E3 organizers are considering opening the expo the public
In retrospect, Electronic Arts's announcement back in January that it would be ceding its booth space at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was a tipping point. Since then, other publishers including Activision, Sega, Bandai Namco and Disney have followed EA's lead, pulling back into their own hosted press events or (at least in Activision's case) piggybacking into the show's lineup through first party publishers like Sony. At any rate, it's caused enough of a cascade that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which runs the event, has felt compelled to address it.
Speaking with MCV, ESA senior vice president Rich Taylor maintains that E3 is still "essential and relevant" to the game industry, noting that calls for the expo's irrelevance are more or less as annual an event as the show itself.
"The 'is E3 still relevant?' question gets asked every year, and then gets answered in June of that same year with a resounding 'yes,'" says Taylor.
But, he admits, these notices of withdrawal from what are traditionally the show's major exhibitors means the ESA must seriously consider changing things up in the future. That includes the possibility of opening up this year's trade show -- which historically has remained exclusive to industry members and press -- to the public.
"The consumer question is certainly part of the equation and one we will be taking a hard look at," Taylor acknowledges. "You saw last year, certain companies brought along some of their most valued customers. We will probably end up doing that again this year, and there will be some additional elements on top of that, that may or may not come. But we are always trying to figure out what we need to do, such as finding ways to better accommodate and facilitate YouTube personalities."
Invoking "YouTube personalities" might seem crass, but honestly, they are driving huge numbers of sales these days. A high-profile YouTuber like Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie) can make or break a game's success if he chooses to feature it on his channel.
Besides, the atmosphere of E3 is already geared in many ways toward a general audience. Having gone to a few of these shows myself (usually as press or as a juror for IndieCade), I've rarely seen a more dramatic case of cognitive dissonance: outside the expo floor are signs assuring attendees this is an industry-only conference, but two steps inside sees you bombarded with T-shirt giveaways and photo ops with someone dressed as Master Chief. It's the sort of wall-to-wall orgy of Free Shit I daydreamed about as a kid, pawing at glossy pictures in a print game magazine (back when they still had those).
"We obviously want to have a robust, energetic show floor," Taylor says, which I guess is his term for it. "So if people aren’t there, we will find others to be there. E3 is a place that people want to be. [...] We are talking to [...] a number of entities and developers, and encouraging them and inviting them to be a part of the show, when perhaps in the past they have not been."
To be clear here, Taylor isn't explicitly saying the show will be completely open to the public. E3 may decide to go the route of the Tokyo Game Show, for example, which has different days for industry members and for everyone else. Or it may invite just a handful of people to participate in select events. And no matter what changes ESA is entertaining, there's no guarantee any of them will be implemented by June.
One thing is certain, though: major publishers giving the E3 show floor a miss has forced expo organizers to take a serious look at how it does things. And that can only be good for everyone, ultimately.
(Top image source: Glenn Francis, Wikimedia Commons.)
Kris Ligman is the News Editor of ZAM. The one piece of E3 swag they've ever kept was an iron-on patch for Yars' Revenge. Because come on, Yars' Revenge. You can find Kris on Twitter @KrisLigman.