This year’s E3 may have spectacular games at every turn, but on the show floor, it’s a disaster.
I’m by no means an E3 veteran, but I have been fortunate enough to attend four shows over the years – 2009, 2015, 2016, and this year – in each case, representing the good ship Thumbsticks.
In that time there’s been a huge change in how the games industry speaks and engages with its customers.
Social media and web broadcasting has, in effect, removed the media middle man. Big publishers are no longer dependant on the press, and now speak directly to the people that buy their products. Customers have become ‘the community’, and the line between press, enthusiast bloggers, and “internet influencers” is blurring more and more with each year.
It’s no secret that E3 has struggled to keep pace with these changes, and with the likes of Electronic Arts deciding to go it alone, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has had to react.
Steps have been taken to make E3 more inclusive, beginning with 2016’s E3 Live event, and continuing this year with the sale of 15,000 public tickets. Geoff Keighly has also pitched up down the road with the E3 Coliseum, a three day program of panels from big name developers and publishers.
Based on my first day on the E3 2017 show floor, I don’t think the move has been successful. E3 is always busy, and there were always long lines to play games, but the addition of 15,000 extra bodies has had a noticeable, and negative, effect.
It’s all very nice pouring more people onto the show floor, but when the nature of the show itself has not changed to accommodate the extra numbers, we have a problem. The result – on day one, at least – is that a lot of people seem stuck, with nowhere to go.
Today’s E3 booths are no longer packed with demo stations as they were in the 2000s, but now predominantly based around live broadcast stages. You’ll spend more time viewing from a distance or peering over shoulders than getting hands on.
For the first time at E3 I have seen tempers frayed as attendees have become clogged up in various bottle necks. The path between the Activision and Warner Bros. booths was a particularly grim place to be today, and at times the Nintendo booth felt dangerously overcrowded.
I’m not suggesting that the public shouldn’t be able to attend E3, but the ESA needs to ensure the show adapts to make the experience more worthwhile for everyone who attends; they could do worse than to follow the model used by Gamescom. Held in a much larger venue – 345,000 people attended last year in a venue 193,000 square metres, versus the estimated 50,000 in 13,700 square metres here in LA – there is still room to breath, even when the show floor is busy.
Gamescom also has a business only day to start the week. Not only is this welcome respite from the crowds for lucky attendees like me – meaning I can cover more games for Thumbsticks – but it also gives organisers a feel for how the show will run, giving them a brief window to make any necessary tweaks to line layouts or exhibition areas to keep the thronged masses flowing.
This year’s E3, so far, is chaotic and doesn’t appear to be satisfying the press or paid attendees. As it stands, a member of the public could attend this year’s show, and not lay hands on a single controller all day.
Here at Thumbsticks we’re fortunate. We get to go events because we talk and write about games, and we also get appointments with publishers to play games away from the show floor. If it’s an uncomfortable day then so be it; it’s the price we pay to be here. But if I had paid $150-$250 to attend, I’d be very tempted to ask for a refund.