With Publishers Pulling Out Of E3, The Expo Isn’t Dying But, Rather, Changing

Posted by March 7, 2016 Comment

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E3. It’s the biggest date in the video games calendar, a calendar that’s ever more congested with other shows growing in stature. It does however remain the one place where everyone in the industry turns up and pulls out their biggest guns in a competition for coverage and clicks. The key thing that differentiates it from your Comic Cons or Gamescoms though, is that it’s strictly a ‘tradeshow’. It’s officially not open to the public, unless you are invited, creating a very ‘exclusive’ feel around it. A party you can only go to if you work in the industry.

Over the past few years though, this question of ‘what E3 is now’ has become ever present. When the show started in 1995, it had a very defined purpose. It was meant for buyers and the press to come in and report on what games and technology were coming. With services like YouTube or Twitch being a pipedream at that point, and the show not being big enough to get much play on national television, information had to get out there somehow. You had to trust the press about what was there, and live for their recollection, because you’d never get to understand what was otherwise.

However, we are living in 2016 now. Games are one of, if not the biggest entertainment industry in the world and most publishers can just release footage they want people to see on their corporate YouTube channel, shared across Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of other social media. Press conferences are streamed across the globe in real time, so fans can experience the biggest announcements as they happen. E3 is now the video games Mecca that only the most privileged get to go to, making the public look from the outside in. In this day and age, it still requires third parties to relay how excited gamers should be about any given title based on showfloor demos. When you’re the biggest even in an industry with the most rabid subscribers and they can’t go, that is a bed for tension.

That tension is rising too, leaving two questions, ‘should E3 be open to the public?’ and ‘how valuable is the show in 2016?’ This is something it seems a lot of publishers are asking themselves, as recently, major mainstays at the expo have been pulling out.

This started a couple years ago when Nintendo decided to stop holding traditional press conferences, instead going for frequent Nintendo Directs to get news out about their products. They even held the public Nintendo World Championships last year around the show, and that went down a treat. (It’s also worth nothing, despite being somewhat distanced from the show in some aspects, Nintendo also always has a massive booth at the show still.)

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However, this sentiment of distancing from E3 is spreading. In fact, two of the biggest exhibitors, EA and Activision have decided to ‘officially’ skip the show this year. Except, unofficially, they are still going to be in LA at the same time. EA are going to be hosting an event open to the public featuring all of their games just next door to the Los Angles Convention Center, complete with their traditional, live streamed press conference on the Sunday. Activision on the other hand, without the delayed Destiny 2, have decided to give up their space in the hall too in favor of showing off their new Call of Duty title to the public outside of E3’s walls.

After that, Disney, with no Infinity title coming and Wargamming, known for their frankly ludicrous booths, have also decided not to stump up the usually seven figure expense of displaying at E3. Now, of course the fact that neither company has a major title coming this year means this could be somewhat coincidental. But I’m sure the fact others were pulling out of their spaces, something that could forfeit a companies spot in future shows, has helped in decisions.

Publishers are setting up around E3 instead of actually going, making it clear these companies want to interact with the public more and more. Why share your games with just GameStop employees and potentially jaded, tired and hungover press, when you can just go straight to the source of excitement: the fans? This has been at the core of figuring out what E3 is going forward, and it’s something that the ESA is clearly wrestling with. Just last year, E3 let in a record 5,000 people from the public, but this was a half measure as even those who went, had to be invited by publishers via competitions and the like.

Clearly the dial towards a public focus just isn’t moving fast enough for the likes of EA and Activision.

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So, here we are at the bottom line question: ‘is E3 dying?’ Personally, (and everything past here is just my take) I think ‘sort of’, but only the ‘idea’ of E3 as we’ve known up to this point. It just seems that the show is hurtling towards an entirely public event, where publishers will be able to whip up the excitement and enthusiasm they are looking for. This notion of a tradeshow, for an event that has become so massive just seems to make less and less sense, especially in such a Con heavy culture that we now live in.

Of course, I don’t actually think E3 is going to actually ‘die’ either. I fully expect the expo to adapt and change to what the industry is seemingly asking for. Perhaps full scale public take over is some ways out, but I expect to see the number of unaffiliated let in rise year on year. And regardless of what happens, I think the cycle is too set in the industry and our brains, that I imagine that even if E3 up and disappeared, something I don’t anticipate happening at all, I fully expect all the major publishers, developers and press would still pilgrimage to Los Angles each year for a mid-June date. Where companies had their ‘big’ press conference and let people play their upcoming games for the first time. A lot of deals get done at E3 too in private rooms, so I assume the utility of the show for the industry is too valuable to just upsticks and decide to just throw Nintendo Directs style addresses online throughout the year, instead of.

Whatever happens though, E3 is in a weird place and it’s becoming seemingly clear something has to change. It’s not to say that E3 2016 is going to be a wash either. Take-Two, 2k and Rockstar’s parent company said that they will be there in a big way this year. Rockstar usually skip E3, but people are also expecting an announcement from them this year, so perhaps they could turn up against their previous track record. Also, with the Nintendo NX expected to be announced, it’s entirely possible we see a bigger Nintendo presence, physical press conference and all. I do think this is all exciting though, and E3 remains the highlight of my travelling calendar each year. It is one of the most fascinating events in all of pop culture, and whatever it does become in the future, public or no, I don’t expect that to change for a long time.

(Last Updated March 7, 2016 1:50 pm )