exhibition have a demonstrator, and that they need an appointment, which they won't get because they're not a level press to play pretty much anything. The only games I've managed to play have been the ones that few people care about, or when I've managed to sneak back in the booth.

If I were the ESA, I would put that on the same page you buy the tickets, I make you click through a realities of E3 disclaimer. The ESA basically gave what they should've been to PAX
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
One 30 minute demo on Youtube will reach ten times the people all the public 30 minute demos of one week of gamescom put together.

15.000 tickets does not mean a tradeshow suddenly faces or services the consumer better than before. E3 should not chase after gamescom, it should develop a concept that goes the next step, bringing the show to the consumers' homes better than a couple of livestreams.

Why should a company pay for E3, when it can rent some space next door and reach more people with a stream all by themselves? The E3 of the future will have to provide more than a roof and some space. It needs to be a public platform and it needs to be part of a bigger video production.
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Andrew Whitehead Community and Content Manager, SeaNannersA month ago
As many have already stated, just opening the show up isn't enough. Like others who've been year after year I can tell you it's already got issues without extra people coming in. For example, the line to watch the Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I mean watch the trailer in a Zelda-themed cave not play it, had a line of over five hours. To play the game you had to line up basically as soon as the doors opened at 10am, and anyone lining up after 11am was turned away as that was all they could take.

Working with the press I got through the whole Breath of the Wild booth in just over an hour, including time for photos and hands-on with the game backstage for 45 minutes. I bet we can expect the same for Mario Odyssey this year - a huge booth and now and even more insane line for the general public.

I'm really not trying to sound elitist here, and look if I was outside the industry I'd probably buy a ticket, so I'm not saying people shouldn't go. But based on past experience the lines are worse than Disneyland.

I have no issue with the ESA doing this, but I really do get the feeling that without a HUGE re-tooling of the show it's going to annoy a lot of fans. The hype for E3 is huge for gamers, and I think the stark reality of lining up for literally the whole day to play one or two games will be sobering.

I hope they shift to the Tokyo Game Show model in 2018.
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Jeremy Meyer Entertainment Columnist A month ago
I love and hate the idea of E3 being open to the public. I agree with the splitting up days or extending the show for a day or two.

Now in regards to splitting the show with industry and public areas. Its time to open up Kentia Hall again and make that the industry only area. Also what about the concourse area between South and west hall?? If you make those areas industry and let the two main halls be the circus the public has been waiting to attend legally???
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