Commentary

What E3 needs is more than just the crowds

Opening the show to the public is good for the organisers' coffers, but trade and media reps suffer

I am still nursing a jet lag and body aches from muscling my way through the hordes of people at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles two weeks ago.

The "mecca" of PC and video gaming, where industry professionals such as publishers, developers and distributors gather to look at the latest games on display, used to be a trade show. But this year, it turned out to be a freak show.

You see, E3 this year was opened to the paying public for the first time in its 22-year history. The 15,000 tickets priced at US$250 (S$346) were sold out. As a result, this year's attendance rocketed to 68,400 compared with last year's 50,300, according to the show's organiser, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

But, while this was great news for ESA and gaming fans, it was bad news for industry professionals and journalists like myself.

I have attended a few E3 shows before. In the past, it was already difficult and time-consuming getting from one booth to another on the show floor.

With this year's influx of gawking gaming fans, I found myself being late for appointments as I had to jostle my way through the crowds.

At times, when a booth was showing a game trailer or having some presentation, the queue of walking people would stop and leave me stranded in exasperation.

Visitors to the Electronic Entertainment Expo gaming convention queuing up to enter the exhibition hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 15. It was the first time in its 22-year history that E3 had opened the show to the public.
Visitors to the Electronic Entertainment Expo gaming convention queuing up to enter the exhibition hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 15. It was the first time in its 22-year history that E3 had opened the show to the public. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Unlike at previous shows, it was virtually impossible to get a hands-on session for any game without prior appointment, even if you are an industry professional or from the media.

For fans, it was even worse. One fan was telling me he waited for 5hr at the Nintendo booth to play only 20min of the newly announced Super Mario Odyssey game.

In fact, even before the show opened, queues had snaked around the convention centre. On the first day of the show, I could still jump the queue with my media pass. But, on the second and third day of the show, I, too, had to join the queue. Not very productive.

Some journalists said it was good to have the crowds back, as attendance had been falling over the years. Big names like Electronic Arts and Wargaming have pulled out from the show.

So, I can understand ESA's move to increase its revenue stream. But it also needs to examine its original mission.

There are plenty of fan-centric game shows like PAX and Gamescom. If E3 is heading towards that direction, it might lose its "mecca" status soon.

And, if that is the case, would game publishers spend millions on their booths to showcase their games only for journalists and fans alike to have no chance of trying out the games?

With more E3 press conferences being broadcast live on the Web, journalists might be better off covering the event in the comfort of their homes - especially so when they can't try out the games or talk to developers.

A simple compromise would be for ESA to allocate a day or two just for the media and trade professionals to do their work, before opening its gates to the paying public on other days.

This way, it also gives paying fans a higher chance of trying out games and thus increase their willingness to fork out money for an E3 ticket.

If not, E3's crowd issue will just scare away the media, publishers and fans alike.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'What E3 needs is more than just the crowds'. Print Edition | Subscribe