Is E3 in trouble?

MCV speaks to Rich Taylor, the senior vice president of E3 organiser ESA, about the recent loss of Activision and EA from the expo’s show floor.

EA and Activision have both decided not to hold a booth at E3 this year. It has raised questions within the trade over the relevance of E3. What do you make of the situation?

I always have this conversation. The ‘is E3 still relevant?’ question gets asked every year, and then gets answered in June of that same year with a resounding ‘yes’. E3 is beyond relevant, it is essential and critical to the game and entertainment industry calendar. There is nothing that suggests that this one is going to be any different. It changes year-over-year. It has never been a stagnant show. Last year, if you asked most people in the aftermath of E3 how they found it, many, I know for a fact, will tell you it was the best E3 they can remember, the best ever, the best E3 in years. But in the ramp up to that show I was answering the same sort of questions that you just put to me. I am looking forward to it, I think it is going to be another tremendous show, and then we’ll have this same conversation next year again.

I agree that last year’s show was good. But when you see two of the biggest companies in video games decide to abandon their typical giant booths, you can appreciate why that might raise a few of these questions…

You can understand why folks ask. Individual companies are making decisions based on themselves, it’s not about the value of E3, it’s about where they are, and I will leave it to them to provide answers on a company-by-company basis. But E3 is constantly evolving, a few years ago we didn’t have VR, last year we had 27 companies at E3 showing virtual reality products and now it is in the marketplace.

E3 changes. It is not the same year-over-year-over-year. There’s a familiarity to it, but one of the things we do at the close of every show – as we’ve discussed in the past – is that we talk to everyone we can – attendees, exhibitors, retailers, you name it – and we try and figure out how to change the experience and make it better. We’ve done that this time, and we will be making adjustments to guarantee it is going to be a tremendous show. There are a number of press briefings going on, a record number, I believe, that starts a few days before and goes into the start of E3. That’s a reflection of the fact that people realise that the place to make news and break news, and have that amplified around the globe in a way like no other show can, is at E3. That is why the Bethesdas and Xboxs and PlayStations and Ubisofts know that this is a great launching ground for the exciting titles they have coming up.

EA is still doing stuff during the E3 week, of course. In fact they’re doing more than ever with their own event. But for them it’s a case of wanting more consumer involvement. E3 last year allowed a limited number of gamers into the show via your partners, but do you need to go a bit bigger and open the door to fans?

Again, we are always trying to work out what magic levers we can push and pull to make the show better than the previous edition. The consumer question is certainly part of that equation. You saw last year, as you mentioned, individual companies who brought along some of their most valued customers. We will probably end up doing that again this year, and there will be some additional elements on top of that, which may or may not happen. But we are always trying to figure out what we need to do, such as finding ways to better accommodate and facilitate YouTube personalities. We just continue to look around and see how we can make the experience right not only for the exhibitors, but the attendees and reporters who cover it. And the consumer question, that is one of the points that we will take a hard look at. I think we have shown over the last few years how that has been evolving.

The challenge will be in fitting in consumer visitors alongside the masses of industry attendees.

That’s the balance we have to strike. We need to make sure the show is serving its core purpose, whatever that may be. And that core purpose may change year-over-year as well.

Are you happy with your home at the Los Angeles Convention Center? Could you move to a more suitable venue?

We haven’t made any formal announcements as of yet. We have a great relationship with LA and we will be making announcements regarding the future at the close of E3 in terms of plans for 2017. Right now we have reached an accommodation with Los Angeles that’s makes us comfortable in the near term.

"E3 has been, and will continue to be, the place to be for those who care about and love the world of video games."

Rich Taylor, ESA

On the assumption that EA and Activision’s absence leaves a gulf on the show floor at E3, do you need to be more aggressive in broadening your reach into the mobile and PC communities?

You raise the right point, we obviously want to have a robust, energetic show floor. So if people aren’t there, we will find others to be there. E3 is a place that people want to be. We are not inviting them to a mortuary convention, it is quite the opposite. There is a lot of activity in this space, from the college level to indie developers to triple-A titles. We are talking to a number of entities and developers, encouraging them and inviting them to be a part of the show when perhaps in the past they have not been. There are opportunities now for new faces to be part of the excitement there.

Are there other new elements you can talk about from E3 this year?

Not really, because most of the stuff that becomes new and news are what the companies unveil at E3. We just provide the roof and the walls, and we make sure it is all working. Our role is ultimately the least glamorous of what happens that week. We are not the men on the flying trapeze, we are the workers that set up the circus. I just know that anecdotally companies have some new and fun things that will be announced. There will be an increased presence and activity around the virtual reality and augmented reality spaces, which will be interesting. But a lot of this is still being put together and there will be announcements that we will be able to share, when we are allowed to share them.

What would you say to those that are concerned about the recent absentees from E3?

The best message is that E3 has been, and will continue to be, the place to be and the place to follow for those who care about and love the world of computer and video games. For those people who love entertainment and love innovation. We are the hub, the centrepiece and the launching pad for all the most exciting elements in any of those areas. If you care about that, then E3 is going to do what it has always done, and that is put rocket fuel behind that excitement you already have, and propel you towards the coming year in entertainment.

What we think

The ESA may dismiss EA and Activision’s decision to abandon their booths, but this is a big loss to the organisers.

They’ll need to fill the gaps with some other big companies, and work on winning them back for 2017.

E3 remains an exciting event this year. These ‘absent’ businesses are still going to be there in some form. Plus, there are a significant number of big press conferences.

But these events are anchored around that central E3 show. Without it, the PlayStation/Xbox/Nintendo head-to-head fights will likely be a thing of the past. And for the millions that tune in every year, that will be missed.

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