Perhaps all the hullabaloo over "the next E3" we've been slinging around for the past nine months or so has been a bit overblown, but the one thing we can say for certain about this new E3 is suddenly all bets are off; everyone is starting from scratch. Veterans of decades of E3s at the LACC can no longer dangle their attendance badges like ears collected from Southwest border raids, signaling to all their superiority. At this point, there isn't a single soul who's yet navigated the gauntlet of ballrooms, boardwalks and shuttle buses awaiting us in Santa Monica, and this is as good as it is bad.
On the good side, we'll probably score a number of impromptu meetings with Important Persons, just by happening to be near their conference rooms when some poor sod scheduled himself to be there immediately following his previous meeting six hotels away and didn't make it. On the bad side, we're just as likely to be that poor sod.
Last year, when the noise fines were tallied, attendance was totaled and the companies involved weighed the amount of time their representatives spent wading through throngs of "non-industry" folk, versus doing what they were actually at the LACC to do (i.e. hold meetings with press and biz dev types) it was decided that a public show was no longer the priority. And to be honest, I can see the logic there. These companies spend a lot of money to provide decent talking points and give great presentations about their upcoming products. All that work was easily getting lost in the blitz of glitz from a handful of folks playing to the crowd.
So the solution was to break the show in half, run one half as "E3 Business and Media" and the other as "E for Everyone," catering to the general public. While the latter show has yet to crystallize, E3 Business and Media is literally right around the corner, and from where I'm sitting (on hold with the hotel, printing out the dozens of meeting authorizations and event invites, painstakingly matching dates, times and credentials across multiple venues through a seemingly unending stream of PR offices), it would appear they've thrown the baby out with the bath water.
For starters, this is no "convention" per se. At a convention, a convention organizer handles registration, catering, staffing, transportation and (to some degree) scheduling. While it's true that at E3s of the past, each participating company handled a large part of their scheduling on their own, they at least had the framework of the convention schedule to fall back on - and the provided venue.
For this year's E3, we're dealing seven separate venues, few of which are within walking distance of each other, and the Barker Hangar, which is a 20 minute (estimated) shuttle ride away from the nearest hotel. The hangar is, if you'll recall, the crown jewel of this convention: an aircraft hangar outfitted with the best and glitziest of E3s past, provided so that yours truly and people like me can get hands-on time with the latest games - if we're on the list. The Barker is the one venue controlled by the E3 organizing committee, and without a special invite from them, you don't get to play.
But that's OK, because even without that invite, you can still attend the various press conferences and schedule a meeting with the companies in attendance - provided you have their contact information, and they like you. And gaining entry to some events requires, in effect, an act of God. (The much ballyhooed Killzone "secret" party? It's such a secret; apparently no one even knows how to get an invite. That's good PR folks. That's Sony.)
The one thing E3 did right this year was to provide a central housing clearinghouse, offering special discounted rates at various hotels in and around the conference area. Except they didn't even do that right, as it appears that a few of the reservations got lost between the E3 office and the hotels in question (mine among them).
To make matters worse, the lack of a central conference center meeting hall has made it necessary for some of the big guys to seek even more venues for their gigantor press conferences. Meaning still more layers of registration and more shuttle buses. Microsoft has rented out a local high school auditorium for their press conference, Nintendo booked the civic center and Sony is busing people out to their Culver City studios, requiring an extra hour at each end for check-in and check-out.
The U.S. government gives tours of the Nevada nuclear test range, out near Las Vegas, where they tested some of the first atomic bombs. You can see craters, test rigs and even the smooth glass left behind after a nuclear explosion fuses the sand at the site. There's still working going on there - much of it classified - and some parts of the range are still radioactive, so you have to go through a pretty stringent process to sign up for the tour, and then hop on a bus for an hour or so long ride from Vegas, but I hear it's worth it. The Sony Press conference? Probably not as cool, but definitely more trouble.
Nevertheless, we'll be there. We've been spending the past several weeks sifting through the multiple contacts and registrations required to attend what, in the past, required one registration and a half dozen (at most) phone calls. The ESA has, in effect, offloaded their organizing load onto those of us who will be attending and the companies we're there to meet. There are no central facilities, no central catering and aside from the hangar and the shuttles, no central logistics. Even if I somehow miraculously make all my meetings, there's a very real chance I won't eat for three days. Although I hear that's survivable.
Tomorrow we head out to a place we've never been, to try and find several dozen needles in almost a dozen haystacks. Will it be worth it? I honestly don't know, but right now I can tell you one thing for sure: I miss E3.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His currently unnamed, yet critically unrecognized column appears every Monday at The Escapist Daily. He also blogs at www.falsegravity.com.