If you've ever dreamed of attending E3, you might get your chance this year. 15,000 tickets will open up to the general public starting at $150 a pop. Going public will definitely give gaming's biggest trade show a welcome infusion of income and those tickets will sell like hotcakes on a Sunday, but E3 is not a small spectacle to begin with. Will the extra bodies benefit the show in the long term? Let's talk.
I talked about this in an opinion piece earlier this week, and the short answer is that I think it's a good thing in principle. But what I do worry about is what kind of experience E3 will deliver to the public. Traditionally, it's always been a trade-only show, so I'm just wondering how it'll transition to a hybrid business-consumer event.
Last year the ESA tested the waters by inviting 5,000 "prosumers" to E3, and that did create some massive lines of people - especially over at the Nintendo booth, where people queued for hours to get their hands on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This year, there'll be an extra 15,000 people cramming through the doors, and that could lead to some pretty severe crowds, and even longer lines of people.
The problem is that most E3 booths simply aren't designed to cater to the public, so they need to be re-engineered to be a little more user friendly, with more demo stations, and space so that lines of people can be properly organized and managed. I assume that's going to happen. If not, things could become a little messy.
Also, will the ESA be adding consumer-oriented panels, events, and attractions to E3? Or will the hefty asking price for a ticket - $149 for a day pass, and $249 for three days - simply buy you the opportunity to line up and play the latest games? While that is the main attraction, that doesn't sound as much fun to me as an event like PAX, which has a lot more things going on.
Like I said, I think that E3 going public is a good thing, and something that'll help keep the show feeling fresh and lively. I'm just hoping the organizers are up for the challenge. We'll just have to wait and see.
As the show is right now? No. The problem is E3 is focused largely on business, developers, publisher, buyers, and press all meeting in a shared space to show off the wares of the next year and some change. The showfloor is supposed to entice people in and there are demos out there, but any demos that need to be shown to buyers or press are generally off-site or behind closed doors. Outside of the diaspora of the PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo booths, there aren't as many chances to just play random upcoming games.
If you've been to a PAX, you've had largely the same experience. The difference is shows like PAX are tailored to the gaming community. Imagine PAX with just the showfloor; that's E3. But PAX encompasses so much more, including keynote speakers, extensive panels, tournaments, live interviews, and more. E3 doesn't have any of that. The press conferences that characterize the show can already be streamed at home and are still invite-only.
Sitting the middle won't help E3. It's either an industry show, or it needs to evolve and expand into a community show. E3 was largely alone in its previous space: Gamescom had industry days, but it's not in the United States, and GDC is focused on developers, not publishers or press. Now, it's moving into the space occupied by four PAX events (PAX Dev is like GDC), Gamescom's open days, Minecon, Twitchcon, RTX, and more.
What does E3 have to offer that those shows don't? If you can answer the question, you win the prize. As E3 stands currently, it doesn't have anything. But eventually, I think it can get there. I just don't know what "there" looks like.
Despite being a games writer since 2004, I've not completely burned out on E3. Maybe that's because I've attended a grand total of two shows. Still, the members of our team who attended E3 2016 were a little surprised to discover they enjoyed themselves, and that E3 is as lively as ever.
I'm hoping the influx of new blood won't upset that pleasant chemistry this year. Not because I'm worried about "the plebes invading the show space;" quite the opposite. When you don't have to dart from interview to interview, and if you understand it's a trade show first and foremost (and not a convention) E3 is interesting to take in. But E3 is a business-oriented show first and foremost, and the extra bodies and jacked-up hotel prices are going to stress out industry workers who come to E3 to do a job first and foremost. Sure, people scoff at the idea of the "poor games press" who have to deal with three days of nothing but video games, oh no -- but working E3 is the furthest thing from a vacation that you can think of.
If you want to attend E3 as a kind of pilgrimage, that's cool. But there are tons of game-related gatherings that are way more fun for fans. If you're into cosplay and panels and community, I can't recommend going to E3 over, say, PAX -- and I think infusing E3 with public blood will just make the show more crowded and confused.
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