Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Could it be E3's last year?

I've been following the E3 tradeshow ever since I started to get really involved in gaming. At first it was just reviews and second hand posts from bloggers who had managed to gain access. However, as gaming became more popular it made the tradeshow popular enough that G4TV could make money just by covering it. Finally, I started getting some of the previews and game announcements first hand. Apparently this was a bad thing though since some developers thought the tradeshow started to become too much about marketing. I honestly don't see the problem with this, but then again I wasn't the one who had to fork over large sums of money to put together the dog and pony show.

Anyways, about two years ago the ESA decided to tone down E3 and turn it into something more for the internal game industry. I never really understood the reasoning behind the decision since it seemed like the main purpose of the tradeshow was to highlight their products to the buyers. If only a few "professional" journalists and other game developers are present who exactly is viewing your product? You think the game industry would know that gamers get most of their information from blogs instead of news sites. Even the professional video game sites are avoided by some since evidence of studios buying reviews scores keeps popping up. In general the smaller size of the show and stricter credentials requirements for press hampered the ability of the show to create any buzz.

The ESA did attempt to make a separate show for displaying their games to the public, called the Entertainment for All Expo. Like the name implies it was open to the public and featured decently priced admission. A lot of the big names in the video game world seemed to be missing from this expo though and it only gathered around 18,000 attendees in 2007. If that number seems large to you then you weren't at E3 2006 which had an estimated 60,000 attendees. Instead it looks like the bloggers and buzz for the old E3 expo started to head to the Game Developer's Conference. The GDC website claims that the event gathered over 16,000 attendees last year and from the amount of news I heard this year I can only assumed it was larger.

It's funny but developers really hate big crowded events and actually talking to players. Almost every developer blog I read celebrated not having to share space with a bunch of noisy mouth breathers anymore. Some like Lum were a little bit more circumspect about it, but the general feeling was one of relief. Of course now the ESA has two crappy tradeshows on its hands instead of a single overly successful one. To give you an idea of relative scale; the 2007 Penny Arcade Expo brought in 37,000 gamers while the combined E3 and Entertainment for All expos brought in only around 24,000. That's right an expo organized by a web comic was able to generate more interest for games then the ESA's offerings.

Now you can see why there's a trend of big game publishers starting to leave the ESA. It's not just the lack of interest for its annual tradeshows either. Last year the ESA changed locations for E3 and incurred large costs which it passed directly onto its members. There have also been some negative feedback to its new president and some of the decisions he has made. The association seems to be walking on thin ice now and a successful E3 would do a lot to keep its remaining members from leaving. It's almost guaranteed though that if things don't turn around for the ESA then this could be the last E3. It would be kind of sad to see such an infamous part of gaming culture disappear, but does it really serve a purpose anymore?


Captain Cursor said...

E3 is like going to a big corporate rave. The first time you go it's pretty amazing; the grandeur, the spectacle, the driving bass beats. WOW look at all the colors!

But after a while, for some people, this thrill wears off. And the amount that you learn about subjects that interest you is not worth the standing in line, the $10 hot dogs, the time spent away from your family, or any of the host of minor annoyances that build up.

It's not so much that developers have contempt for the fans, but more that they have contempt for E3. I'd much rather go to PAX and demo a game because then it would be set up to demoing it and getting to see people having a good time playing it. Or go to GDC and go to some interesting talks about the craft of making games. But E3 was all about whoring yourself to the media.

Also many companies disrupt their production schedule to make an E3 demo. This is often viewed by many developers as wasted work since it is generally time taken away from making the game, and generally a big hack. So at the end of slaving away on a demo that will soon get thrown away, putting a huge dent in the schedule and adding to your crunch time, you fly to LA in the summer, stand around in a big corporate rave where you can't hear yourself think, and tell lies until your are hoarse.

Not everyone feels this way, I know many developers that loved E3 and bemoan its passing. But those that disdained it probably feel something along these lines. Or maybe it's just me. But it's not really a hatred of the fans of games.

Relmstein said...

I still see a lot of media whoring in the video game industry. Its just more spread out now since there's less reason to hold it in for E3. It may have been loud, crowded, and filled with unwashed guys wearing black shirts, but it was a part of gaming culture. Sad to see it downsized.

Anways since the Entertainment for All Expo didn't really catch on last year, I'm wondering if GDC will start turning into the media circus.