The new E3 – Smaller and …

(This article first appeared in the July 16, 2007 issue of Jon Peddie’s TechWatch)

Without a doubt, the old E3 show was getting louder, noisier, and more crowded with each passing year. Exhibitors complained about the costs of exhibiting, the enormous press and analysts corps had to fight brutal gauntlets to find press events and usually had to forgo actual one-on-ones, and attendees were expected to negotiate huge unruly crowds including witless fanboys.

After the 2006 show, several key exhibitors indicated they would not return if the show format remained the same, and thus the old E3 ceased to exist, and from its ashes was born the E3 Media & Business Summit – this year’s “new and improved” E3 show. A three-day event with press conferences and separate invitation-only events from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, followed by presentations from the largest game publishers, including Electronic Arts, THQ, Ubisoft, Take Two, Disney and a few others. Where the old E3 attracted many tens of thousands of attendees, the new E3 Media & Business Summit, was an invite-only event for a couple of thousand members of the media, as well as key buyers and game industry members.

The rest of the conference was conducted either on the tiny show floor of the Barker Hangar, located at the Santa Monica Airport, or in private suites and meeting rooms scattered among a half dozen of Santa Monica’s plush hotels. Exhibits consisted of public demonstrations of new game titles with and hands-on testing. Of the dozens of titles exhibited, most are scheduled for release this fall.

Gone were the booth babes, the masses of gibbering fanboys, and overwhelming noise and lights of the old E3 show floor. At the new E3, it was actually possible to speak with game developers and publishers, as well as spend quality time with some of the new titles in development. The lack of fanboys was most evident at the Nintendo press conference, which in past years was dominated by cheers anytime anyone on stage said “Mario,” “Zelda,” or “New.” Instead, polite clapping was the norm when appropriate.

Game exhibits at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. No crowds and plenty of opportunity to play games. (Photo: Jake Richter)
Game exhibits at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. No crowds and plenty of opportunity to play games. (Photo: Jake Richter)

While almost everyone we spoke to seemed to like the new “lite” version of E3, there were some complaints. The most heard complaint from attendees was that the distribution of various events and companies around Santa Monica made it difficult to schedule meetings and to get around. For those who chose to drive or take taxis, the out of pocket costs for parking and transport were significant (as was the traffic). The transportation problem was particularly evident at the remote Barker Hanger location, where visitor volumes were visibly low.

Some developers we spoke to worried that exhibiting content in hotels with poor Internet bandwidth was creating negative impressions of online gaming titles. Others missed the ability to pop out of their booths to check out the competition, as they had been able to do when exhibiting on the show floor at the old E3. But, the same developers and publishers also commented that the cost of participating was far less this year than in previous years, with not much reduction in the value they received. That cost/value proposition probably even applies to Microsoft, which rented out the entire posh Viceroy Hotel – the cost of which would allow most of us to retire in comfort, but still no doubt cheaper than the cost of the huge booth Microsoft had taken out at the old E3.

Our take

From our perspective, the new E3 was far more productive, and certainly less overwhelming than the old E3, although it’s arguable that the new E3 was not particularly enlightening or exciting. But that, perhaps, has more to do with the fact that there were no real breathtaking stories or new products unveiled.

Will there be another E3 Media & Business Summit next year? We believe there will, but the ESA will need to work on improving the issue of distributed venues – shuttle buses alone are not enough, as was evident this year. But as a way to rescue the good parts of the old E3 and dump the bad parts, the ESA should be commended on first pass execution of the new E3.