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Is E3 Dying? | Electronic Entertainment Ennui

Josh Clark
E3 2012, E3 Dying, EA Press Conference, Electronics Entertainment Expo, Microsoft Press Conference, Opinion, Sony Press Conference

Is E3 Dying? |  Electronic Entertainment Ennui

Live streaming technology has changed the way gamers around the globe perceive the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Gone are the days of scouring magazines for second-hand interpretations of the biggest and best reveals from the preeminent trade event in the gaming calender. Now, the most talented developers, most prolific publishers, and most powerful hardware manufacturers in the world are given the opportunity to connect with their audience on a first-hand basis, beaming their heaviest of hitters directly into the living rooms of the people buying their products.

It's rather telling then, that over the last few days, that very audience has taken to social networking sites in force to express their apathy, their disappointment, and occasionally their outrage at an annual event that is steadily shifting from a freight-train of digital euphoria to a rather more pedestrian rechurning of last year's reveals. Are the sunny streets of Los Angeles about to bear witness to the death of E3? Or can something be done to turn public opinion around and get the fading exhibition back on its feet?

Perhaps we're expecting too much. After all, the magazine journalists of yesteryear had to pick and choose which stories made it to print, omitting the robotic exec's monotone monologue in favour of silky-smooth real-time renders, because lets be honest, only one of those is going to shift stock. What's to say that past E3s weren't just as dull as the ones we've endured over the last couple of years (albeit from the comfort of our loungers)?

Is E3 Dying? |  Electronic Entertainment Ennui

Pictured: Microsoft knocking them out of the park

For a start, anecdotal evidence suggests we'd be wrong to assume that this is the way it's always been. Forums groan under the weight of journalists recanting tales of legendary exhibitions gone by. Podcasts are drowned beneath the chatter of despairing pixel-lovers, who describe in great detail (and to the benefit of no one but themselves) why things just aren't the same anymore. Reputable gaming sites are attaching labels like “contemptuous” to the most recent batch of industry pressers, despite news that they still managed to attract over 40,000 attendees. These are not expected observations, but exceptional ones.

Boiling the expo down to its essence, E3 is an opportunity to connect not just with the consumers, but also those within the industry. Journalists, analysts, and even retailers flock to Los Angeles to be sold concepts, prototypes and gaming experiences long before anyone else is able to get their hands on tomorrow's eagerly awaited tech. I would argue that even in this respect, the conferences are failing to engage on any meaningful level. With no date or pricing announced for the Wii U at this year's Nintendo presser, how can retailers feel assured that a sufficient frenzy is building behind the hardware they're supposed to be selling to the public? Hardware in which they've invested a serious amount of stock. Does a Microsoft presser dominated by 'entertainment' announcements and the incessant flogging of Kinect really help gaming journalists deliver the content their audience demands? What are analysts able to derive from a Sony conference that consists largely of games we've already seen on another stage that very same day? E3 as it stands, is disobeying its mission statement.


Is E3 Dying? |  Electronic Entertainment Ennui

Ah, the memories...

But can it be rescued from the clutches of oblivion?  Absolutely; its attending executives simply need to cast an eye back to the expo's original brief:  To deliver new and exciting experiences that ensure a future for our most beloved medium.  If that's still not clear enough, they need only pop online for a spell and raise an ear to the messages we're screaming at them in our thousands.  Give us games.

After their abysmal E3 showing last year, in which the Wii U was only semi-revealed to an unsuspecting (and shortly thereafter rather confused) gaming populace, Nintendo promised that 2012 would be all about the games.  In Pikmin 3, we witnessed a strong start from a company seemingly making good on that promise.  What followed were a number of laboured talks on games we'd already seen (Arkham City), games that weren't games (Wii Fit U), and games that would've taken half as long to finish as their developer spent explaining them (Nintendoland).  Lost in amongst the madness were a couple of standout titles given nought but a brief appearance on a game reel shoehorned between desperate clarifications of what the Wii U actually does.  Nintendo, a company with what is ostensibly their next-generation console on display, achieved the impossible by boring their audience to tears.

Is E3 Dying? |  Electronic Entertainment Ennui

"Day 754 in the mansion. Still no developments."

Ubisoft, on the other hand, will be widely regarded as the "winners" of E3 2012, and there's a very simple reason for that: games.  Not only did they end their presser with an entirely impressive demo of new IP Watch_Dogs, but they were quick to step in and save the conferences of each of the Big 3 from total disaster.  How?  By providing them with comprehensive demos for, you guessed it: games.  Might E3 then benefit from another presser or two, with major publishers like Activision or 2K taking to the stage to announce their brand new intellectual properties?  Whilst the breadth and depth of each company's gaming stable, as well as the sky-rocketing costs associated with active involvement in the exhibition might raise a few concerns, it would help balance out the hardware-to-software ratio, providing more surprises than just a glorified remote control over which to work ourselves into a nerdy sweat (Smartglass, anyone?).

Indie developers often find themselves criminally overlooked during the presentations of those that supposedly support them.  Microsoft's Xbox Indie Marketplace is a unique selling point in and of itself.  Unfortunately, it's also one that they've been determined to scrub from the face of the Xbox dashboard for years.  But with the indie scene quickly gaining recognition as one of the last bastions of truly creative development, spurning the talented young coders and artists of the future would be an enormous mistake.  Their presence alongside the expo's AAA developers would be a welcome step forward, not just for consumers, but for the event itself.

Is E3 Dying? |  Electronic Entertainment Ennui

Ever heard of 'The Fourth Wall'? I rest my case.

Next year will need to impress.  With rumours of a new generation in home consoles looking more and more likely, and with Nintendo having fluffed their Wii U announcement a second time, both Microsoft and Sony are in a prime position to blow us away by letting a barrage of beautiful and involving games do the talking.  Throw into the mix a few indie gems and a renewed focus on the hardcore, and our outlook on the exhibition might be more akin to the sunny climes of LA than that of the bleak and miserable British Spring.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo in its current incarnation is plagued by deficiencies, and with an already ludicrous budget doing nothing to improve the quality of the conferences, there's no quick fix in sight.  But the gaming industry needs to find a cure soon, before the patient becomes terminal, and organisers pull the plug on E3 once and for all.

Add a comment 1 comment
JonLester  Jun. 12, 2012 at 16:22

Having just got back from E3 2012, I'm inclined to agree with you, but this is a symptom of a much more insidious problem. Despite ostensibly being a trade-only event, E3 is trying to cater to everyone, and somewhat fails to do so as well as stumbling to fulfil its remit.

You've already discussed how this affects the press conferences, which have to be watered down and diluted in order to cater for two audiences. Journalists and analysts have to sit through hype-laden trailers for games they probably already know about and will doubtlessly cover in more detail over the next few days, whereas gamers have to suffer investor-centric pitches about Smartglass, Wonderbook and the like (which would be best saved for CES). Coupled with the current state of the gaming press, which prioritises leaks and being "first," and you have a recipe for disappointment.

The show itself suffers more harshly, however. The vast majority of its attendees are there to work. Journalists need a quiet, well-managed environment to efficiently get hands-on with games and interview development personnel. Distributors and investors need a comfortable, quiet area to effectively network and conduct their business. But bizarrely, the show floor is laid out like a PUBLIC CONVENTION despite E3 being a trade-only expo.

The floors are hot, crowded, confusing and incredibly noisy as each publisher tries to outdo their rivals with pumping music, inane stage demos, live competitions, swag giveaways and trade show models (booth babes) all screaming for attention, creating a deafening din. Who is it for, exactly? The public can't get in and the vast majority of the attendees are there for specific appointments, so why is this ridiculous exploitative setup necessary? The chaotic atmosphere makes it very difficult for PR employees to schedule appointments and function effectively (usually being split up around the unnecessarily crowded booths), and us journalists have to shout at our interviewees just to get our questions across. The developers themselves start to suffer from tinitus and backache within a couple of days, being as many of the publishers actually try to set up camp within the show floors themselves. A crying lack of decent meeting rooms (typically centred around the overcrowded and cramped Concourse area) exacerbates this problem, and makes it difficult for everyone to do their jobs properly.

You ask for a solution, and I believe I have one. E3 has an opportunity to expand since the LACC is closed for refurbishment next year, meaning that the ESA can find a more suitable venue. In effect, I reckon that E3 could usefully adopt the Gamescom model of hosting two shows in one.

Choosing a venue with enormous event spaces would allow E3 to deliver an enormous, conventional gaming space much like the current show floors, complete with all the noise, crowds, scantily clad booth babes and irrelevant fuss they're so fond of. Better yet, a large enough arena would allow them to open this part of the expo to the public, garnering some hefty profits through ticket sales.

But simultaneously, choose somewhere with a dedicated business plaza: an air-conditioned, quiet and spacious area where every publisher and company can set up shop - accessible only to staff, press and distributors. You know, like the one at Gamescom. Rather than having to push through crowds and shout to be heard, this ordered environment would allow us to effectively go about our trade, and allow PR personnel to schedule appointments in a convenient, stress-free setting. Again, Gamescom already offers this, even though it's a public event!

Two press conferences may also be appropriate. A televised/livestreamed one for gamers full of massive reveals, hype and shenanigans, and some smaller in-depth investor/analyst-centric presentations, possibly held in hotel conference rooms or smaller venues.

OR: Simply remove the show floors altogether and hold the event as a tightly-run, appointment-only business meeting. Some people will complain about the lack of sexy booth babes, but it begs the question of why they're bothering to go to E3 anyway...

E3 has already died once before because it got "too big," and I hope this doesn't happen again.

Last edited by JonLester, Jun. 12, 2012 at 19:17

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