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Don't let ego kill E3 | Opinion

E3 is a silly, special week in the games industry calendar -- and maybe it doesn't need to change that much to survive

There is an illusion that E3 is supposed to offer some sort of return-on-investment. As if spending millions and millions on outrageous booths, celebrity appearances and expensive stadium shows will somehow result in huge game sales.

But that's not how it works. E3 is all about ego. It's ego that convinced Bethesda to paint a giant Doom Eternal mural on the side of Hotel Figueroa. It's ego that made Capcom think it was worth building the most extravagant statue to promote some Monster Hunter DLC. Keanu Reeves, The Forza LEGO car, the Fornite party... ego, ego, ego.

It has always been this way. Ego is what E3 is built on. Big companies trying to look bigger than the other big companies.

"Ego is what E3 is built on. Big companies trying to look bigger than the other big companies"

Ego might also prove to be E3's undoing. EA left E3 under the pretence that it wanted to do something for the public. E3 subsequently allowed more consumers into the show and EA continued to not show up. Instead, it spent even more money taking over huge locations to promote its products to gamers and media alike. This year, it took over the open air Hollywood Palladium and asked its audience to queue for hours in the baking California heat. It did seem to work, because fans in their delirium were seen scrawling "Fuck Fortnite" on the perimeter wall, seemingly forgetting that they stopped playing Apex Legends months ago.

EA Play is ego. Microsoft's decision to have its own building -- despite the fact that it was soulless and a real pain to get in and out of -- is ego. Even Sony's decision to not come is ego. Sure, it might have been left out of the conversation about the future direction of the games business, but what better way to 'win' E3 than not to go and have everyone miss you? Even if, bar a brief spell on Monday, nobody really noticed in the end.

The only company that can't get this ego thing right is Nintendo. It had a series of announcements that were begging for a big reveal onstage. The Banjo-Kazooie Smash Bros announcement was greeted in the New York Nintendo Store with such scenes that you'd have thought the franchise was still actually a thing. And if there's one reveal that would send gamers into a frenzy more than Keanu Reeves, it's a teaser for a new Zelda game. But Nintendo didn't do a stage show -- because, you know, Nintendo.

Of course, with Sony absent, there was a need for different egos to plug the gap. Fortunately, the E3 Coliseum stepped up. Jack Black was there. Clearly bored of being both a movie star and a rock star, he's decided to have a crack at being a YouTube star by hosting his son's gaming YouTube channel.

"By all means bring out a Keanu Reeves and build a haunted house booth, but only when it makes sense"

But the real showdown was when Todd Howard and Elon Musk rocked up to discuss putting games into Tesla cars. The practice of playing games in cars clearly concerned some people on social media, but that's because they're under the illusion that someone is actually going to do that. The whole thing smacks of a billionaire who wants to get into video games, and a millionaire who wants a new Tesla.

I may sound mocking, but the one-upmanship of the games industry during E3 week is exciting. E3 is like the best reality TV show, where game execs try to outshine one another, and journalists scuttle around trying to trip them up by getting them to say something controversial. Maybe we should introduce elimination rounds after each day to spice things up.

Companies spend lavishly on E3, sometimes with good reason (as with Keanu Reeves' appearance this year), and sometimes not

Companies spend lavishly on E3, sometimes with good reason (as with Keanu Reeves' appearance this year), and sometimes not

E3 attracts the media and the world's attention, and that's good. But irrespective of that goodness, there is still a drive to justify the expense. The obvious solution is to turn E3 into a full-blown consumer show. The 'Gamescom model' is a term thrown around by people, but nobody really wants that -- not deep down. Strauss Zelnick doesn't want to be accosted in the toilet by fans thanking him for the games he didn't make (true story). The E3 security queue is irritating enough as it is.

And consumers don't want it, either. They might think they do, but they don't. The act of queuing up for three hours to watch a game developer walk through a demo is not a great consumer experience. If E3 wants to become a consumer show it needs to effectively become a different event entirely. And what's the point?

So instead, how about this ridiculous idea: how about E3 doesn't change? That the business still spends big on the show, but not that big. The press conferences move closer together, and maybe take place in the same area. And if you do only have some DLC to promote for the year, maybe, just maybe, don't blow the entire marketing budget on a fancy booth.

This will benefit everyone. The most up-to-date E3 press list indicated that fewer journalists attended the show this year. Is that because Sony wasn't there? Or that the cost of sending journalists has ballooned now that media companies have to pay weekend LA hotel costs because EA wanted its own show? I'd suggest the latter had as much impact as the former.

E3 is the industry's moment in the spotlight. A chance to show off to the wider world, not just to each other. By all means bring out a Keanu Reeves and build a haunted house booth, but only when it makes sense. Don't let ego kill this silly, special week in the games industry calendar.

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Latest comments (8)

Rafael Brown Creative Director/Co-Founder, Digital Myths Studio, Inc3 months ago
Having been to a whole lot of the E3s of the past 20+ years. Ego was not the biggest problem. If you're going to bring in consumers which they have slowly been doing in the past 2-3 years, structure it right so that you don't drive us professionals to other shows. EVERY single veteran on the developer and publisher side thought this was a weak, crowded, cluttered, and inefficient show. Every major publisher i was pitching to, bitched about how bad the show was.

Last year I knew directors from 3 hardware companies, who got stuck outside because they couldn't share badges like they have for 25 years. And a publishing biz dev director who refused to buy a badge when they wouldn't let him use his co-founder's badge or register on the spot. they all couldn't get into the show because they expected to be able to borrow badges. If E3 is going to check every badge against an ID then they damn well better message that out to their ESA members and they better make it easier for industry professionals to get badges. When people from some of the largest hardware companies in the world are being rejected for badges, think how hard it is for us veteran indie developers with 20-30 years in the industry but who are building our own companies. As the CEO of my company I had to go to the show, sit down with a registration attendant for 30 minutes, show them that my colleagues all got their badges but that with the same info I hadn't. Then I looked up my linkedin, my website, gave a business card, and showed them a packed schedule meeting with half of the large publishers in attendance. Couldn't they have just given me a link since I attended last year? They apparently removed the re-up links now that they are selling badges to consumers, and they seem to think that selling badges to professionals is a new source of income.

We can do our business at E3 or we can go elsewhere. I had a badge, was at E3 and in LA for 4 days (Mon-Thu), and spent a total of less than an hour in the halls mostly pushing past people to get to booth or meeting room meetings. My suggestion? Make Mon-Weds Industry days, and Thur-Fri the Consumer days. Keep the business separated from consumer end, and do a better on of building purpose, promotion, and measurable results to exhibitors for sticking around for the consumer days.
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Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio3 months ago
E3 is a dinosaur from a bygone era. Hell I loved Gaming mags too, but their day has passed as well. E3 just needs to realize, its no longer needed nor really wanted. Hell I rather watch streaming gameplay from the comfort of my home then go to those god forsaken conferences.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz3 months ago
Print media had a replacement in online media. E3 doesn't have a replacement. There's no alternative. If we lose E3, we lose this huge traffic-generating week.
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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online3 months ago
"Last year I knew directors from 3 hardware companies, who got stuck outside because they couldn't share badges like they have for 25 years. And a publishing biz dev director who refused to buy a badge when they wouldn't let him use his co-founder's badge or register on the spot. they all couldn't get into the show because they expected to be able to borrow badges."

Sorry, but not sorry. If people are too cheap to buy a batch and then bitch about it, my compassion is limited. If they are directors from major companies, no less.

I always have registered online the last 23 years, so all that's left is to show my code, show my ID, have my badge printed and be on the way.

The metal detector lines are a drag, sure, that can be sped up - there should be designated exhibitor and media lines that work for only these two groups.

Ah - and E3? I think it's still good to have. PAX and the like are great for fans, but in the US, E3 is the only event where the world of gaming comes together, more or less. Mobile and browser games mostly excluded, and indies, well, it's a bit tricky to play these if many high-profile games are ready to be written about. I see indies happening much more at GDC, which they are. :)
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 3 months ago
E3 is the one week a year the mainstream media, and their viewers who are going to be buying all our stuff come Christmas for junior hear about what we’re doing. It gives them something to focus on and target.

It should just be changed to spectacle, and business saved for GDC or even something new much smaller and low key. I went to a tiny B2B convention and I got more done than I have at two big trade shows simply because everything was so compact it was easy to spot things and make appointments.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 months ago
I argue that the marketing campaign EA did for Apex Legends is making E3 look rather old, or at the very least exposes the limited scope of E3. Because what is the lesson of E3? There will be new consoles next year maybe? There will be new games months from now for you to play, but please buy them now just in case?
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Andrew Walker Business Development, Gameye3 months ago
"E3 is the only event where the world of gaming comes together, more or less. Mobile and browser games mostly excluded, and indies"

It's significant for sure, but GDC and Gamescom are much bigger when it comes to doing business. They may not create the same number of clicks for the media, but for publishing, development and services, E3 is a distant third at best.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes3 months ago
Most people I know “at the show” didn’t even go into E3 unless required for a meeting ; Business is conducted at the JW. The show is a relic that can’t decide whether to become extinct or reinvent itself as something new. Zombie E3 has been in existence for three years now and each year another major player (or more) has walked away. I do hear Chris’s point about having a unified week of celebration, announcements and launches is beneficial from a media perspective but that really is the sole remaining benefit of the show. Its not ego driving its death its the utter pointlessness of it.

Two choices. Gamescom route, and use it to aid public goodwill (and arguably to me it should move every year if that happens) or virtual route. Its not beyond the ESA I would think to organize a centralized week at a single location where companies would present at press conferences back to back - no need for the stupid booths and expense of the convention center - just have the Microsoft theater.
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