It's mid-May and in years past that meant that the attention of the gaming world was focused on Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). This May, Los Angeles is lacking the same gamer glow that it does this time every year.The annual show was killed off last year. While there is another E3 happening this year in July it pales in comparison of the magnatude of the original event.
But who killed E3? That's the real question. One that I'm hoping to answer with this article. After some research I've come to the conclusion that much like Agatha Christie's novel "Murder on the Orient Express" there was more than one person responsible for the death of E3. In order to take down something of this size it would take more than just one person or organization. Without further ado here is the list of suspects that I managed to come up with
Suspect #1: EA and the publishers
I single out EA because they have historically have lead the charge behind getting the event canceled year over year. However, the rest of the publishers like Activision, Konami, and Sega are just as complicit in taking down the industries big event. I can't say that I blame them that much as every year they had to ratchet up their booths just to make their voices heard over each other. They had to spend dollar after dollar just to gain the attention of the retailers,fanboys, and press. Publishers also had to interrupt complex development schedules in order to have something to show. This put added stress on the developers who were feverishly working to get the game out the door. Worse yet, there were games that were not in any shape to be demonstrated to the general public (Too Human comes to mind) and many a shallow gamer and journalist couldn't see past the technical issues to see the potential of the game underneath.
Suspect #2: Nintendo
I'm not saying that the innovative design of their new console killed the show but the fact that Nintendo had a four hour line that dominated headlines last year did not make it easy for other companies to keep pouring in the funds into E3. It's hard to get the message out about your game when you've got to compete with a YouTube video of how long the line to see the Wii is. Maybe Nintendo could have had a few more units available for people to play or allowed third party developers to show off their Wii games in their own booths to help ease the line. Instead they forced gamers to waste a good chunk of their E3 time sitting in line just to get a chance to play the Wii for a few moments.
Suspect #3 Sony
E3 was a disaster for Sony last year. Between the the price of the system, the infamous Ridge Racer line, and lack of a killer PS3 title the entire affair was not what Sony was expecting. Sony showed off a lot of good PS2 and PSP titles last year but they got lost in the rush to pile attention onto the Playstation3. Sony had the largest booth at E3 last year and spent a huge amount of money to do it. They got killed in the press. Its hard to justify spending so much money to be ignored. When the chance to have a smaller, more focused event came up, they jumped at the chance to kill E3 for a more focused event.
Suspect #4: Microsoft
Last year Microsoft shifted the E3 paradigm by releasing several of the E3 demos and videos on Xbox Live at the same time they appeared on the E3 show floor. While this was an awesome idea it eliminated the need for having a show as gamers could play the games and watch the videos at home, eliminating the need for a show altogether. Sure they didn't get some of the better games on the show floor (like Mass Effect or Supreme Commander) but they showed how vendors could create their own virtual event without having to shell out millions of dollars for floor space in dusty convention center.
Suspect #5: Fanboys
The fanboys might not have killed E3 by themselves but they were a big part of it. For journalists and other industry people it was a hassle to have to wade through swag whoring crowds of fanboys to get to their appointments. At one point during the show Paris Hilton manged to shut down almost half of the West Hall to promote a cell phone game she knew nothing about. Most fanboys where just there to play games, take pictures with booth babes and score swag by the bag full. It clogged up the aisles and took up valuable time at booths. The fact that the game publishers catered to this audience with bags of goodies and eye candy just made it even worse.
Suspect #6: Gaming Press
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone right? In the rush to cover every game on the show floor the press often glossed over small games or made bad snap decisions on others. Worse yet journalists often made up their mind about a game before even playing it, wasting both their time and the time of the developer presenting the game. Sure these are trivial in some sense but what's the point of spending copious amounts of time and money if people are going to ignore or mis-represent your work.
Suspect #7: The ESA
Finally we reach the main villain of our story, the Entertainment Software Association, the folks who organized the show. The biggest problem with E3 was that the ESA never really enforced their own admission rules and consequently E3 was overrun by people who really had no business being there. Sure they could tout that there were 80,000 people attending the show but how many people were really supposed to be there? There was some improvement last year as they stepped up enforcement of the rules but it was still easy to gain access to the show floor. This forced companies to start holding more and more meetings behind closed doors and as well as conducting events outside the convention center. When you say an event is going to be industry only you really need to make sure that it's the industry people you want (retailers, purchasers, developers, gaming press) and not the ones that you don't (Bookstore employees, Walmart stockers, etc).
The ESA also needs to take the blame for letting the event become a circus over the last few years. If they had started monitoring the noise and the dress code sooner, the event would not have become such an assault on the senses. No offense to NC Soft and Red Octane but do you really need to have live bands playing loud music in your booths? The Witcher booth was right behind the Red Octane booth last year and you could barely hear the developers talk about the game as the the band that was playing less than 15 feet away. By not enforcing standard they let the companies one-up each other each year until it was too late to reign everyone in.
As you can see, the death of E3 wasn't caused by one person, it was a group effort. I know it's cool to hate on E3 but I still miss the spectacle of the event and I'm going to miss going and hanging with gamers from around the world and talking to the developers. We will be at the new show later this year but it won't be the same thing. Maybe that's for the better but I'm not entirely sure it is.