E3: Is It Time For A Change?

By Andrew Ogley,
We're getting to that time of year again when the hype train is really rolling and rumors sprout legs and are given a running head start. Wishlists start appearing and last year's presentations are reviewed to see which promises were kept and which have not yet been fulfilled. Forums start buzzing and fans start getting excited. On the basis of such evidence, it appears that E3 still retains all of its appeal to the gaming audience. On a personal level, last year's event was the culmination of growing trends over the last couple of years that lead to, what I feel, was one of the most underwhelming events in recent years. In simple terms, by the time we arrived at the presentations and keynotes, we'd already seen all there was to see and there was little new to see. It felt like the presents had already been unwrapped and the party spoiled before we even arrived. For an event that prides itself on being a showcase for the industry, that's a pretty big deal.

E3 - Time to Change

Looking back when E3 was first conceived, it was a very different world, especially for gaming. Console games were still released on cartridges — the Sega Saturn actually released in the same month of the show — with the PlayStation and its discs only arriving in September of that year. There were no patches, updates or DLC for any of these machines. News about games came from magazines that appeared just once a month, which also contained reviews and walkthroughs and the eagerly sought after cheat codes to help get through those difficult areas. If you were lucky there might have been a weekly TV show but they were few and far between. The Internet was still in its infancy, certainly domestically, and as for social media, that was none existent. The rapidly growing electronic entertainment industry had very limited news outlets and channels. At the same time, there was an ever-increasing audience that was difficult to reach, so a trade show where manufacturers, developers, and publishers could get together to showcase their products and let people get hands-on really made sense.

1995, a time of fuzzy low-res photos and quiet understatement1995, a time of fuzzy low-res photos and quiet understatement

The inaugural show of 1995, featured just over 30 exhibitors with Sega and Acclaim having the largest two booths of the expo. Curiously even then, that first show set trends that we still see today. Sega and Sony both held their press conferences ahead of the actual event. Both parties tried viciously to outdo each other. Sega announced that their new Saturn console originally due for release in the same month as the PlayStation had already been shipped to retailers and would be available immediately. So Sony responded by immediately undercutting the price of the Saturn by $100 — and the rest is history. Nintendo announced their presence with an overly excessive party featuring top pop artists performing at the bash. Nintendo also staffed their stand with the Nintendettes, and Acclaim used models as an early form of booth babes to entice the mostly male demographic to their stand. Incidentally, they weren't alone, 3DO had the entire San Diego Chargers Cheerleader squad present. Needless to say, the show was an unmitigated, though now rather antiquated, success, with an estimated 40,000 attendees having visited over the course of the days. In future years, it would grow up to 70,000 before stricter restrictions were imposed.

So the pattern was set and has essentially remained pretty much the same ever since. There have been changes over the years with the number of attendees being limited, with some years having a mere 5000 people invited. Venues have also been switched on a couple of occasions, and the controversial use of booth babes was restricted. But the format was established. We still see over-the-top spectacles with lavish audio and visual presentations. We still see the big guns trying to outdo each other, beating each other to the punch and then waiting for the Internet to decide who the eventual winner is. It always seemed ironic that the biggest audience was not even invited into the auditoriums.

Unfortunately, whilst those particular traits have been left unchanged, the world around it has moved on. And it's here that there seems to be an increasing division between the corporate tradeshow that is E3, and the gaming audience it tries to entice.

Today, we have more media channels than with which we can really cope. Along with web pages, we have Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Mixer (previously known as Beam). Streamers, vloggers, and bloggers provide some of the cheapest mass marketing available. Information is constantly updated and, perhaps more importantly, constantly consumed, 24/7. There are public betas where gamers get hands-on and provide feedback. Even with the rumors and speculation, we've become adept at sorting the wheat from the chaff, learning whom we can trust and those that need to be taken with a pinch of salt. A single screenshot is given enough merit to appear immediately on a number of different social media channels. To say that there are no longer any secrets in the gaming industry may be a stretch, but we're heading that way.

And it was in this world that I sat and watched last year's E3 offerings. The pre-show hopes and expectations eventually went unabated and unfulfilled with presentation after presentation only showing us what we already knew — many times the presenters even had to pretend they weren't rehashing days- or weeks-old leaks. Companies had become victims to their own steady drip feed of marketing, social media and constant showcasing on a daily basis. When it came to the big day there was nothing left. We'd seen it all before. It became a show of nothing more than confirmations and affirmations of what we already knew or already suspected. My perception, both then and now, is that there is nothing new. I left the show without any change in my intentions in what I would or would not buy. My mind had already been made up pre-E3 and nothing in the show changed that. As a trade show and showcase, it had failed miserably.

Project Scorpio: Last year's reveal ahead of this year's revealProject Scorpio: Last year's reveal ahead of this year's reveal

I fear that something similar may well happen again this year. For example, Phil Spencer has promised to 'reveal' Project Scorpio at the coming E3, and this is a prime example of where the corporate mindsets differ from their audience. Project Scorpio was actually revealed last year, with a load of numbers and techspeak that not many of us really understood. Since then, there has also been a constant drip feed of information, updates, and press releases. So what is left to 'reveal' exactly — the price and the physical form? As interested as I am in Scorpio, all I really want to know is how long I have to save up for before I can afford it. I don't intend to sit through an hour's presentation just for that one snippet of information and I suspect I'm not alone.

Fortunately, there is some hope. The organizers of E3 have not been adverse to changes in the past and it may well be time to change again. There are signs that this may well be happening on a small scale. EA are hosting their own EA Play event ahead of the main E3 dates allowing fans to get their hands on the latest EA Sports offerings including FIFA 18. Other publishers and developers are holding their similar events again, ahead of the official E3 schedule. There will be panels and the general public will be invited to attend, albeit in limited numbers.

The idea that E3 should remain simply a trade show for those in the business and those reporting on it seems anachronistic in today's world, but unlike others who have rung its death knell or proclaimed its imminent passing, I believe, given all of the fans' interest, that there is still a place for E3 in the calendar, it just needs to shift its focus to those that will keep it going. The real audience is no longer the 'trade', it's the fans.

Ultimately, it should be about the fans and the gaming communityUltimately, it should be about the fans and the gaming community

And that's where I'd like to see the change. Make it an event or festival for the global audience of gamers. Open it to the public, have panels that the fans can speak to, where they can freely ask questions and engage with creators. Let the fans have early access and hands-on sessions with the new titles. Bring in E-Sports and tournaments. If E3 needs any inspiration, then it only has to look at the success of PAX, Blizzcon, or QuakeCon.

Will it change? I certainly hope so. As a celebration of gaming it has so much to offer fans and gamers, so much more than watching two or three corporate giants simply trying to slug it out in a public arena. There is so much potential and so much opportunity to take advantage of modern media to really entertain, engage and interact more closely with all of those fans that keep them in business across the world. The biggest revelation I want to see this year is that the new ideas, like allowing thousands of fans in, are successful. They can steer E3 into a new direction with fans at the heart of gaming industry also becoming the heart of a new event. It's too late to change E3 2017 but it is possible to change E3 2018 and it's time that they did.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.