Summary: There are as many opinions about the new E3 as there are people you'll ask. JCal gets a few from a broad section of the industry.
Then in the summer of 2006, the hammer fell. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade organization of the video and PC game industry and the organizers of E3, announced that the annual trade show version of the expo was no more. Instead of the massive 60,000 + attendee show at the Los Angeles Convention Center, E3 would now be a small event in Santa Monica, CA. The amount of attendees would be limited to between 3,000 and 4,000 people and those folks would be invited to attend by the video and PC game publishers. Presentations would be made not in massive exhibits with blinding lights but in intimate hotel room suites. Finally the show dates would be moved from May to July
The inital response to the changes was mixed. For some this was the E3 they were hoping for; a chance to really show off their upcoming games to the invitees without a lot of pressure. However, others wondered if this was too much of a change. Shouldn't there be an industry sponsored event that not only served as a way to see upcoming games but also was a celebration of the industry in general.
Since the changes for E3 2007 were announced many trade shows announced plans to expand, including this August's Penny Arcade Expo and the Game Developers Conference. Later in 2006, the trade show company IDG, with the blessing of the ESA) announced the E For All Expo, a new show that debuts in October in E3's old LA Convention Center home. Unlike both versions of E3, this new show would allow ordinary gamers with no connections to the industry to attend the show and play games that will be released this holiday season (the busiest time of the year for the industry).
While it's likely that the new, smaller E3 will generate a ton of media exposure the truth is that this new invite show will likely not have as much of an impact as the old version did. Indeed this month publishers are announcing a number of new games that normally would be announced at the old May E3 date. July will likely have some new game announcements as well but its clear that publishers are not waiting around for July to make some major game announcements.
FiringSquad wanted to find out from game developers how they feel about the new E3 show now that more details have been released. Our polling of developers still suggests that there is a lot of debate about how the new E3 will work.
So will the new E3 be an improvement over the old show? Derek Smart, the head of 3000AD, told us, "I am in two minds about it really. For one thing, to me, E3 lost its spark several years back. Which is probably why it was decimated (reborn?) to begin with. For many years now, E3 stopped being about 'the games and those who make and publish them' and more about stupidity, shock value, controversies (e.g. over booth babes) and the like. For most of us, it was more a chance to get away from the office and hang out with our friends and buddies. Of course, on the other hand, it was also a nightmare because most publishers wanted games to be shown at the event. More often than not, games which weren't even close to being released, but which, in the months leading up to E3, had to be 'worth' showing. That, in itself, killed the whole excitement of going for some developers. So no, the fact that the invites show the same usual suspects, I can't imagine how parring it down would make a difference at all. Thats like throwing a party and only inviting neighbors who live in even numbered homes. You still get the same rowdy bunch; albeit in smaller numbers but you still have the risk of the cops showing up and telling everyone to keep the noise down."
Some developer reps we asked felt that perhaps things went too far with the scaling back of E3. Pete Hines, the PR head of Bethesda Softworks, told us, "Wonít really know until we get to the show. My gut tells me they scaled it back too far." Rick Giolito, the co-founder of Trilogy Studios, told us, "It seems unbelievably small and ďinvite-onlyĒ. Is it the aim of the larger software companies to move their in-house press tours to one location for maximum exposure? I would guess that might be a good use for it."
Others are adopting a hopeful attitude for E3 this year. Randy Pitchford, the head of Gearbox Software, told us, "Iím curious to go through the experience. Iím hopeful and believe in some of the intent. But, none of us have gone through the experience yet. So Iím sure there will be learning that can be applied to future events." Tim Gerristen, the former CEO of Human Head Software, told us, "I honestly don't think that the new E3 is a replacement for the old show. This is an entirely different animal that is nothing like the old show. Until I see the show, it's too early to call it an improvement or a disaster. However, it is a different show entirely, and the E3 of old has gone the way of the dinosaur, regardless of how this version does." Nikolay Baryshnikov, the International Sales Director of 1C Company, told us, "For 1C this is probably a good thing. E3 was always a purely B2B event for us, we never had any big public stands, and always preferred to spend money elsewhere. All we need from a show is some space to demo upcoming games to partners and press, have some meetings and socialize a bit. Good time of the year, good weather and nice local drinks are always a bonus. 60000+ plus crowd is something I would prefer to avoid. I absolutely hated to go to a meeting and spend half an hour browsing through a thick crowd of people."
The new E3 show will not only have a few thousand attendees, but the amount of companies exhibiting at the various Santa Monica hotels and at the town's 35,000 square foot Barker Hanger will just number 35 exhibitors, compared to over 400 for E3 2006. While the list of companies attending the event do contain all the major game publishers, there are only a few small game developers and publishers attending. Will this emphasis on the larger publishers held or hurt E3? Baryshnikov told us, "I am not completely happy about the "just 35" number. We are working with around 50-60 companies around the world and only half of those would come. On the other hand we always have GC in Germany that actually slowly becomes the most important show for the industry. It has only one problem - location. Not the easiest place on Earth to get to. E3 was probably the only expo where you could meet up with partners from all over the world. The new E3 has a heavy US focus now. Well, guess we just have to have a slightly different focus. Plus I am personally thinking about having a 1C event for distributors (we already had 2 separate ones for press). Gives you a really good opportunity to do what you want and on the ground you choose." Gerritsen told us, "I would like to see a show that offered enough space for larger and smaller publishers, as this new show does seem fairly exclusionary to just the top publishers. I'd call on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to take a firmer role in this new E3 to promote the best 3rd party games on their respective platforms as well as just their first party fare. I hope that happens. " Hines told us, " I wouldnít mind seeing more developers and publishers, but in itís current format of multiple sites Iím not sure how well that would have worked. I would still have preferred to see a scaled back version of what we had with a focus on key press, retailers, and industry people. You could have cut the attendance by 40K in about two seconds, made some other changes in terms of the size and scope of the show and its booths, and been a lot better off."
Smart, however, doesn't think the new E3 is worth the time. "I can't imagine why anyone would want to go to E3 now really. Of course, one of the bigger draws is that the buyers (e.g. from Best Buy, Target, GameStop etc) get to come out and be able to see most of the games in action, while wheeling and dealing the whole time. For the publishers, it makes it a bit easier for the sales people who normally would have less than five minutes - tops - to pitch a game to a buyer under any other circumstances. With E3, you can also hope that the buyer was there to see the game, so when you later either go back to do a follow-up or pitch it the first time, there is a chance that the buyer probably already saw it at E3.I dunno man, but with the advent of the Net as we know it, E3 is, IMO, outdated, overpriced and a sordid waste of time. I can't think of a single game related thing that E3 would provide (outside of the aforementioned chance to rub shoulders, go to wild parties etc) that the rest of the world wouldn't have already seen on the web, or the past two conferences of February and March respectively. How many times do you think you want to gawk at Crysis?" Gerritsen tends to agree, saying, "E3 never made much sense. For the cost of a typical booth at E3, most publishers could fly all the press they could ever want first class to a resort and give them much better access to the games. Many publishers did just that in addition to the E3 booth, and they started to realize the bang for their bucks wasn't the greatest."
One big issue with the old version of E3 for many was the May date, which caused headaches among developers as they tried to make a demo of their game specifically for E3 and stopping work on the game in general. The change from May to July seemed to be a positive as developers would be able to continue making their game and show off a more complete build at the show. Gerritsen told us, "I applaud this move, actually, as May was always too soon after GDC, but that's from my perspective as a developer. However, for publishers this will make things that much tighter moving into the busy holiday season. Retailers plan their Christmas season over the Summer, and by having the show now in July, this ratchets up the pressure. Additionally, this will put further pressure on the already eroding print game press. They have lead times of up to three months, especially with disc bound magazines looking to score that hot demo, meaning that games shown off in July won't make the print mags until late September or early October. I wonder if publishers, who have, until now, tended to reserve internet announcements until after the print magazines have had a chance to get the news out, will go more and more directly to online news sites for their big announcements and rely even less on print mags." Laakkonen agrees, saying, "As the industry still obsesses about the holiday period and crams so many titles into the September - December timeframe, the July timing is much better for developers. The games will be a lot further and so we might see less of the annual "E3 crunch". Pitchford told us, "With respect to the sales channel loop, there isnít much different between May and July relative to the holiday season. Iíve always felt itís a good idea to run E3 in the non peak sales windows. July is consistent with that."
And what about the new E For All Expo in October? This show is already being hyped as the true replacement for E3, at least in the US market and IDG sounds like it will spare no expense to make this new show feel more like the E3 of old. How do developers feel about E For All Expo at this moment? Pitchford told us, " have no idea what to expect with new expos or other events that are trying to re-imagine themselves as E3 changes. Itís easy to figure out what all of these expos are trying to gain, though. E3 was at risk of falling under its own gravity, so it was a good time to rethink it. Other shows, new and otherwise, lust the gravity that E3 had at its peak. Itís going to be interesting to see what happens and with what shows the gravity and value ends up being." Lakkonen told us, "It remains to be seen how a consumer focused show will do. It can be excellent as demonstrated by the Games Convention in Germany that attracted over 180 000 visitors last year." Gerritsen told us, "It depends on how well attended and perceived the first show is. E3 was an industry trade show, and any consumer level show is going to have a VERY different character entirely. In addition to the spectacle on the floor of the show at E3, you had the spectacle after hours with each publisher trying to throw super glitzy parties to impress the press and key developers. I don't foresee many publishers throwing large parties for the masses at the E For All Expo, but I could be wrong. I do think that if publishers take the same attitude about E For All Expo that they did at E3, they will stumble. Pitching your game at a live show to the gaming audience is very different than pitching your game at an industry only event. Look for some suprising missteps to be made this first year as people get used to the change."
Others we talked to were very suspect of how this new show would be handled. Baryshnikov told us, "To be very frank I sort of don't get the whole idea of the event. As far as I remember the old E3 suffered from the fact that it became too expensive for many companies. You had to spend millions and millions to build a reasonable stand or be lost. So more and more companies began pulling off the E3. And now almost the same? I know that many companies we are working with decided to pass on the first event. We will definitely be there for scouting and see how it goes, but still I would like to stress that US shows are interesting for us from B2B perspective only. Overall success of the venture depends solely on the organisers. If they make it a cheap and worth the effort show for the exhibitors - it will be successful. If they are going to charge gazillions of $ for space - not sure." Giolito added, "Oh my lord, this is going to be like one giant end-of-the-year focus group! I can see it be used to create buzz amongst hardcore fans who might show-up, but pity the poor dev teams and publishers whose games tank or get a lukewarm reception at this late date. I can see the marketing mavens scurrying around demanding changes a few days or weeks from shipÖ.pity the poor developers." Smart has the last word on this, saying, "Probably not. As I said before, all these shows lost their luster a long time ago and it is highly - highly - unlikely that we would see a return to the good old days ever again. Remember CES? I don't either."
With the new E3 2007 just two months away it's won't be long before we learn if the new version of the show will be an improvement or a step back to the massive E3 shows of the past. We are certain that the ESA will see this first year of the new format as a kind of dress rehearsal of what the final form of the show will take in future years and will make adjustments for E3 2008. In the meantime all the publishers, developers and the press can do now is wait until mid-July to see how this new style of trade show will turn out.
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