As you know, last week was the first E3 to be open to the public in any sort of official capacity. And as you know further, it was a hot topic amongst veterans of the show and newbies alike. It’s not surprising, either, considering it added a whopping 15,000 attendees on top of an already bustling 50,000 industry members. That’s 15,000 reasons to choose a side.
The strange thing, however, is that it hardly ended up being the industry—developers, publicists, journalists, analysts—versus the public but E3 itself versus the public.
To be fair, though, the former turned out to be also entirely true. As captured in a piece by Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson, one public attendee described the mood as “hostile toward the new attendees” and it “created an ‘us vs them’ environment.” And speaking with some other journalists last week at the show, it was clear that some more chatty PR folk certainly engendered that caste system. If you weren’t media or a seller, the standard level of friendliness was…variable.
To an extent, that is somewhat emblematic of the problem with the public at E3. It’s not necessarily that E3 opened itself up—it’s an inevitable and necessary move as things like, you know, the Internet renders it obsolete—but that E3 didn’t change itself for the public. And that lack of transfiguration lends itself to that resistance, creating a schism between the expectations from every side of the event.
A great portion of that is obviously at the hands of the ESA, the company that throws the annual menagerie of video games and handshake contagion. The poor communication between them and the public resulted in massive confusion in just what the public E3 pass included. As evidenced by Twitter threads, Twitch chats, and comments sections, a lot of those interested in attending had no actual idea what they would be buying into.
Pre-E3 press conferences, for example, like the ones thrown by Microsoft or Bethesda, are invite-only, which you aren’t going to get with being on a media or industry list or knowing someone that handles that sort of thing. Nor would members of the public get hands-on preview time (or hands-off theatre demos, for that matter) with the vast majority of games at E3 behind closed doors. And those sick parties you see Snaps and Tweets of from “influencers” (ugh)? Not a goddamn chance.
And even on the show floor, you’d likely spend all day waiting in line to play a single game. Colin Campbell at Polygon explored that particular avenue to find that public attendees were waiting over five hours to play a 10-minute VR demo at the Bethesda booth. Both shockingly and not, some people were totally fine enduring the wait. Even seven years in the game, I can tell you that the primal reaction to playing something yet to be released is still there and seemingly forever potent.
The structure of the show floor, regardless, was unchanged, however. In past years, the layout didn’t particularly matter since people walked with intent to make meetings and the like (though, to be honest, few major appointments happened on the floor). With the public there, only set on exploring the space for the first time ever, natural draws like the overwhelming Sony and Nintendo booths accrued interminable crowds. But they, as always, were clumped together at the entrance of South Hall, turning the doors into human cesspools.
Some companies had helpers pointing out where lines began and ended and listed their estimated wait times. Sony even gave a whirl at unleashing their RSVP system for demos, which was incessantly overloaded but at least reduced time spent standing in line. But between the exceptionally remarkable lack of show floor updates and the hilariously/frighteningly underprepared security, other public-facing show organizers like that of PAX and SXSW must be laughing their well-oiled asses off. (E3 Coliseum at The Novo? Ha, please.)
The natural question, then, is where does E3 go from here because it certainly isn’t serving the purpose it used to; retailers do deals elsewhere/elsetime and journalists get assets and demos online. The first option is that it backpedals and goes back to industry-only, which, as we all know, was hardly ever industry-only. (Get a WordPress account and you’re halfway there.) But we also know that ends with the cycle we’ve seen before: regression to the 2007 and 2008 E3 Media and Business Summit in Santa Monica before giving up and reliving the 2009 to present regrowth.
The other option is that it takes a page from Gamescom, the annual video game trade show in Cologne, Germany. It is the second largest gaming event in the world and manages to appease 345,000 attendees (a mix of 6,000 journalists and other public/industry members) and their individual needs. They have press days and then they let everyone go to fucking town. And they explicitly aim to serve the hordes of fans with classic German efficiency.
Or, perhaps, PAX is also a good example of how to run such a show. Companies can then do their own version of Nintendo’s Spotlight and Treehouse events. I mean, their press conferences this E3 were basically just pressing play on a concatenated set of trailers anyway. (Except Devolver Digital. Christ that was good stuff, eliciting the same awe as this year’s ClickHole SXSW “panel.”) I guess they can still coordinate to do everything in the same week anyway. That is pretty fun.