Now that another E3 is done and over, it seems fitting that the media collectively bellows about how much they were let down and irritated by the whole thing. If you’ve been listening to our podcasts or reading our articles, you knew from afar that this show would be on cruise control as publishers are saving a lot of their talent and resources for next-gen consoles that won’t be announced until next year’s show. This was my fourth E3, but my first as media. So what was really the issue with this year’s show? The same as most any other year: the people who don’t need to be there.
It had been a dream since high school to make the gamer’s pilgrimage to the mighty Electronic Entertainment Expo. For many, E3 is a shining Mecca for droves of players around the world, where hundreds of new games were playable and the industry’s legends gathered. Using my credentials as a retail employee while my friends got in as students from the Art Institute of Colorado, we made the trip to E3 twice, in 2004 and 2005, back when the show was experiencing its largest numbers ever, topping out at nearly 70,000 people. But what was I doing at E3 in 2004 and 2005? I wanted to see new games that weren’t out yet. I wanted to be able to tell my customers what was going on long before-hand. I felt I had more influence over my customer’s gaming decisions than the gaming journalists who wrote for web sites and print magazines who got to see games behind closed doors. (I definitely had more influence over my supervisors and managers who would end up going in later years, people who spent most of their time in the office not training their associates. Retail workers, you know what I’m talking about.) But what was I really doing at E3 those years?
I was being the problem.
As Kelly mentioned in his article, E3 can be hellish. The convention center is large, so there’s plenty of marching. Standing around for hours at a time is hardly a blast. Food is expensive, water is basically gold, the booths are loud and obnoxious, and that dude just won’t get off the stupid demo station you want some time on. There’s absolutely no need to compound this any further. In 2005, it was literally impossible to get around many booths as publishers like NCSoft would host fire jugglers in the middle of their open booth, locking traffic for several booths around it. Celebrities were on-hand to clog up other booths with lines that took hours to get through. And I was in those lines. And I would stop and watch the jugglers flick fire around.
I was being the problem.
But weren’t the publishers partially responsible for this mess as they attempted to one-up their competitors? Sure. That same year, I gathered two large vendor-provided bags full of swag and nearly three dozen shirts. They hired models to wear silly or skimpy costumes to drum up a spectacle around their booth. Ironically, these were the same groups that would later complain to the ESA that the show had gotten too large, forcing the ESA to revise the show down to a small show floor inside a hangar in Santa Monica and only inviting two to three thousand people and becoming an unmitigated disaster.
I set myself straight early on for this show. In 2009, I went to the show with Kelly, Cody, and Sam to film a documentary and get those famous names in the gaming scene on film. For 2012, I dodged the impulse to pick up every flyer and ktchotke that was being handed out (inevitably, I accumulated a small bag, but my conscience still felt clear). For the first time, I had appointments and places to be. I rarely had moments where I could just surf the floor and demo games. Admittedly, far too many of my appointments were to sit (well, thanks for that at least!) in cramped theaters for half an hour at a time, watching gameplay that will be on the publisher’s YouTube channel in a few weeks.
But that was only a minor issue, the worst came when trying to get between these points. People stood idle in the middle of anywhere they possibly could without any consideration to human traffic. These people weren’t reporters, these people weren’t working, they were already wearing a t-shirt that a publisher had been tossing out to passers-by. They were holding up space by waiting for animal-themed hats. They were there for the aura and the experience.
They were being the problem.
“You gotta go forwards to go back… better press on.”
So how do you fix E3?
– Sure, you can remove all of the ‘Exhibits Only’ attendees and things will be quieter, but then no one attends the show anymore. While the show isn’t as drastic as 2005’s show was, there are still plenty of people who probably didn’t need to show up, especially when they had no obligation to report their findings other than their own sense of fulfillment. (Yes, I realize this is ironic considering I’ve always advocated a position that gamers should visit E3 at least once in their lives.) And yes, media types can be jerks as well. I get it.
– You could turn every booth into boxes full of meeting rooms and VIP lounges and restrict access to those who can get appointments. It’d remove a lot of the unnecessary human and aural noise and give publishers the ability to interact with journalists better. The best booth at E3 wasn’t even a booth: it was THQ’s meeting rooms up on the second floor. Far from the noise of the show, with a pleasant mix of publishers to journalists, we not only got to see (or play) the games, but get some time to chat with the developers. If every other publisher had pulled off their booth like THQ did, E3 would’ve been a heavenly experience.
– Pull a Tokyo Game Show or Gamescom and have media only days. Okay, so keep the Exhibits Only peeps, but restrict them to just a day or two of the show instead of the whole event. In reality, if you’re only at the show to play the demos available on the show floor, you can get everything done in a day anyway. There is, in fact, a media only event available a few weeks before the show, but for whatever reason, only the most elite outlets get in.
It’s not going to be easy for the ESA to come up with a solution as each year is a tweak on the formula, but it’s obvious that work still needs to be done. At the very least, please, if you’re toting an Exhibits Only badge next year, step to the side.