Extra Life: The Need for E3

It seems that for the past few years, people within the industry discuss E3 as if the event is on its deathbed. To be fair, last year, upon hearing both developers and journalist alike discuss the format and layout in Santa Monica, I was reading the event its last rites myself. But for all the yearly bellyaching about E3, and for every Denis Dyack proclaiming it needs to die, there’s a simple truth every journalist, publisher, and developer knows is true in the back of their minds.

The industry needs E3’s survival. Because of that I’m already planning ahead for my first ever trip in 2009.

The single biggest reason the industry needs E3 is because the spectacle draws in mainstream press that typically doesn’t bother to go out of its way to cover gaming. Think about it: video games are grossing more money than any other form of entertainment, $18.8 billion according to NPD numbers, and the buzzword for the games industry is "recession-proof" in an election year where the floundering economy is the top issue Americans are concerned about. While the mainstream press will go out of their way to cover every major music or film event, when does mainstream press go out of its way to cover video games? To sensationalize sex and violence, to cover the newest mainstream Wii game, or E3.

We have the Tokyo Game Show, the Penny Arcade Expo, D.I.C.E., the Game Developers Conference, Leipzig, but E3 is the only major industry event that draws in mainstream press. As the industry continues to fight to be taken seriously in the mainstream press, it needs anything that gets the mainstream’s eye without that condescending view. Much of that is because most the events in America are completely inaccessible to non-gamers in a way that film and music festivals aren’t. That’s sad, since D.I.C.E. and GDC are the conferences the industry needs the mainstream to see in order to start taking the mature content and nature of the video games seriously. But in an industry with no true stars and no product a person can screen and understand in 90 minutes, the spectacle is the draw that brings people in whom otherwise might not pay attention. From hooking them there, we can show off the games and maybe get them talking about other things other than the sensationalist ratings that usually put in the industry on the defensive.

1Up’s Senior Reviews Editor Garnett Lee made a good point on the 1UP Yours E3 wrap up podcast last week. As it relates to enthusiasts’ press and what their role is if E3 is for the mainstream, it’s to add context and explain to the mainstream what they are seeing. Game press often knows ahead of time what will be at the event, and they’ve seen many of the demos and trailers at previous events. Certainly, the industry could find a cheaper means of showing off the surprises they actually have for the hardcore.

If the spectacle draws in media outlets that normally don’t follow games, someone has to be there to educate those outlets on what they are seeing so they have the proper tools to relay to their audiences what they have seen and why they should care. It also familiarizes those reporters with our industry’s media, so when controversies such as the ones surrounding Grand Theft Auto and Mass Effect arise, they know journalists with an expert grasp on the industry, as opposed to just running to the same people who sensationalize issues.

For those that point to companies like Activision Blizzard and LucasArts leaving the ESA, remember: that was essentially a money issue. I’m certain other things like the space for booths may play into E3 concerns, but notice that while those companies aren’t officially part of E3, they are keeping themselves close. They, much like the companies they didn’t leave, need the mainstream press and to be part of the buzz.

None of these companies can generate this much press and attention on their own. Even Nintendo, being the mainstream darling of this generation, doesn’t draw the number of journalists from E3 as any individual event of their own.

I acknowledge even with that laid out their many concerns that still linger for many. Many developers and journalists have complained that demos at E3 don’t provide an experience that reflects what the experience one has at home. You can’t blame the event for that. I understand the pressure from publishers to have big games ready in some form at such a big event. That said, I don’t need a marketing degree to know to not show off a product that doesn’t reflect well in a certain environment. If your game requires being fully immersed in the atmosphere you’re creating, it’s not a good idea to show it in a venue with pulsing music and distractions all around. I have a hard time sympathizing when someone shows off their product in unfavorable light and then blames the venue. Or when it’s shown off before it’s ready and the press and public reacts badly. The event doesn’t control the showing of a product. The developer and publisher control that. The publisher often holds more control than the developer. Don’t mismanage access to your product and you can better influence the press it receives.

E3 may pull together a lot of competing companies, but those companies need each other. There wouldn’t be any other industry events like GDC and D.I.C.E. if that weren’t the case. So the companies will get together and make something work out for next year. Sure, some people will still have issues. Sure it won’t be perfect. It never has been and never will be. But it will continue to serve the purpose of being the summer media draw for the industry. More importantly, it’ll continue to be positive media draw the industry needs until its mainstream respect finally matches its mainstream dollars.

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