The words: ‘E3 just isn’t as relevant as it used to be’ are invariably said by two sets of people. Either those with a vested interest in its decline, or people who are trying to come to terms with the fact that their boss isn’t sending them this year.
It’s nonsense. Next week, the gaming world’s attention will be fixed on the Los Angeles Convention Center as six major games makers put on press conferences totaling over nine hours. Irrelevant, it is not.
But like any show that has endured two decades, it has had to change, and this year it continues to do so.
E3 was once a trade fair where products were discovered and deals were signed. It was a show for retailers primarily, then the media and then, of course, consumers – who were not invited to the party but were nonetheless eagerly following the announcements online.
As times moved on and fewer triple-A products were launched – and the number of retailers dwindled – E3 switched its primary audience to the media. Yet in a digital, connected world, where live-streaming is prevalent and social media is absolute, what exactly is meant by ‘the media’?
Well, the stories that MCV has overheard in the build-up to E3 have been telling.
Take Xbox UK: for the first time, the firm not flying any traditional media to the show and is instead focusing on YouTubers. In fact, Xbox seems to be reconfiguring how it treats show attendees at the highest level – it’s not even putting on the usual hotel shuttle busses that would ensure execs and publisher reps get there on time. Why else would you ditch this unless you knew the number of industry delegates had dipped?
I’ve spoken to several journalists who, instead of receiving invites to a press evets, have been sent live-streaming links. That’s right, there will be press who will have flown 5,500 miles to sit in a hotel room and watch the conferences on their laptops.
And then there’s the access to the talent. There’s less of it this year. Two publishers have even told MCV that they’re not doing strict schedules and that we should ‘swing by the booth’. For those of us outside the US, travelling to E3 is expensive and time consuming, and so it’s imperative that to see as much as you can during the time there. Rocking up to a booth on a show floor beset by 50,000+ on the off chance that you might see a single person is a risk not worth the trip.
Couple these disparate trends together, along with the news that 5,000 consumers will be attending E3 this year (alongside the countless others that always seem to get in somehow), and you can see a show that has made the end user the priority. And is it really a surprise? Gamers are now the ones funding projects, helping with development and setting up YouTube channels that far more popular than any specialist website… of course E3 was going to become more about them.
E3 has no need for the middle-man, it seems. Retailers and media are there and will get their briefings, but this is an event about the fans – more so than it has ever been.
Take Nintendo: fans will get so much more out of the platform holder’s own ‘Treehouse’ online show, which runs around-the-clock at E3, than they will from any specialist outlet. Xbox has a similar online showing, while PlayStation invites gamers to its press conferences.
Or why not take a look at Ubisoft: gamers can pop into London and play the new Assassin’s Creed next week before the journalists have even put pen to paper.
Let’s cut the pretence, E3 is no longer the best business-to-business expo in the games industry. But maybe it’s the best one for consumers.