The three rules of attending E3

SuperData's Joost van Dreunen discusses the merits of the annual games conference
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Because of my job, I’m fortunate enough to attend most of the major industry conferences and events.

I enjoy the travel and honestly think most conferences are informative and worth the effort. But like most, I also have to justify my travel schedule and weigh it against any of the other responsibilities I have.

The growth of both the size and breadth of the games industry in the last few years has allowed a host of new conferences to emerge and sustain themselves. Moreover, the industry is now clearly shifting toward digital distribution. One question that comes up every year is: How is it possible that the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which traditionally focuses on the retail-based games market still commands such attention?

Succinctly put, there are three rules for going to E3.

The first rule of E3 is to say you hate it, then go anyway and brag about it

If nothing else, E3 is the mother of all games conferences at least as far as Western markets are concerned. Originally a part of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, there proved to be such a demand for interactive entertainment that it spun off and got its own show. 

As is the case every year, next week the ether will be entirely saturated with news from Los Angeles as all the major publishers and platform holders seek to claim as much as they can of the attention span provided by an army of bloggers, press, industry analysts and other enthusiasts.

Because of its legacy, for many people entering the games industry it is somewhat of a rite of passage. Tell any fervent gamer that you’re going to attend and you will bask in the oohing and aahing. And, be honest, most of us in the games industry – whether writer, blogger, designer, marketing director, analyst or just fan – we all feel that being able to say you’ve been there makes you just a bit more credible in whatever you do.

The second rule of E3 is to point out that it's dying because everything is digital now

It is true that the organisation behind E3 – the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) – recently lost a few of its key members and that many of the digital-only publishers that lead the industry today have yet to enroll as members. But retail-based software sales are still on track to generate $19.7 billion in revenues this year, making it the second-largest category of the $74.2 billion global market.

At its core, E3 is historically a show focused on retailers. Publishers and platforms alike present their wares and negotiate deals with GameStop, Best Buy, Wal-mart and others to convince them that their product deserves prime in-store real estate during the upcoming holiday season.

And major publishers like Activision, Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive have no plans of surrendering their retail-based strategies. Activision is doing well in terms of retail sales of its software products and has been making a mint selling Skylanders figurines. Meanwhile, Straus Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, has stated that digital distribution is not a holy grail.

So in all fairness, the boxed games market isn’t going anywhere just yet and is, in fact, growing for the next few years because of the momentum behind the current console cycle. The seeming paradox originates in the idea that because (1) there now is something new (e.g. mobile, free-to-play), therefore (2) everything that came before is irrelevant and on its way out. The games industry is perfectly capable of catering to different audiences: those that prefer owning a disc are as welcome as those that prefer to download a game onto their phone. 

The third rule of E3 is that it’s easier to dismiss it than admit we lack access 

It’s a consumer show. Specifically, E3 is organized to let audiences out there know what the line-up will be during the upcoming holiday season. We are treated to a cacophony and flashing lights to remind us that the latest and greatest is upon us.

But since it also attracts a host of industry people from around the world, a ton of closed-door meetings take place. And perhaps that’s what it’s really about: the show on the floor is merely an excuse for the more senior people in the industry to hang out together, have a few drinks, catch up and do some business. But those meetings are off-limits and take place far away from the cameras.

Personally, it took me years to gain access to this level of conferencing. Rather than wandering about aimlessly, trying to orient myself in the pulsing mass of showgoers, I now have more-or-less civilized meetings in hotel lobbies and specially reserved rooms. In fact, I barely go the show at all anymore. 

I tell you this, obviously, not to show off what a special snowflake I am, but rather to convey the idea that after covering the games industry for over a decade, it seems that E3 is a filter. It seems noisy on the outside, but is super productive on the inside. To people in the industry, it serves as a way to separate those who’ve dedicated their career to it from those that find themselves merely visiting and forming quick opinions about what goes into the sausage.

If it weren’t for the people and their shared love for the industry and the amazing experiences it produces, why else would anyone come to a hellhole like downtown LA?

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