The death of E3

    Every year gamers have precious few events for which to mark their calendar, the biggest being the Tokyo Game Show (TGS), the European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) and the mother of them all, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). These events are huge for gamers – they are a chance for fans and fanatics to find out what games are coming up and where we stand as a gaming community.

    Most of these events began in the mid-90s as simple conventions to allow producers and developers a chance to unveil their games for the following year, and to examine and discuss how the technology was growing and where the industry stood commercially.

    But as time progressed and gaming evolved, these conventions became a chance to show more folks tied to the gaming industry what was coming up and the event became a nexus for those who have devoted their lives to gaming.

    It took a few years, but the TGS and ECTS eventually allowed for public admission so that the core audience – gamers without industry connections – could check out the action on the floor, as well as attend the lectures and junkets being held by participants from all over the gaming world. Meanwhile, E3 stood firm by its refusal to become a public affair, despite being the largest event for gaming worldwide and a veritable mine of revenue from admission and merch sales.

    For those of you that don’t already know about E3: it is what the Super Bowl is to football, what the Sundance Film Festival is to indie film, what the AVN Awards are to porn. It’s the biggest, craziest and most celebrated event of the gaming year, an excuse for enthusiasts of the industry to get together and cheer about what’s happening (like the Super Bowl) while drunk, stoned or high on coke (like at Sundance) and watching booth babes and floor girls flash more skin than the average fanboy will ever see. Nearly every developer comes out and sets up booths where eager fans can try out new games and score swag, most especially shirts and game demos that non-attendees will never have. Beyond this, celebrities and professional athletes who endorse games are given guest passes and a chance to plug their titles, upping the number in attendance as they hold tournaments for their games, as well as the show itself.

    This led a lot of eager fans to lie and manipulate the requirements for the press credentials required to get in, as can be seen by the estimated total of 70,000 in attendance. This may have helped boost the party atmosphere, but it seems that the Electronic Software Association (ESA) wasn’t looking for a trade show where celebrities and pro athletes could bring their posses and promote their shit (and I do mean shit – did you ever see those Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen games?) Rather, they wanted a prestigious event that was exclusive, and in late July of this year, the ESA announced that E3 is now going to be an invitation-only affair with about 5,000 invites being sent, effectively scaling down the world’s largest gaming party to an event all about commerce and trade. Last weekend, the ESA explained that a series of hotels in Santa Monica, within walking distance, will replace the Los Angeles Community Center as host for the event.

    Does anyone else see where this is a flawed concept? Sure, the idea fueling E3 is a trade show that will keep gamers informed by letting the media and major retailers cover it, but the exposure that this event brought when held at the LACC with tens of thousands showing up was priceless.

    Now it will all be down to the reporters at the show to convey what games are coming out, who’s new to the scene and to answer the many questions about upcoming systems and technology. Gone will be the days of major anticipation and a free-wheeling party that creates enormous word-of-mouth advertising and hype. If video games – one of the few remaining industries that have escaped total corporate domination – continue in this vein, it will become another once-pure community reduced to a soulless, drab, suit-and-tie community that doesn’t care so much about happy fans as it does about big sales figures.

    That assumption isn’t entirely fair – the ECTS and TGS events are still going strong and allow their fans to come in and see what the industry insiders have to offer. While E3 isn’t technically dead, it has become a mere shell of the joyful soiree it once was. The international gaming community seems to understand that the gamers are what keep the industry going, and don’t mind showing a little appreciation via letting them come out and play. Now, those of us who had been looking forward to a career in gaming and eventual admission into the coveted expo won’t realize their dreams, unless they impress the ESA enough to merit an invite. This whole invite-only business would be like Sean Combs (or Puffy, or P. Diddy or Diddy or whatever the fuck he calls himself now) turning his huge White Party into a 30-person event, where you can only get in if you own stock in Bad Boy Records. This is a bunch of bullshit, and with any luck, the ESA will realize this when interest in E3 becomes a thing of the past, much like the soul of this former gala.