The E3 2017 Experiment

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E3 2017 was one for the history books. Not because of its announcements or games that were present, but for one sole reason: 15,000 members of the general public were allowed to attend. While members of the public have managed to get into the formerly industry-only event in the past, it’s either been for a small part of the conference or its been through other connections. For the first time, however, average gamers were able to attend under the umbrella of ‘consumers,’ complete with their own unique neon-green badge holders. I for one was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to go to an event that I look forward to every year. However, even though I had a fantastic time and got to play plenty of games, I’ll be the first to admit that E3 2017 had its fair share of issues. I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect, but it’s clear in hindsight that what was done for this year’s E3 cannot continue going forward. In a way, E3 2017 was an experiment, and for several reasons, it failed.

At its heart, it’s still a trade show

One of the biggest complaints that industry professionals had for the show had to do with rubbing shoulders with the average gamer. And to be frank, I don’t blame them. While I pride myself on being both knowledgeable about games and well-mannered, the same can certainly not be said about the average gamer. There’s a reason why negative stereotypes still exist about hardcore gamers because at their worst they are people who you honestly don’t want to spend time with. So what kind of trade show invites people like that to attend? It’s a question that plenty of individuals on both sides of the show were asking themselves. Sure, most people who were there to do business were able to carry on as if nothing has changed this year. But if you were attempting to play games and didn’t have first priority for whatever reason, being stuck in line with Joe Smith who only wants to play the game to get a stupid hat might make you resent the ESA’s decision. That being said, I met plenty of people from “the industry” who were just as bad as the gamers they claimed were ruining E3 this year. I guess this hobby brings out the worst in all people.

It begs the question “who is E3 for?” While originally the answer might have been  “for the industry,” over the years E3 has been just as much for the average gamer as it was for anyone working in the gaming industry. Why else would the press conferences become less about sales figures and more about just game announcements? Gaming is one of those weird industries that has very close bonds with its consumers, and where the consumers have a ton of sway over the industry. As a result, we end up with these odd philosophical conundrums where this trade show that should be just a trade show, isn’t any longer.

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Too many people, too little space

Behavior and existential crises aside, the most obvious problem with this year’s event was a combination of the number of attendees and the usage of space. While crowds were definitely a problem if you got away from the biggest booths you would have noticed that there were vast areas that went unused in the convention center halls. This wasn’t just a little corner that might have been able to handle one new kiosk, this was enough space for any of the big companies to have added tons of play stations or kiosks to handle the increased volume.

Of course, it’s easier said than done to find the money to literally build a bigger booth to handle larger crowds. LA Convention Center real estate is astronomically expensive. But perhaps that’s where the issue also lies in the sheer volume of people who came to this year’s show. When it was first revealed that up 15,000 people could attend E3 2017 as consumers, I was surprised at the number of tickets available. Through years of following E3 in the past, I knew that even with just the industry present the lines at E3 could get ridiculously long. So the fact that their first year of having the public attend had 15,000 tickets almost seems like a bad idea from the start. It certainly didn’t help that there was also a significant number of these tickets that ended up being allocated to be given away for free by other companies. I don’t mean to be a snob, but sometimes when you give away things for free, you get people who probably shouldn’t be at events like E3 in the first place. Mainly it seems like the ESA just added all these tickets and didn’t think about this would affect the flow of the show, or didn’t tell the exhibitors for that matter.

What’s the solution?

In the numerous conversations I had in line, or at parties at E3, both with industry professionals and gamers like myself, a common topic that came up was what the ESA should do going forward. I’ve been to enough gaming community events and followed gaming long enough to know what works and doesn’t, so I certainly have some ideas of what the ESA can do for E3 2018.

As much as I loved being able to attend this year if the conference is to enjoy a healthy and sustainable relationship with the public it cannot repeat what it did this year. First, the number of attendees needs to change. Either you reduce the number of tickets drastically or do what Gamescom and TGS (Tokyo Game Show) do and have separate business and public days. Another idea, and this one is definitely my most snobbish one; is to increase the ticket price. I know it sounds a bit elitist for me to say this, but when the ticket cost is a quarter of what the industry and media pay (I get that their companies pay for them, but still) you get a lot of riff-raff. E3 isn’t PAX or Comic-Con. It’s an industry conference first and foremost, so I think that means that if you’re going attend a professional event like E3, you have to act like you belong. And if increasing the price means that most gamers can’t go, then maybe that’s not a bad thing. Obviously, I’m not a member of the ESA so who knows what they’ll do for next year, but I know I’m not only one who has ideas for what to do.

Funnily enough, E3 recently sent out a survey to all attendees to get event feedback. Needless to say, I shared both the good and bad that I experienced at this year’s event. I’m hoping that they continue to invite the public to attendee E3, but not in the same fashion they did this year. I greatly enjoyed my time at E3 despite the issues, but I know going forward that the next one I attend could be even better.

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