I've been to E3 five or six times having worked in the games industry and related fields. One bit of news I didn't see coming is that basically they're killing E3 as we know it and turning it into an 'intimate' trade event. No more 60,000 visitor games mega-show at the LA convention centre, instead it will be some trade-only event for press and retail etc. It will be located in a couple of hotels instead with the use of private suites for appointments and such-forth. This is stupid.
This is exactly what happened to the UK's only games show, ECTS. The show which eagle-eyed readers may note is now no more. The UK is without a games show full stop. What they've done to E3 is basically the same thing they did to ECTS when they decided that it was a bad idea to piggy back a consumer show and a trade show. I say 'they' what I mean is one or two of the large publishers. That's how this stuff starts. One of them says "Hey, this is costing us double digit millions of dollars, let's not do it!" and it kicks off from there. Let's just get past the fact that the reason the whole thing costs so much money is because these guys engaged in an arms race of ever more expensive booth extravaganzas in the first place. It didn't need to cost that much. You just needed to get over the fact Microsoft and EA's stand was going to be bigger than yours. Everyone agreed E3 was getting silly but the solution was to kill it off? Surely there was a reason you were spending all that money?
Here's the thing though, once you've succeeded in kicking out all the filthy unwashed public and you've created your wonderful little industry love-in, the down-size stops there? It doesn't. Why? Because games publisher marketing director guy realises that if he's going to get a bunch of the press along to see his stuff exclusively and doesn't have to worry about constructing a huge stand and hiring some booth babes, he has this other thought. "Heeeeey! Why don't I just run my own event in a nice location and we can fly out all the journalists and trade dudes and it's still cheaper than doing mini-E3!". That's true, it is. This does, however, completely miss the point of a show.
The thing about a games show is this: is demonstrates the industry and provides a focal point via a substantial famous event brand that generates a heck of a lot of interest outside of where you are focusing your marketing and business development efforts. In one place you can see the new product portfolios upcoming from the publishers, check out the press and public reaction first hand and then, assuming your business aligns somehow, actually go grab a representative from that company and do some business. Yes, it's not great for Boris from PC Games Ninja or whatever and I know he complains he doesn't get enough quality time with your dev team. So what for Christ's sake? You have 20 web guys you never even knew before coming by, each of them has more readers than that guy.
If you cut down attendees, you've cut down a bunch of people who would come by your stand and perhaps engage in some meaningful business with you because it didn't actually occur for them to call you up or for you to call them up. And let's face it, your corporate web site does an excellent job of hiding any real contacts from people that might want to do business with you. The games industry is really quite incestuous enough in terms of the fact most business gets done due to who knows who, who owns who and who is bonking who. You go shove it behind closed doors and you've just killed the tangible benefits of having a show and kicked out any new fresh blood to mix up your stagnant gene pool.
If you've been to E3, you'll bump into all sorts of press from the most incredibly unlikely place. The Ayres Rock Gazette or some shit. They've come because they know E3 is a big thing. They can take some remarkably impressive photos, get a quick tasted on all the new upcoming stuff and they can write it up in their mainstream newspaper. Are you going to entice a reporter away from a daily paper to cover some private industry love-in? No. Well done, at a stroke you've just lowered the visibility of the entire games industry.
So the pattern of the long-slow-death goes as follows. First they create the more intimate trade-only event. A number of game publishers realise that there's absolutely no need for them to pay the exhorbitant costs of the hotel functions the organises have put on, so they start running their own stuff in the same town at the same time just as we saw at ECTS. The original event starts to look a bit anemic, then the game publishers realise that it's really not such a big deal any more - why should they fight for the same mind-share as the other publishers, they can run their OWN trade event at corporate HQ or some nice place where they can go skiing afterwards or something. Bingo, the entire thing dies completely. Just like ECTS.
The argument is that there's big game shows at Leipzig and the Toyko games shows. It's like they're saying that there's no room for a big consumer games show in the English-speaking world. Well, I think that's pretty damn unfortunate really. It's a spiral of self-destruction we've already seen. E3 in LA was a far bigger, more famous event, among consumers and the press, than either Leipzig or Tokyo are worldwide. You go to either, you see pretty rapidly that they aren't E3. In the case of Toyko, it doesn't even represent the world games industry particularly well.
I'm not saying that E3 isn't annoying because of all the fanbois and 16 year olds with "Director of Kicking Ass" badges or anything. However I think that a consumer game show is a great time and a great place to do business behide (seperate) closed doors and demonstrate to the world's mainstream press (the press that actually matters at the end of the day because this is the press that isn't preaching to the converted) that the games industry is an exciting place through delivering a loud, yearly, focal point for the games industry.
I kinda felt like the Game Stars show in London, which died after the first year, was actually a good template. Run a big consumer game show in a hall showing off all the new stuff you want to show off. Then across the way, run your game developer conferences, open areas, meeting rooms, workshops, bars etc for getting business done. However I think to do it, you've got to hand over the organisation to an outfit that does consumer shows and can go and market it effectively. They might want to hire some guy that understands that big white spotlights aren't great for gaming atmosphere either. Some guy that had, you know, been to E3.
The problem, ultimately, is that you need to engage the brain-challenged game publisher marketing directors. These are the guys that will happily rape your event and do something in town at the same time, because they think they're getting more out of it for them, rather than coming on board to support the organisers and the industry as a whole.
The thinking that has lead to this move ignores the modern landscape of social technology and communication too. It's more valuable now to engage all the guys you didn't know existed, than to have some cosey relationship with the biggest magazine in town. Gamers and potential gamers are getting turned on the products of the games industry by an ever wider range of media, web sites, blogs, pod-casts, web-comics, guild-forums and Christ knows what else. You can't target this stuff by inviting it to your private shit any more, the need for a proper games show to reach out to all these guys is greater than it's ever been before.
Unfortunately this whole episode basically stinks of outmoded thinking, a failure to correctly strategise the most effective way to market your products in the modern age. Not for the first time I'm struck by the fact that the games industry's worst enemy is the games industry.