The fervor that many of you feel—that urgency—to go to the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is what keeps this industry alive. Otherwise the people that get into making games wouldn’t be there, no one would watch the endless hours of YouTube content, and somehow even fewer people would read the words journalists write. That is the beating heart of what we all love.
It’s also quite possibly the greatest problem with it. Love is not a terribly uniting front to get behind when we are fundamentally different people. How else to explain Gamergate? Or the idiocy behind petitioning developers to change the ending to a game? There is no single demographic of a gamer just as there is no single demographic of moviegoers or music listeners.
There are, however, still a huge number of people that play games and thus a huge number of people that want to go to E3. Or rather, a huge number of people that think they want to go to E3. It was largely kept an industry-only event because, well, it was all about the industry. It required a perspective from within to make sure it kept chugging along.
Yeah, there’s the secret E3 that goes behind closed doors on the upper floors where deals are closed and hands are shook, but there are also plenty of closed doors in which folks like myself go to play games that are, uh…unfinished. Most of my time at E3, in fact, is spent going between the quieter portions of the Los Angeles Convention Center. It’s not because those are usually where the more interesting games live but because that’s simply the majority of them.
And that’s because they’re rough. They’re still actively being hewn and kept secreted away from general public viewing. They may be buggy or overtly locked to tightly controlled vertical slices. Many fans, no matter how diehard, would not be interested in playing these, let alone looking at them.
Last year was ostensibly the ESA’s first and only temperature gauge of a public E3 with E3 Live, and apparently it went well enough to where they decided to go ahead with opening the entire thing up. And that was such an incredibly small slice of what was available, it was relegated to a courtyard under the shadow of an immense Doritos-branded arcade cabinet (where even more Doritos-branded arcade games lived).
To be fair, you did get to play some unreleased stuff out there, but not much. But that event was also free and made to appeal to passersby, even if the lines were deceptively long. (Take a look at this Giant Bomb video of it all where some guys were waiting two hours to play with an HTC Vive.) And that’s with a bunch of open space.
Now imagine that you paid $250 dollars to get in there—along with whatever it cost to get you to Los Angeles—to wait in even bigger lines while wading through the most amount of people you’ve ever seen in your life outside of Bobby McFerrin concert. If you aren’t with the industry with a bunch of appointments set up or an outsider with a connection, the number of games you’ll play in a single day is somewhere around two or three. (The Breath of the Wild line last year was cut off for the day after 15 minutes.)
So picture that. You’ll be standing for seven hours a day, surrounded by 50,000 + 20,000 sweaty people, to play three games each day and each of those games are about as close to release as possible since they’re willing to be shown to the reactionary, sometimes violent public. Either that or you will be getting the early cut, and you’ll have to take your 10-minute slice and keep on walking.
Oh, and all those hot announcements from the press events? Those actually are industry- and invite-only, but they’re also streamed online and very much not worth attending in person unless you are impressed by the artistry of hardworking gaffers and booming sound systems. They are, however, slightly better than theatre demos where you’ll sit in an un-airconditioned, plywood room and watch someone else play a game with a dozen other mouth-breathers.
I promise you I’m not jaded and I’m far from taking my opportunities for granted. E3 is one hell of an experience, and yes, I was one of those people that so desperately wanted to go before I even know what going would be like. But knowing what I know now, it’s hard to tell you you’ll have a good time there.
You won’t have the same access and you simply won’t have the same experience. There isn’t even much of a spectacle anymore (thankfully, now that booth babes are a thing of the past) unless you want to see the passive-aggressive positioning of the Sony and Microsoft booths. So really, if you’re willing to deal with an Inside-style mass of bodies doing its damnedest to prevent you from getting to the big triple-A titles you want to play and are okay with waiting a few hours to seek out hidden gems, then I welcome you with open arms.
(But not really because I don’t want to get sick during a trade show.)