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Gaming is a $100bn industry. So why does E3 feel like it’s dying?

In the final installment of our E3 coverage Kermath spends some time on the showroom floor. He surveys the maze of booths offering punters face time with the video game industry’s games and hardware and asks: is this expo in danger of dying? 

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, held again this year at the LA Convention Center, is the world’s biggest annual gaming trade fair that represents an industry that’ll be worth US$100 billion by the end of this year. Unlike Gamescom, or any of the PAX events, its doors are closed off to fans, unless you’re willing to go the American way and pay yourself in with a US$995 three-day pass.

A woman riding a giant infantile chicken

A woman riding a giant infantile chicken

Over the years, booths have become flashier and more expensive, and bars have been raised to new heights for new companies and games to enter the market. There’s also been a trend of less droney business pitches this year and getting straight into the games e.g the Bethesda briefing. Our attention spans have become too short to care for the logistics of sales behind every product, and I’m so thankful execs have started to realize we care less about their pitches. There was also a massive push with the ‘platform’ model over the existing ‘console’ model, meaning you could play games you bought for your Xbox on your PC and across other devices using Xbox’s Play Anywhere.

Xbox also introduced a new console, the Xbox One S, 40% lighter than the Xbox One, followed by an announcement for another, Project Scorpio. The main difference here, being that you’ll be able to play any Xbox One game over any of these devices, and upgrades to the consoles will be performance focused. It’s a massive change, and follows a similar format to Apple’s hardware release pattern. It’ll be interesting to see how PlayStation and Nintendo respond in the near-future.

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Virtual Reality and unoccupied space was the main theme around the booths in the two main halls, even featuring some naughty content. Watching people flail about, reaching out for invisible objects and staring into the abyss was my favourite pastime. VR is coming, and you’re going to look ridiculous, porn or no porn. What’s more ludicrous was the amount of vacant space on the showfloor this year.

With the absence of some of the biggest players, it’s allowed areas of other booths to spread out, which meant you weren’t getting fresh armpit smears to the face every time you’d turn around. I kind of missed this. In previous years, the event’s felt packed to capacity and while the openness was welcomed in some places, it did show some worrying signs that the expo might need to rethink its appeal in the future of the forever evolving game industry.

EA played an especially dangerous game. Instead of hosting inside the walls of E3, they’d decided to open a gigantic fan-based booth in the courtyard of LA LIVE a block away from E3, which ran at the same time. In previous years these dudes took up a huge chunk of E3 floor real estate, but this year felt like an active retaliation against how E3 thinks they run the show. Splitting off allowed EA complete control over whom they were letting in, how much exposure they were giving out, and what type of content they could show. E3 has a blanket age-limit of 18.

There’s a fine balance between the product provided by these major suppliers, and the power of exposure that E3 provides in one place. In the past years, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) who operates E3 has managed tight control over who gets in, constantly trying to battle the ever-increasing attendee numbers. In some years, their attempts have only made things worse.

In 2008, the ESA decided the event was becoming too fan-focused and made the entire show invite-only. The current attendee rate is around 50,000 – only 5,000 people showed up. It was a dark era for the expo and its paying exhibitors, but it was an attempt to try and slow the growing beast down. Failing miserably, the ESA spent the next couple of years licking their wounds and restoring the previous procedure of attendee application.

This year’s E3 numbers were pretty healthy above the 50K mark, but the complex issue still needs to be addressed, without risking another blowout that could lead to industry leaders pulling out of the expo forever.

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NZ Twitcher Loriipops hosting an Xbox stream at E3

The coverage of this year’s E3 has also seen some drastic changes, with social media, specifically Twitch and YouTube, having more of an impact for exhibitors than ever before. Some Twitchers like NZ’s Loriipops who hosted an array of developer interviews on the showfloor, were reaching niche audience numbers that some media companies could only dream of in a matter of minutes. The figureheads of fanbases are changing and it brings to question some of the ESA’s stale policies that are now facing complex issues.

I wanted to see if others attending the expo reflected my thoughts. I found this group standing outside the 2K booth in the South Hall.

GROUP-OUTSIDE-2K-BOOTH

What do you guys think of the people attending this year?

It seems lively, a few interesting characters. A lot of famous people just walking around, that’s kinda cool. There’s not much cosplay as there’s been in the past. It’s become, I think too professional, too businessy. It’s kind of lost it’s core-defining feature, which is, it’s all about the games. It used to be a little more edgy in the past, and now it’s too polished. The West Hall where all the big boys are [Sony, Microsoft, etc] seems to be okay, it’s this [South] Hall that’s lacking, I mean. Apart from Samsung, which I don’t actually know what they’re doing here, the other biggest booth is the VR porn booth, Naughty America, I mean what the hell. There’s so many people there. There’s no one in the distribution booths around it, and then there’s a huge crowd of people around the porn. It’s just feels real empty.

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve seen at E3 so far?

There was someone really drunk at the Sony booth and they were just like falling down everywhere. They took him out, and oh! The Ubisoft booth. They were doing some Just Dance thing and some guy just started bleeding out.

Bleeding out!?

Yeh, I don’t know if it was real or not. It probably wasn’t, but whatever they were trying to do it didn’t work out. He ended up running off-stage.

Did you guys see the guy that got arrested and had a plastic bag put around his head by the police?

WHAT!?

Yeh, I thought it was a pretty wild way of dealing with the situation. I guess they’re pretty strict with embargoes or something.

 

What’s the best thing you’ve seen at E3 so far?

Resident Evil 7, by far. It’s beyond. It’s kinda like The Void in Utah, if any of you guys have experienced that.

What’s The Void?

It’s like, a virtual reality theme park where you carry the computer on your back and go through the house. The resident Evil booth is kind of like the hybrid of the two. It’s got the rooms you can go into of the actual game, while you’re actually playing it, and there’s parts where you’re in VR, and in this virtual realm, it’s fuckin’ rad.

How would you compare this E3 to others?

This is my 7th E3, and it feels a little less busy. What’s interesting is how much VR is truly here, like every booth is virtual reality. I’m actually a little weirded out by it, because so many people are going to end up getting pink-eye and stuff we’re not normally used to. I just haven’t seen them cleaning them properly. They keep using the same rag over the same lens without even disinfecting them.

Haha you’re so right! It only takes one dirty bum.

I don’t like the way Sony are running everything by appointment only, I mean, there’s absolutely no way we can even get into that, which kind of sucks. They have some of the best games here. RIGS looks insane.

From each of you, what’s your highlight of E3 so far?

Dishonored 2.

Final Fantasy XV.

Halo Wars 2 hands-on. It was a lot smoother than the previous one.

I’m going to say this interview.

Finally getting to see Zelda on Wii U.

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Here’s a glimpse of some of the other crazy, cool and bizarre shit I saw at E3:

A fake funeral procession, complete with the New Orleans Jazz Band, parading for the entirety of E3 for the new Mafia III game.

MAFIA3FUNERAL

Three Aparment-sized adverts for the new GWENT card game

GWENT

The overdramatic reveal of the new Xbox

XBOX-REVEAL002

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Right: Albert Penello, designer of the Xbox. Left: Kermath, funky soul brother

Meeting the voice behind Mario

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Its-a me! Charles Martinet! They let me out of the basement once a year!

A fake sports bar setup by PlayStation with sport games hooked up to PS4’s in the counter, playing live on the TV’s behind a real functioning bar.

 

The Zelda booth. Holy shit entire Nintendo space was a giant Zelda booth. Incredible.

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‘Naughty America’ VR porn

VR-PORN

Xbox customized controllers

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Will E3 still be relevant in the next few years? Not if they don’t sort their old-school shit out.

It seems exhibitors are gaining similar results, if not more, at other events that allow fans to interact with their advertising. Having unreserved fan access into E3 however, is the perfect formula for an Armageddon scenario. The expo is just not keeping up on how to deal with the evolving forms of social media being delivered by figureheads within communities, and the lines between fans and industry that they’ve tried so hard to separate are becoming blurred beyond recognition. E3 still makes sense as a one-stop physical networking venue to close deals and that model still makes sense, but it’s a symbiotic relationship between the two. With virtual reality becoming a serious new focus, it’s now more important than ever that E3 evolves, and doesn’t get stuck in the past as a place where smelly nerds traded games for money.


 

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