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Into the E3 breach

Comment: Can smaller fish swim in the biggest pond?

The videogames industry can often demonstrate a peculiarly lemming-like mentality, where a select number of companies jump one way and everyone else feels compelled to jump in the same direction. This is visible every year at Christmas, when hundreds of products are released in a short space of time and industry commentators observe with dismay as, with crushing inevitability, interesting niche games and quite solid titles disappear beneath the waves, never to be seen again until they surface for a fiver in bargain bins. The same titles, launched in the quiet months of summer or early in the new year, could perform handsomely; and when it comes to the old idea that summer game releases can't sell strongly, there are now enough exceptions to prove that the rule is absolute rubbish.

The same lemmings-like thinking can be seen elsewhere, of course. How many times have publishers launched a hastily developed me-too game to try and emulate the success of an innovative blockbuster - and, of course, inevitably failed? How many publications and even companies support themselves by selling advertising to publishers and developers that feel compelled to buy simply because everyone else does? While our industry certainly has its fair share of small innovative companies - and even large innovative companies - there are also plenty whose entire business strategy seems to come down to watching to see which direction everyone else is jumping, and quickly following suit.

Then there's E3 - which, if you'll excuse the rather ponderous introduction, was actually what this particular piece of editorial was meant to address. Specifically, there's the host of companies who fill the smaller stands at E3, such as the expanse of the Kentia Hall, and there's the question which has been on the mind of many industry types who have attended the annual videogames knees-up in Los Angeles... Namely, what the bloody hell do these companies get out of the show?

Sparked by a conversation with a colleague in the industry, we've been considering this matter today. Each year, journalists get deluged with meeting requests from small companies who will be attending E3, many of whom will have interesting games or concepts to demonstrate, and all of whom will be mostly ignored in favour of spending more time with the Sonys, Microsofts and EAs of this world. This might sound harsh or unfair, but frankly, it's the natural order of things; it's the job of journalists to report things of interest to their readers, and during E3 week, the interesting things are announcements from platform holders and hands-on time with key major games. It's a big, noisy, glitzy show - too big and noisy, some will argue - and realistically, it's all about the big stands, the big names and the big games.

Yet year after year, the Kentia Hall is filled with small companies. Many of them use it as a meeting space for clients, and in that context, it's obviously a brilliant addition to the show which allows it to be a business focus for small firms. Others, however, seem to see it as a field of dreams on which they can finally have their clever, innovative idea recognised - and with very, very rare exceptions, they're to be sadly disappointed - while more still really only have space at E3 because if they didn't, they fear that industry tongues would wag.

We have little to say to those in the latter camp - but to those firms hoping for recognition from high quality, innovative products, we would encourage them to look beyond E3 for the best places to get the press interested in what they're doing. In the months after E3, journalists who can dedicate little or no time to you during that hectic three days will be happy to spend hours watching demonstrations and discussing your product, and publications no longer clogged with news of next-generation console announcements can promote your games or ideas in much more depth and detail than they could ever do in the month of May.

What we want to say, really, is that for smaller companies, E3 is an opportunity - but perhaps not the kind of opportunity it's traditionally seen to be. Rather than complaining that it's impossible to be noticed in Los Angeles, smaller firms need to take a more intelligent and proactive approach to the media and the industry at large, consider their timing carefully - and unlike lemmings, they should look before they leap, because what's a safe jump for EA and Activision could be a painful fall for you.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.