Today, Electronic Arts surprised many by announcing its all-new EA Play event. Taking place on June 12-14 in Los Angeles and June 12 in London, EA is promising hands-on demos, live streams, guest appearances, and exclusive swag for fans. The event will be taking place at Club Nokia at L.A. Live. (Some have incorrectly said Nokia Theatre, but that venue is known as Microsoft Theatre now.)
The fan focus is the important part, as E3 is a trade event and for the most part has remained closed to the public. Last year saw a lessening of that restriction, as exhibitors could invite a certain number of fans to the event. EA Play looks to be EA doubling-down on the fan participation, to the point that fans will be able to play the games before industry members.
"Our players are the driving force behind everything we do," EA says on the EA Play website. "So this summer, we're opening up our world to you with unique new live events in Los Angeles and London. We'll bring the new games, we'll bring the demos, we'll bring the competition...and you get to go hands-on. Or join us online and immerse yourself to experience some of our biggest games of the year. Let's live to play together."
"Our players will have access to the games on Monday," an EA representative told Polygon. "We will open up the event to the industry on Tuesday, allowing those who are in town for E3 to see our games and join the experience."
The company will still have a press conference event around E3, but that event will be on Sunday, June 12 at 1PM PT.
Many believe this is the another sign in the impending death of E3, signaling the death throes of an event that has run since 1995. EA is a huge presence at E3, with one of the largest booths in the very front of the South Hall. If you walked into the South Hall, Electronic Arts was front and center; that's a big hole that will be filled by another major player.
EA is also the first major company to walk away from E3 completely. Nintendo dropped its E3 press conferences in favor on the online Nintendo Direct events, but the company has retained a presence on the E3 showfloor. E3 as an event still has a use for Nintendo, but for EA it's simply something to run parallel to. Fans are already hyped during that time period for E3 and EA is hoping to refocus that hype toward itself, at least briefly.
The major difference between the early years of E3 and now is the fact that E3 isn't the only game in town and the holiday season isn't the only time to release games. Before, companies would announce their wares at E3 and do their best to release them later that year. Now, you can announce your game at any number of events - Gamescom, PAX Prime, PAX East, PAX South, PAX Australia, EGX - or even simply do your announcement on YouTube or Twitch. E3's status as 'the place to be' has been depreciated.
The holiday season is still the biggest in terms of sales, but there's money to be made in other months. For example, the NPD Group's sales data showed $3.22 billion and $2.47 billion in sales for December and November respectively, but March, June, and September also showed respectable totals nearing or surpassing $1 billion. Basically, the end of any quarter is worthwhile release date for a major title. In some cases, trying to release alongside some other major title - Rise of the Tomb Raider shouldn't have come out on the same day as Fallout 4 - is actually a horrible idea.
The industry is more open than it was before and it shows. Blizzard, who has long held its own Blizzcon event, announced Hearthstone at PAX East and revealed World of Warcraft's Legion expansion at Gamescom. Harmonix announced Rock Band 4 at PAX East. Creative Assembly and Sega announced Total War: Attila at EGX. Nintendo runs Direct events whenever it wants. Bungie gave players the scuttlebutt on Destiny's Taken King expansion on Twitch.
All of these events have a significant amount of fan participation. These are events that allow companies to reach their communities directly. And there's still time for the media (new and old) to engage with the games for the purposes of greater coverage.
So, EA stepping away from E3 isn't the final blow delivered to the event. It's just the industry continuing to evolve. Last year, there were a significant amount of pre-E3 hands-on events by major publishers, because while E3 is efficient - everything is one place - there's also a ton to cover. Getting out in front of that is important and EA is doing that with an event that runs right up until E3 starts. It's a move that only a certain amount of companies can pull off, because there's only a certain number of venues available around the LA Convention Center. If E3 fractures too much, it does lose that efficiency, which is one of its main reasons for existing.
It'll be interesting to see the ripples this move makes in E3 this year. At the very least, there will be another press conference slot left open, one that will probably be filled by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. There will be the South Hall space, which is probably being taken by Ubisoft or Take-Two as we speak. And we'll see how EA Play helps Electronic Arts in getting the word out about its 2016-2017 slate of games.
Personally, I enjoy change, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.