If the ESA were to clean up the logistics, the E3 Media and Business Summit could become an important annual event. But as Brad Shoemaker from GameSpot says, "the biggest question isn't how E3 should work, it's whether we need E3 at all." The trend now is for developers to host their own events. Focus is the key. Keeping the media's attention is a lot easier when you're the only show in town. Big hitters like Microsoft and Nintendo are already onboard, holding events like X06 and Nintendo's Fall Conference. But the award for flagship third-party developer-specific conference has to go to Blizzcon.
Held twice by Blizzard Entertainment so far, once in October 2005 and again in August 2007, Blizzcon has been a huge cog in the World of Warcraft machine. The company no longer saves its big announcements for E3, having formally broken the news of both WoW's expansions on its own terms and on its own turf. Both Blizzcons have been set at the Anaheim Convention Center just a few minutes from Blizzard Headquarters in Irvine, California. Attendance was strong in 2005; over 7,000 fans crammed into the convention space, among the blood elves, forum trolls and ghosts (the StarCraft variety).
In May 2007, Blizzard announced the long-awaited StarCraft II at their own Worldwide Invitational in Seoul, South Korea. In August at Blizzcon, they followed up that announcement with more details on SC2 and simultaneously announced a new World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.
For those of you keeping score at home, the last three major game announcements from Blizzard have come at events directly controlled by the company.
Blizzard has also broken the annual convention model. They hold a convention only when they need to, not when everyone expects them to.
Blizzcon is not just about announcing new games; the whole convention is a study in fandom. For instance, the incredibly accurate and elaborate entries in the costume competition show the kind of devotion once limited to Star Wars. The heavily attended game panels are a testament to how much each fan enjoys disseminating the intricate details of game design. Chris Metzen, lore-guru and lead writer for Blizzard games, enjoys a near rock star status as he discusses the characters and storylines which weave through both War- and Starcraft. Throughout the event, the fan is king. Because underlying the press and business machine, there is the undeniable sense that Blizz employees are genuine fans and players of their own games.
Blizzcon's success will usher in similar events for other well-known franchises. Imagine a CivCon run by Firaxis or a SimCon where EA could more easily cash in on Will Wright's genius. With E3 gone, expect to see more appearing in the future.
There is one event, however, that rebels against specificity in the next wave of gaming conferences. The Penny Arcade Expo is a celebration of general gaming culture. A convention run by two web comic artists seems novel, even laughable, but PAX has been steadily growing since its inception in 2004. Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik began PAX simply because nothing like it existed. Gamers of all ilk, be they hand-held connoisseurs or PC devotees or wargamers, are honored at the Penny Arcade Expo.