The Truth Behind E3 Expo Exclusivity

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) produces an exclusive computer and video gaming industry business networking event, featuring many exciting games and related products which are being developed or will be released soon.

As the ESA’s upcoming 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit (E3), scheduled for July 15-17 at the L.A. Convention Center looms on the horizon, many small and medium sized publishing entities, as well as gaming enthusiasts, have wondered why the ESA’s event is structured as an invitation-only gathering.

Upon first glance, it would seem counter intuitive for an organization that ultimately supports free expression and gaming, to place restrictions on who may attend such an important and influential conference as that of E3.

The Game Reviews decided to find out more about how and why the new elite and seemingly restrictive status of E3’s “invitation list” actually came about. Ben Fisher, the CEO of The Game Reviews, spoke with Rick Taylor, former Senior Vice President of the Motion Picture Association of America, who now serves as a senior strategist in his role as ESA’s Senior Vice President for Communications and Research.

Historically, the E3 was actually conceptualized, as a way of securing funding for the ESA. This is the reason why the original structure was formulated toward business dealings, including a comfortable environment for meetings with the larger retailers, and other businesses that support the gaming industry. Over time, the E3 grew to become more expansive, and thus more convoluted, which, according to some reports, reached as many as 80,000 attendees. Thus, the conference became less manageable and veered further away from its purpose as a professional, business networking based activity.

Mr. Taylor maintains that over the years, the exponential growth of the event contributed to what was considered as a departure from its initial purpose. While many could argue that the change in attendance policy is ultimately more beneficial to the gaming business as a whole, the exclusive nature of the new policy was considered a harsh tactic, where the smaller gaming publishers and developers were concerned. Those smaller publishing entities had grown to rely upon the mass-market benefits of the event. In addition, now that the stricter attendance status of the event has been instituted, the City of Los Angeles will no longer experience the sizeable financial gain from the prior event’s huge influx of gamers and industry employees.

While it was never the ESA’s intention to exclude smaller websites and bloggers from the E3 according to a list of “qualifications,” Mr. Taylor indicated that the exclusive attendance policy was instituted in order to support returning to the initial purpose of the show. The imposed limitations coincide with relation to the business model that E3 was always intended to be. In addition, the reality is that there is not enough room in order to include everyone who may wish to attend, while preserving a business-like atmosphere. At present, with the new policy in place, there are at least 4,000+ attendees, which is a huge crowd to accommodate, in any case.

The invitation-only policy has, according to Mr. Taylor, made it more possible for E3 to serve the needs of its contributors, and to effectively become more of what it was originally conceptualized to be, which was a professional and efficient environment for suite based meetings between media and other leading game industry professionals.

Mr. Taylor indicated that the most recent changes for the Expo presentation this year were developed in response to feedback received from the event held in Santa Monica last year. Changes in this year’s event will involve shorter distances between meetings, as the convention center can serve as a much more centralized location and atmosphere. This year, with an eye toward a more efficient layout design, the event will include a suite based, personalized theme. There are specific spaces for meetings, and exhibitors, in addition to hotels within walking distance, including access to a showroom type of pavilion for the new games. This presents a much more visually updated format, with an orderly framework, in contrast to the former “giant floor of games,” as was the case for E3’s 2006 and events of prior years.

Rather than allow companies to establish their own level of presence through the size of a booth, the conference organizers this year have made precise efforts to include everyone involved as equally as possible, so that the purpose of the event will be kept pristine. It was considered that in this way, the conference has a better chance of providing more of the type of experience that it was intended for.

Feedback from attendees of past events has made the prior problems even more evident. Crowd control has become more of a necessity, in order to maintain the event’s original purpose as a business networking situation, as opposed to the more all inclusive, "circus" type of atmosphere that the event had become. At one time, it could have been prudent to attempt to run two parallel events; one that would include exclusively business and media – the other catering to public consumers. However, when key audiences were asked what they desired, the response indicated that business professionals preferred a situation where high level meetings could easily take place, and if desired, games could be played without having to wait in long lines.

While the fan base is certainly important, the purpose of E3 had always been to handle the business end of the industry, with media and investor-based activities. Most of the changes in the event attendance and structure, were made in an effort to upgrade the networking capabilities, so that attendees could socialize with the same kinds of key players. In this way, it would be possible to become aware of what major company offerings were being developed and available, while at the same time, preserving the sense of excitement, interest and discovery.

In order for E3 event attendees to more fully grasp the evolution of gaming, presentations on the most important issues and trends facing the industry need to be explored. This was the sort of feedback which became the guiding principles behind E3 for 2008 and for the E3 Media and Business Summit.

After each event, it is the producer’s intent, to adapt the future conferences around the feedback of all attendees, including participants, companies, and contributors. While the producers believe that they have taken great strides to perfect the event satisfactorily, the current 2008 model is by no means “etched in stone.” Accommodating the attendees is the main focus, so event coordinators will continue to listen to the feedback from key audiences and evaluate after each iteration.

As a result, the exact format of E3 ’09 is unknown at this time, as it will be structured around feedback and information from the attendees of 2008’s event. Mr. Taylor is confident that the coordination of the event is heading in a direction and forum that meets the needs of its clientele, as enlightening and informative events continue to evolve in the process.

Mr. Taylor did confirm that it is currently the participating original publishing companies that determine which companies will be invited, through lists submitted.

In addition, Mr. Taylor stated that it is not the goal to keep everything secret; in fact, it is the desire of the companies involved in E3 to share the knowledge of products and get them out to both consumers and critics alike. Part of the ESA’s process, appears to be in finding the best ways in which to accomplish that.

Based on the attendance policies in place for E3, those interested in attending, particularly small to medium sized publications, as well as gaming enthusiasts, should work to develop as many relationships with the participating publishers as possible. Ultimately, it makes sense that any serious gaming enthusiast, business or organization, would be interested in engaging in these types of activities, that will serve to grow individual businesses, as well as support the gaming business overall.

When The Game Reviews suggested that a few publishers have indicated that they are considering debuting certain major announcements at shows other than E3, Mr. Taylor remarked, “Any publisher can choose to take whatever [tack] they wish . . . to announce their new game and products, but I think E3 remains the standard bearer in terms of time and place on those types of announcements. The companies have historically seen the benefit of making those kinds of announcements at the Meeting and Business Summit.’’

Ultimately, Mr. Taylor believes that most of the publishers will choose to continue to make their major game announcements at E3. At this point, Mr. Taylor was unable to confirm rumors that Nintendo will premiere an important announcement, or just how many spaces are available at this time.

However, there will be many more details revealed for the upcoming 2008 E3 Media & Business Summit in the coming weeks. This year’s event promises to be a very entertaining experience, for all of those involved. Those interested in learning more, should stay tuned for developing information at The Game Reviews.

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