In case you missed the news earlier this week, the Entertainment Software Association (or ESA for short) has once again shut down its annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, for the third year in a row. COVID is to blame once again, with the Omicron variant creating a startling rise in cases.
In its place, the ESA will once again host an all-digital event, which has been quite popular over the past couple of years. Though participating companies haven’t been announced yet, Nintendo and various third parties will likely be on board.
And that brings up an interesting question – should E3 come back at all in physical form? Sure, it drums up a great mantra with attendees when it comes to building hype for games, and allows for ample hands-on opportunity. But the show is actually more problematic than you might think.
Let’s look at the issues that have faced E3 over the years, and then figure if it’s worth bringing back at all.
Money Is an Issue, and It Shows
Over the years, E3 started out as a simple affair, with everything housed in one building – the Los Angeles Convention Center. Here, big developers could show off their games in the main hall, while smaller ones could showcase what they were doing in Kentia Hall.
But over the years, the show has changed – potentially for the worse. Kentia Hall has shuttered in favor of just showcasing in the main halls, and, eventually, it got to a point that, in 2007, the show saw a drastic change, becoming the E3 Media and Business Summit across various buildings in Santa Monica.
The show was a disaster, eventually leading to E3’s return to its original format in 2009. And while the show thrived for a bit, high prices for exhibit space began to take their toll on certain developers. During the final live event, a good amount of floor space in one of the major halls cost as high as $1 million – and maybe more, depending on how much room was needed.
As a result, companies began to pull out of E3 to do their own thing. Rockstar Games was first, opting for a small business suite at first before pulling the plug completely. Devolver Digital found it simpler to host a small developer space across the street from the Convention Center, complete with food trucks and a fun party vibe.
But the big ones eventually began to cost the ESA money. Electronic Arts pulled out in 2016 and hosted its own off-site event, EA Play, which it continues to regularly present; and Sony pulled out years later, even though it wasn’t hosting its PlayStation Experience event anymore.
Microsoft also cut back its event presence, opting to go with something at the Microsoft Theater next door while leaving its E3 space to its then-operating streaming service, Mixer. On a drastic note, the ESA opted to make E3 a public show, beginning with a smaller off-site event in 2016. But then it began letting the public onto the show floor in 2017, with 15,000 tickets available. While it led to more funds for the company, it added to E3’s woes, particularly from journalists and business type folks that struggled to get to the show floor.
The Future of E3…Or, At Least It Was
The ESA faced a major crisis in 2019, when the information of over 6,000 attendees managed to leak online. This led to a number of people being harassed, or their data becoming available for all to use at their free will. The company opted to bump up their security to resolve the matter, but the damage was already done.
To make up for these errors, the ESA started forming a plan to revamp E3 into a much “livelier” event, one deemed as a “fan, media, and influencer festival.” It promised to use “queuertainment” during the event, a method used at various Disney theme parks. While some streamers found interest in the plan, long-time attendees – including some burned by what occurred during the data leak – were very skeptical. Geoff Keighley, a producer for GameTrailers and a long-time attendee for the show, opted to skip out for the first time in 25 years upon hearing this, opting to do his own thing instead. (That would end up being the Summer Game Fest, which will once again make its return this year.)
The show, alas, never came to be. In March 2020, COVID cases were on the rise, and many trade shows were cancelled as a result. By April, the ESA had already confirmed E3’s cancellation, for the first time in several years. It was hoping to produce an all-digital event instead. It turned out to go pretty well, and with COVID still “raging” a year later, the ESA continued the trend with its 2021 event, with various third-party companies providing online presentations and interactions with fans.
Now we come to 2022, and, as you saw by the news, the show will be digital year again due to Omicron concerns. “Due to the ongoing health risks surrounding COVID-19 and its potential impact on the safety of exhibitors and attendees, E3 will not be held in person in 2022. We are nonetheless excited about the future of E3 and look forward to announcing more details soon,” the ESA noted in a statement.
So…Is E3 Still Necessary?
The real question now lies right in front of us – should E3 return at all?
There had been some talk about the future of the show, as the ESA reportedly was looking for a potential new venue, even though it currently has a contract with the Los Angeles Convention Center through 2023. But we all saw how the E3 2007 show went, with many people struggling to get to appointments, a format that made little sense as far as placement was concerned, and, of course, the disaster that was Jamie Kennedy hosting the Activision press conference. (We included it below, but be prepared for cringy stuff.)
There are also concerns in regard to when it becomes an in-person event again. Will the public be allowed to return? And if so, will the ESA limit their capacity so it’s not a burden on those that are supposed to be there to cover the games?
Will prices continue to be sky high as far as booth space goes, or will the ESA accommodate those that are trying to return? Remember, that was one of the big factors that forced EA and Sony to flee, and Microsoft to reconfigure its plans into a more fan-friendly event, as it did before the show went all-digital.
The answer probably won’t be easy for some of you to hear, but…E3 isn’t really a necessity anymore. It’s been a great show for several years, and an ideal meeting place for those that want to get together and cover the industry. Not to mention its location at the Los Angeles Convention Center is ideal for get-togethers, with so many places nearby where folks can meet.
But there are a number of negative factors to consider. The ESA still hasn’t fully resolved the data leak that left a lot of journalists burned. It disregarded safety for the sake of ticket sales and cramming public people into an industry show. It’s shunned a number of companies for absurd reasons, mainly due to lack of budget but also on smaller issues (like not allowing “booth babes” on the floor or questioning particular content in a game). And, of course, the ridiculous amount of charges for booth space, particularly for those that require something larger to showcase what they’re doing. (Even a small office space went for around $25,000 – and this was off the main floor!)
If, and this is a heavy if, the show does come back, the ESA would be wise to return E3 to its fundamentals. We’re talking an industry show that limits its attendance, and one that’s fair to both big and small publishers alike. What the hell, why not reopen Kentia Hall? It was the place of magic, the place where we discovered Guitar Hero for the first time, and home to one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you could get on the convention floor.
For that matter, lighten up on rules. Sure, make sure security is in place and all, and maybe keep the Dante’s Inferno folks from advertising again (with fake protestors and a really, really questionable campaign involving women and tattoos).
Lower costs. Do we have to scream it? The less attendees and companies you have, the less money you make. Plain and simple. When the show comes back, it should be open to everyone, and not just the filthy rich.
Without following these factors, more and more companies are just going to follow their own beat, and E3 will be nothing more than a memory. Granted, there’s nothing that the ESA can do about it now until COVID and Omicron calm down a lot. But there’s stuff to think about in the future here, and if the company doesn’t process it the right way, then E3 will get more to the point of being a burden than a service. And no one needs that.
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