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.
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.
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.
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.
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.