Next-Gen.biz and Gamespot, and now practically every website under the sun are reporting this weekend that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the industry organization behind the fabled E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) event, is in discussions with leading game industry publishers to dramatically reduce the size, scope and perhaps even the location of the annual game convention.
Long held in sunny Los Angeles at the gigantic Los Angeles Convention Center, E3 has steadily grown in popularity and expenditures, bringing in tens of thousands of attendees and generating over $50 million in related service industry revenue for the City of Los Angeles. It has, however (if the reports are to be believed) shown no corresponding increase in sales of titles on display for the leading (and highest-spending) publishers.
The ESA has indicated that they will be making a formal announcement on Monday, but until then we can only speculate as to what this will mean for the industry as a whole and the thousands of models, journalists and hangers-on who have taken to planning their lives around the annual event.
Smaller, more manageable events like the GDC, DICE and AGC have slowly taken more meaningful focus away from E3 over the years, providing publishers and journalists with slightly more sane venues in which to discuss the more important aspects of an industry trade show (i.e. the games) but for many, E3 is the industry event, and it's demise will undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the industry as whole; a dramatically positive impact in my opinion.
Having recently attended my first E3, I have to say that I'm neither surprised nor dejected by this news. Rather, I welcome it. As much fun as E3 was to attend, I honestly couldn't see the point of it all. Not only were many of the games on display in such a state of incompletion as to render any critique as half-baked as the rushed "display code," but the show itself was so noisy and distracting that interviews were practically impossible.
The show floor interview Razor and I conducted with the Japanese producer of Sega's recent Xbox360 title, Chromehounds is a prime example. The man was very polite, very enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to answer as many questions about the game as possible. Unfortunately he spoke no English whatsoever, and the act of conducting the interview through an interpreter (and no fewer than two representatives of Sega) was so cumbersome to begin with that the added distraction of approximately 20 machines blaring audio from the demo of the game, and the flashing lights, rumbling bass and general hullabaloo of the nearby Microsoft and Blizzard booths rendered the whole enterprise futile. We did get a few interesting quotes, but in the end we departed the field of battle as broken journalists.
In a time when video games weren't the leading form of entertainment media, perhaps a convention like E3 actually made sense. The idea, after all, was to attract mainstream media attention to the growing industry. That goal seems to have been accomplished. Video games are now a multi-billion dollar industry, and the press that the trade group so eagerly desired to attract is now too terrified of its annual event to accurately cover it. Mass media stories covering enforcement of the new Booth Babe dress code and Paris Hilton's inability to read ad copy, for example, vastly out numbered coverage of the games themselves, and really, aren't the games the whole point of the exercise to begin with? As much fun as the ESA was surely having presiding over an annual extravaganza of entertainment excess, it would seem that they have finally come to their senses and decided to let go of the glitz in favor of a more meaningful trade show. Or were forced to, rather, by their most powerful members
My final judgment on E3 2006 was that elbowing my way through throngs of bloggers with media badges and overflowing swag bags, while simultaneously deafened and blinded by atomic explosions of light, sound and hype might have been an interesting way to spend six days, but that I would rather have spent those six days actually talking to developers about games that were actually slated for release. It looks like come next May, I might get my wish.