Is E3 Dead?

The gaming community received a harsh slap in the face last year when ESA, the organization that is behind the megaton-laden E3, decided to completely change the way the yearly venue is run. They drastically reduced the number of reporters that were allowed to attend to around 20,000 (from last year’s 60,000), and turned it into a more intimate affair for the actual publishers/developers to showcase their games without having to scream over loud, thumping techno music.

In unison, developers around the world bowed down and gave thanks to the merciful Gamer Gods. Now they wouldn’t have to break their asses to create a (hopefully) bug-free demo that would probably get swept up in all the hustle and bustle anyway. The gamers themselves, on the other hand, found it hard to believe that the mecca of all things gaming was being changed into something that they would never have the opportunity to experience. Invite-only is the name of the game now, and even the big guys, like IGN, are having trouble getting everyone in.

Since 1998, when Nintendo Power wrote a feature article on all the games that were being shown at that year’s E3 (with games like Resident Evil 2 and Perfect Dark), my childhood dream was to somehow get to the hallowed halls of gaming, nestled comfortably in the seedy underbelly of the Los Angeles Convention Center. That dream is now dead for me, but it may actually be dead for everyone else, as well.

A plausible but barely recognized theory that is floating around the Internet is that we don’t need an E3 anymore, and that this year’s convention will be its last.

E3? More like 4D!!!!!!111

When E3 was first created, its job was to get the video game medium more mainstream coverage. Video games outgrew the Consumer Electronics Show, but were still very much a niche medium. The mainstream press still thought that gamers were the nerds drooling over a PC monitor in their mom’s basement (which was at least partially accurate). But look at the market today – video game sales have surpassed Hollywood box-office sales year-over-year for the last decade. The PS2 has found its way into over 110 million homes around the world, and the DS is poised to beat that huge figure. For all intents and purposes, E3 accomplished what it set out to do all those years ago.

So, if we think about it logically, do we even really need an E3 anymore? In the last few years, E3 turned into more of playground for lucky bloggers that wanted to hang out with the booth babes than a place to expand the image of video games (not that a handful of lamer staff weren’t a part of this problem). Companies put in hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of dollars into creating a demo for the show, but found it extremely hard to get any sort of recognition when going up against the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. If you look at last year’s E3, the consensus was Nintendo rocked the house and had lines circling the building. But what about the smaller devs? What about those cute, little indie developers? They had no possibility of generating any hype for their own games when you had Zelda and the Wii mesmerizing everyone.

This was the primary reason for the complete shift in the convention’s formula. It just wasn’t conducive for everyone involved. But, now that E3 has been toned down, many critics are saying that it will fail.

They seem to feel that E3 was only influential in the greater scheme of things, with national news outlets and services, when they had 60+ thousand people showing up. Now that it’s relegated to a hanger in Santa Monica for only the more prominent journalists, with no prospects of flashing disco lights to see under a huge God of War III sign, it becomes a rather boring affair. The over-the-top, “be louder than the guy next to you” motif was what made E3 so popular, as well as the aforementioned booth babes. Without the glitz and glamor of it all, it just becomes another business convention.

And, because some are seeing the decrease of possible news coverage for the big show, we may see a few companies just back off from attending altogether. If there’s no one to see their game, then why go? It would be financially wasteful to put so much money into something they likely won’t see much of a return from. They said that about the old E3, so why would a more subdued one correct this problem? It just seems that the ESA came up with a half-assed solution, one that doesn’t help anyone out.

I’d guess the only people that will see any type of benefit are the publishers, like EA and Capcom. But, with more company-centric press shows, like Konami’s Gamer Day, why would anyone even need to spend money on something that they see as merely supplementary? It really makes no sense for them to even attend E3. It will help them out to show the press their upcoming games and get the word out, but I can’t imagine it would be more helpful at E3 than their own conferences.

Too Human? More like Too Terrible!!!!!!!!!111111111

Another fact that helps justify the death of E3 is the schedule of shows surrounding the newly revised July date. We have Comic-Con the week after, PAX in August, and the Tokyo Game Show in September; three huge conventions for gaming in a two month period. What makes hitting E3 first more advantageous? The old E3 had the best possible schedule for showing off new games. The closest show was GDC, which was a good two months before, and it really wasn’t a show to reveal all your cards.

If a company is too far behind in getting a demo ready for the show, they will probably just opt out of E3 and re-schedule for another show that comes soon after. And that’s if they aren’t connected to a company like Konami or EA, who have their own conferences.

This leads into the other major problem: demos. Dennis Dyack has been on a tirade as of late, becoming very vocal on the whole issue of showing a game before it is finished. Many of you will remember the backlash that Silicon Knights received when they showed a very early build of their 360 title, Too Human. Problems cited were poor frame rate, bad camera control, and somewhat dated graphics. But Dyack even warned it was too early to show. Microsoft was the one that demanded it be there. Soon after, the journalists were all predicting doom for Too Human. The game wasn’t scheduled to be released until July of 2007, a full year from then, but it did little to sway the public. Too Human has become somewhat of a joke.

Dyack has gone on the offensive now, relaying info to that the system the video game industry employs right now for showing off new titles is horribly broken. He cites Hollywood as how it should be done, only showing a product when it is completely finished. You would never see a movie before it was edited, would you? So why do developers have to show off their games before they’re completed?

A good example of how Dyack feels about the situation is a Penny Arcade knock-off strip on their IGN blog. You can view it here. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out if it’s in good taste or not, but the message is clear: it sucks to show off your games early.

So, when you have sentiment like this growing in the industry, and the problems that many see arising from a new type of E3, it all seems to point to a world where there should be no E3. Publishers see less of a reason to attend the show, and most developers only want to show their games off when they are fully completed.

The only thing stopping this from becoming a reality is if everyone can agree. If Dyack gets the idea that making a demo for the press months before a game hits alpha stages into the heads of the major developers out there, and if publishers see no real advantage to go to E3 when you have more coverage at a convention only two months away, then E3 is not long for this world.

It will be for the better in almost all respects, but for all those gamers that dreamed of attending the (in)famous E3, your ship may have sailed right under your noses.

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