Past EED rants


Live leaderboard

Poker leaderboard

Voice of EED

Tuesday 1 August 2006

The End of E3 [Lurks]

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.


  1. Yet to me, as an outsider, it seems to be entirely the opposite of that. It looks more like an industry accepting that a tradeshow doesn't fit with the times and is moving on.
    To me, an annual massive english tradeshow seemed utterly out of place in this modern market. Who wants to wait for their news in an online industry that can peddle news instantly? Who wants to have a demo crammed for months to get it out in time for that single tradeshow? Who wants then to have to pay millions for it? Why do we wait for E3 then have all the gaming news sites spouting the same news as each other? What relevance is an annual show in an industry thats chucking out products weekly with very little shelf life?
    What other industry does this? The Movies dont, the music industry doesn't? Why does a massive consumer trade show fit games and not those?

  2. Heh, quelle surprise. The industry isn't accepting it, the downsizing isn't some big concensus. If anything, it's the concept of a trade show - the thing they're basically keeping - is what doesn't fit with the times.
    I've set it out pretty clearly already. Without a massive consumer trade show, you don't get big games show stories in national press and so on. Sure your specialist press online and print is going to keep doing what they're doing but bizarrely this is the shit they haven't thrown away, this is the stuff which largely dictated the change of format. The games industry has basically decided to stop communicating to the grass roots games enthusiasts, all the guys who run those web sites. Those are the guys you saw at E3. Those are the guys who aren't going to get invites to mini-E3. Yet the games industry still has to plug in all the milestones in development to get game code ready to be playable and demonstrable for mini-E3 just as they are today.
    You say there aren't movies and music industry shows. Well there are actually, they don't take the same format because with those media you just sit back and watch rather than participate. The difference between non-interactive and interactive entertainment. The avenue to drum up worldwide media are awards ceremonies which we have in spades. People aren't interested in awards for games, they're interested in what's coming up which is where E3 comes in. No want wants to see a half-finished movie. Comparing the music and movie industry to the games industry is a popular endeavor but it's a dangerous one too because they are very different. Your local newspaper is going to run movie reviews as they come out. You're lucky if a daily has a weekly slot for games. There's a gulf of acceptance and a greater desire to know what's coming and it's a formula that has worked intensely well for E3.
    Few other events worldwide get the sort of coverage that E3 does. When you tot up the sort of money they're talking about combined cost for the whole thing, it's a pretty minimal percentage of the revenues involved. There's no business case for this and there most-blood-certainly is not a marketing case for it.

  3. There are trade movie shows. That's exactly what Cannes is - closed showings of films and people getting together - and that's just one of many.
    ECTS got shit about the time they started letting peons in. E3 has just ballooned out of all proportion. Like that whole hall filled with 100 vendors of lightguns for deer shooting games.
    It's good to have some sort of milestone in the year, something to anchor demos and development and keynotes around :)

  4. I'm not saying there are no tradeshows for other media, I'm saying there are no massive annual consumer and trade shows of the scale of e3. It's a massive thing, a huge monster on the calender, and a scale back seems to be to be moving with the times. Address your trade at a custom show, address your consumer using new methods such as Live, Steam, websites, and the like.
    Eurogamer sum it up better than I can, as do PA. It is good to have trade events, but massive consumer shows that hold the whole year of announcements up for everyone for such a limited audience? Naa.

  5. You think Live, Steam and web sites makes up for mainstream marketing. It doesn't by a very long shot. The lack of an E3 show is going to mean less people writing about games. If you're on the inside already, you probably don't care. It has little impact to you and you didn't really get what I'm saying about the whole thing from a marketing standpoint. And you're still saying that the consumer show holds up announcements. No. You're confusing the roll of the consumer show and mini-E3. Much of the stuff you've hoped will go away, will stay as it is. Much of the stuff that should go away, will stay as it is.
    Eurogamer, like the rest of the rest of the specialist press, spent several years whining about the fact that there were people there that weren't serious journalists like them. I was one of those people complaining about that as well. For all that, you see them hoping this means that publishers wont hold decentralised trade events. That's exactly what's going to happen. Also as a direct consequence though, Leipzig is going to get bigger. That's probably not a bad thing though.
    Ultimately, anything that allows me to avoid going to LA is a good thing. Silver lining and all that.

  6. Yes, I think Live in particular is a very effective mainstream marketing tool. Have you seen Live in action? It's on every 360 sold, its free, it's almost impossible to imagine a 360 without it, it's so well integrated into the system. It's part of practically every game on the platform and extremely easy to use. Granted, what it doesn't do is attract people who aren't on your platform, but then much of that comes from regular shite like TV and the press anyway and they don't need e3 to peddle their shit, do they?
    It's just not a great way to meet the consumer. Why queue for four hours to get in the nintendo booth when you could play the same demo online? Anyone who goes through that ordeal is already a signed up nintendo borgling and doesn't need convincing, so who are you attracting with it?
    I've got a couple pre-teen of non-hardcore games consumers in my gaff, and they dont give a shit about e3, games news sites, lads mags, tech specs, 'emotion engine' american woot fodder lies or any of the avenues of pr that comes out of e3. They care about brands, about glossy adverts in the high street, about what their mates are playing that they can link up with, and about what flashes up on xbox live and says 'buy me'.
    Seems to me dropping the girls, costumes, laser shows, coach loads of spotty 'journalists' from a single games website is an industry growing up and moving on, not moving backwards.

  7. E3 isn't about meeting every consumer one on one, that's obvious and really banging on about that shows you're not even on the same tangent with what I'm saying in the first place. 60,000 people is not meeting consumers one on one. It's the media that turns up to E3 who wont end up going to mini-E3 which was where the value was and yes, that includes all those spotty 'journalists' from a single games web site. Now the trade event has turned into a closed doors nudge nudge wink wink, all the guys from the big publishers, pushed and motivated by all the most bent stuff in the industry like bargaining for exclusives, advertising contra deals and so on and so forth. Less people see this shit, less people with no vested interested.
    I'm not saying E3 is the greatest thing for you and your toddler daughters, I never was. The direction it is going, however, will lower the profile of gaming worldwide and reduce marketing options when it comes to talking to mainstream press about gaming related stuff. It also will reduce the variety of people talking about games before they come out and also remove a lot of great feedback which goes into games prior to release
    You seem to think this is irrelevant because you can get all your stuff off online and your kids are adequately served by above-the-line direct marketing from a poster in the high-street. Great, if that's what you think makes the world richer, then we need to agree to disagree. Particularly if you're telling me that a greater reliance on above-the-line publisher marketing is somehow the industry growing up. Online stuff is not the instant panacea of marketing just because you have Steam installed on your PC. It's part of an overall strategy.
    Neither do I think E3 in the form it was in, and the expense and sillyness, was entirely necessary but again - how does one go from deciding to go bigger and bigger every year to doing nothing at all? Because of a couple of large companies pulling out, the show is scuppered for dozens upon dozens of smaller developers who don't have the same capability for above-the-line marketing. You argue about the cost. I say now they're just going to fly friendly journalists to Ski resorts. Great.
    Make no mistake, one of the big catalysts behind this development is because EA wants to be in greater control of who is talking about their games. They want to make sure that most of the folks who are talking about their games, are taking their advertisementing money and all that entails.
    Besides. Booth babes rock you bender.

  8. E3 wasn't even that big by trade show standards. By gaming industry standards it was of course 'Teh Daddy', but certainly not across the board. There are shoe (!) and jewelry trade shows that happen annually or bi-annually in Vegas that absolutely dwarf E3 - and they are consumer facing some of the time, and they keep going, successfully...
    Its all a bit odd really.