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Time to reinvent E3

The nature of E3 has changed, and it's time to reinvent the show: A modest proposal

The Electronic Entertainment Expo's contract with the Los Angeles Convention Center is expiring in 2015, and the Entertainment Software Association is free to find another venue. As is normal when such a contract comes up, public statements are the first maneuvers before contract negotiations begin. "E3 is a world class show that deserves a world class venue. The Los Angeles Convention Center is no longer a top-tier property," said ESA head Mike Gallagher in an interview with CNBC. Before signing a contract for E3 at any venue, though, the ESA should rethink the very nature of E3. As the game industry is changing, the nature of E3 is changing. How and where E3 occurs should also change, and radically.

First, the ESA needs to recognize and acknowledge that the target audience for E3 has changed. The show was originally staged as a place for publishers to show off products to retail buyers first and foremost, with the intent of maximizing orders. Secondarily, while you had all those booths set up to impress buyers, you might as well show products to the media and get some press coverage. Yes, ultimately gamers bought the products, but if a game wasn't on a shelf in the store gamers couldn't get it, and probably didn't even know it existed. So the focus of E3 was impressing retail buyers.

Now the distribution and sale of games has been utterly transformed. Yes, there are still plenty of games sold in retail stores. But there's only a handful of retail chains that matter: GameStop, Walmart, Target, Best Buy in the US. Other countries with substantial retail sales have different chains to consider, but the basic reality is the same. For a fraction of the cost of an expo booth, a publisher can fly in all the retail buyers that matter and put them up in luxury suites for a week while giving them individual demonstrations of all the games.

"A combined trade show/consumer show would be highly efficient for the industry, keeping transportation and setup costs down for exhibitors. This plan also gets E3 more of what it is striving for: Consumer awareness and excitement about products"

Now, E3 is primarily about influencing gamers, while paradoxically not admitting ordinary gamers to the show. Publishers are competing for the most social mentions and YouTube views, trying to boost awareness and excitement for upcoming products. Retail buyers are more influenced by these metrics than by looking at games themselves, if they are smart. Beyond retail, games are increasingly sold online (in many countries, that's the only way), so awareness and excitement is everything.

This year E3 saw a decline in the number of exhibitors, continuing the trend that's been in place for a decade. The show used to fill the LACC to bursting, now the main show floor has acres of empty space. Not only is the facility too large, sprawling and technically backwards, it's not what the ESA should be focusing on. The fast-growing expos in the game industry are the ones catering to consumers.

Gamescom had 340,000 people this year. PAX Prime drew over 70,00 people. EGX will draw 80,000 people this year. The consumer shows are packing them in and bursting at the seams. Meanwhile , E3 is watching exhibitors evaporate and is trying harder than ever to keep people out (this year, security was checking ID for each and every person entering, and confiscating badges when they didn't match ID).

What should the ESA do with E3? Hold it in conjunction with a consumer show. This doesn't mean the ESA has to stage a consumer show, but partner with someone who can. Find a venue that can accommodate a huge number of consumers. Hold an industry-only show for two days ahead of the consumer show; for instance, on a Wednesday and Thursday, reconfigure booths as needed Thursday night, and bring in consumers Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is how the San Diego ComicCon used to do it, with a comics industry trade show before the consumer show.

A combined trade show/consumer show would be highly efficient for the industry, keeping transportation and setup costs down for exhibitors. This plan also gets E3 more of what it is striving for: Consumer awareness and excitement about products. Publishers can encourage fan participation, cosplay and game play and celebrations of the games and the people who make them. Meanwhile, execs can still get useful industry-only time to cut deals, make sales and impress the media without hordes of consumers around.

The ESA's members are more than just traditional packaged goods publishers, with companies like DeNA and Wargaming and GungHo Entertainment. Shouldn't the group's show reflect the membership? All game companies, no matter the platform or distribution method or business model, want to reach consumers. The ESA should reinvent the Electronic Entertainment Expo to optimize the reach and influence of the show. With the contract expiring for convention facilities, it's the perfect time to change direction.

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Latest comments (11)

E3 needs to change venue ever year especially if it want to become more consumer based. Same place each year gets same people, who get tired of it. New cities bring , new life, new opportunities, new excitement, and new people.
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance7 years ago
Before you talk about the "acres of empty space," it's worth noting that E3 used to be much larger, and WAS reinvented by scaling back dramatically. The thought process was, this show is for press and industry, not for consumers. It also doesn't help when you need to put a healthy amount of game budget into an E3 display, money which would be better spent making the actual game better.

Consumers have shows - PAX (where you missed a zero) has several shows a year in several different locations globally. I don't think the need for consumer expos isn't being met. E3 needs to clearly define itself before it can make this kind of decision - if you want to be a consumer show, then be a consumer show. If industry, then industry. Waffling between the two does neither justice.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 7 years ago
I've long thought that E3 needs to follow a model closer to the Tokyo Games Show: keep it predominantly trade only but outline a block of time for the general public to come in and play. But this last E3 has finally disabused me of this notion for a number of reasons.

Security, or "How To Send In Clowns Without Facepaint"
I get that E3 uses badges to quickly identify people, be they publisher/developer, retailer, or press. I get they're stuffed with countermeasures to prevent fake badges from being used and thus making sure that the ESA gets their money. But this year, you had to have your photo ID with you at all times to verify yourself to the security guards, which to my mind was idiotic. For people who are sticking around in one hall for the day, that's not a big deal. Concessions, restrooms, and booths are all available in both South and West Halls, so one doesn't necessarily need to leave till the last moment. But for members of the press, who don't always have the luxury of getting all of their appointments in the same hall all day, it's an unmitigated pain in the ass to have to haul out your ID every time you have to change halls. The bottlenecks that came about because of this "increase in security" were ridiculous and completely avoidable. For crying out loud, we have to send in photo ID to get badges in the first place. Between OCR and facial recognition software, you'd think the ESA would have been smart enough to copy and paste our driver's license photos and paste them on the badges, thus saving a lot of time and trouble. I can guarantee that the way things were run this year would be a disaster of near-Biblical proportions if you added the general public to the mix.

Logistics, Part I: "Ask Me For Anything Except Time"
I get that the folks who put in the time to build the booths sweat blood to get them ready by Tuesday and they are looking at a roughly three day teardown after the show ends, but the late start on Tuesday and the early close on Thursday is kind of silly. If it was happening on a weekend, I might understand, but this is happening in the middle of the week. 24 consistent hours, 8 hours per day, should not be beyond the capabilities of an undertaking of this size. Not the flaky 21 hours of a short day, a regular day, and another short day. If you hope to open things up to the masses, consistency is important. More important, however, might be scope. Three days is no longer the standard timeframe for major events. Anime Expo, San Diego Comic-Con, and others have been running on four day schedules for a while now. Some will argue that the clutch of press conferences from the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) plus other major publishers on Monday would be a fourth day. I disagree, since they are not happening at the venue itself, but at various other locations in the same general vicinity. They're associated with E3, but they're no more a part of the show than the parties that happen after the halls close for the night.

Logistics, Part II: "Ooooh, Shiny!"
Swag is a thing. It's been a thing. It's always going to be a thing, until it isn't anymore. The outlay for, sorry, "promotional materials" is really a drop in the bucket compared to the production budgets of the games. But those items are predicated on a quantified number of attendees. If you know how many badges have been issued, you have a number you can enter for T-shirt and poster orders, plus maybe 5% for a fudge factor. Open the show to the public, and suddenly those nice neat estimates go completely out the window. Even at this last E3, there were exhibitors who had run out of shirts and posters by the close of the last day. To some people, that sounds like a good problem to have, since it's that much less stuff to get packed up to be shipped home. For those who obsess over the swag, who go to the show seemingly to collect tchotchkes like they were Pokemon, such shortages are the source of cries of despair. Multiply that by half a million people or more and see how quickly those shirts disappear forever. Additionally, some swag is really neat and really awesome, and almost guaranteed to get confiscated or discarded if you try bringing it on to a plane. Bohemia Interactive had a thumb drive keychain done up like a 20mm round for promoting ARMA III. It's probably my favorite thumb drive, but TSA would have shit six different kinds of bricks if I'd tried to put it in my luggage or on my person. By all means, PR folks, keep thinking up neat stuff but until Homeland Security is consigned to the dustbin of history, remember that not everybody drives to L.A. for the show.

Logistics, Part III: "Like A Well Oiled Machine"
Schedules are precarious constructs which fall apart at the worst possible times for the most trivial of reasons. Two particular examples at this most recent show stuck out for me. First was Nordic Games. Without warning, late Wednesday afternoon, I got word that the scheduled appointment I had with them on Thursday morning had been cancelled. All of the times they offered as alternatives were occupied by other appointments, which would have been a practical impossibility to reschedule at that point in time. It's my one big regret of this last show. The other standout was Activision. For reasons known only to God and the booth staff, appointments were running an hour late or more towards the end of the day on Thursday. What was intended as a 90 minute series of presentations and hands-on time had to get cut short because of my other commitments. The impression I got was that things had gotten pushed back bit by bit as various "VIPs" were stuffed into presentations without really thinking about how it was going to affect the numbers and slots already assigned. In more than a few presentations at other booths, it was standing room only, which is not a situation you normally find at the start of the show. Picture scenarios like that, only worse, if the doors get opened to the public. Unless there are people willing to be a ramrod and keep VIP squeeze-ins to a minimum, schedule drift and long lines for theater presentations, demo stations, and other interactions will become utterly unmanageable.

Bottom line time: a public show would be great, but it's going to require a complete overhaul of how things are done. The pros and the press need to be able to move and interact without stumbling over the public.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Axel Cushing on 25th June 2014 12:26am

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Show all comments (11)
I find Gamescom the perfect blend of E3 and involving Joe Public. Year on year its such a great inclusive event within a beautiful city.
Maybe E3 needs to go beyond american shores, much like the way superbowl . just sayin
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Alex V EIC, NGN7 years ago
I completely disagree. E3 is a trade only show and should remain that way. There's already a ton of consumer shows, we don't really need to muddle E3 with consumers.

Plus consider the city - LA is already at capacity for hotels just trying to host E3 industry. There would be simply no vanacy for fans

The "reconfiguration" suggested in this article to make E3 a trade first, then days later a consumer show just would never work.

Besides, have you been to E3 lately? There are so many non-industry people already flooding the halls and lining up for game demos for hours....
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 7 years ago
I myself was curious why somebody from the "Australian Attorney General's Office" was standing in line for Destiny. Unfortunately, the badges marked "Exhibits Only" don't really indicate what the bearer's relationship with the industry might be, if anything at all.
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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 7 years ago
E3 should not become a consumer show in my opinion. Comic Con gets brought up a lot as something to be desired for E3, but have those people ever been to one? It's absolutely miserable, for everyone. Lines that take hours just for a 10 second photo with a celebrity clogging up the whole floor. It's just not a fun environment. The only people who enjoy it are the pros at it; the people who've been going for years, and therefore have access to past experience to guide them through the crap.

Now, I would love to have a bigger consumer impact once a year, but a show's the wrong approach. eSports are the way to go. And not just a small fighting tournament, or matches of CoD. I'm talking a lot of different genres, in an Olympic style event. Partner with Twitch for the different genre tournaments, and MLG for the gaming itself. Then you've got something.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
E3 NEEDS to follow the Toy Fair model. NO kids, no rabid fans (well, other than the uber-fan journos who get invited to all the cool off-site and on site events because they gush about the freebies they get on their sites, which generate interest in new products), no consumer day. Toy Fair is crowded, but NOWHERE near as nuts as Comic-Con, where as Nick noted, you can't breathe or move because you're in a line, waiting to get in a line, trying to get through a line blocking your path and getting pissed off because people with cardboard weapons keep bumping into you with them (and so forth and so on)...
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
The Australian attorney generals office misinformed in their game ratings board. In fact it was a province attorney general that was keeping a " R" rating from HAOPENING in the country for years. So I'd say he legitimately was there on business. And probably likes games :)
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 7 years ago
I'm guessing most people haven't been to Tokyo game show. There's really nothing with that model that wouldn't work. If you don't want to be there when the fans hit, pack up Thursday.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
Jeff, it's a TRADE show. Gamers can have PAX, the Comic-cons and other game-related events that pop up more frequently. E3 should be for media only. If you've ever been to Toy Fair and see how it's run, you'd wonder why the E3 folks haven't cobbled the model for their show. Now, TF isn't dull at all, as if you're into parties and such post-show, those still take place (and how).

Granted, E3 seems to "need" those screaming crowds at those press conferences, but Nintendo pretty much showed that sort of theater isn't really necessary. That and the amount of fake cheers on cue at the big events was even more lame this year, I thought thanks to Nintendo doing a no frills show the games presentation with a side order of humble developers talking it up about how they did whatever they're doing....
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