In 1995, just a year after the formation of the video game trade group the Interactive Digital Software Association (later renamed as the much easier to say Entertainment Software Association), the group decided to hold their first trade convention which they named the Electronic Entertainment Expo, more commonly known at E3. The show, held in Los Angeles, was a huge hit and got the video and PC game industry a ton of media attention at the time that the industry was just beginning to really cater to a more adult audience. Now that the industry is a very real rival to movies, TV shows and music for getting the consumer entertainment dollar it looks like the game publishers have had enough of E3 in its present incarnation. However, like Doctor Who, it appears as if E3 will be regenerating into a new leaner and meaner version.
I have attended every E3 since 1997 and I can tell you from personal experience that it was and still is the highlight of my every year as a journalist. It wasn’t just taking pictures of all the various booth babes (although that’s certainly fun) but the whole idea of the expo that’s appealing to me. Basically every video and PC game that was going to be released in the next 12 to 18 months was on display and you got to chat with the people who made them. What writer that covered the video game beat wouldn’t love that?
As it turned out the first year of the show’s existence was also the first year that the Internet started to get mainstream attention as well. As a result the kind of media that covered the expo changed tremendously over the years. While the first E3 was covered mostly by print journalists, this year’s E3 was about instant blogging and direct Internet feeds from the show floor. In short if you were a game journalist and you were not at E3, you had a big hole to fill that week.
So why mess with such a huge event now, especially when the next gen consoles from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are just launching and ushering in a new growth period for the industry? In interviews Monday for GameSpot and Game Informer, ESA president Doug Lowenstein stated that it was time to move on from what he called the “spectacle” of the E3s of years past. He denied reports that the major publishers had decided to pull out of the current E3 set up, saying in the Game Informer interview, “Honestly, it’s just people making stuff up.”
Instead the event is currently being imagined as a three day program, with hotel locations and an attendance of around 5,000. Lowenstein said that he still feels that there will be events such as large press conferences for the three major console makers Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo but that there will no longer be any huge exhibitors’ booths. Finally the new E3 will actually be held in Los Angeles in July, rather than May, which should allow game developers more time to finalize and bring demos of games that are closer to the final products than the admittedly “smoke and mirrors” demos we have seen at many an E3 booth in the past.
The final word (for now) is that rather than being outright cancelled (as one certain online publication continues to claim it is) E3 is being retooled for just a press-retailers event. There something to be said for having an event that puts the focus of the world on your industry and for the past 12 years E3 did that and this new E3 could still continue to serve that purpose. There are also other benefits for having such a trade show as well, even a reduced one. Let’s look at the good and the bad for E3’s downsizing.