Yesterday was a busy morning for the Entertainment Software Association. Better known as its shorthand, the ESA is the games industry organization that puts together everyone's favorite sweaty week of June: E3. The E3 2020 website was accessible a bit prematurely, and host and producer Geoff Keighley, who has long collaborated with E3 for miscellaneous projects, including the recent livestreamed E3 Coliseum panels, announced this morning that he would not be involved with E3 Coliseum this year.
In an interview with GamesIndustry.Biz, Keighley says, "Given what has been publicly communicated about plans for E3 2020, I just don't feel comfortable participating in the show at this time." For clarity, I ask ESA president Stanley Pierre-Louis about the relationship fracturing.
"Geoff has been and continues to be a great industry advocate and champion. We had a really great relationship in building E3 Coliseum with him, and we're excited about continuing to evolve E3," says Pierre-Louis. "So there'll be elements of what you've seen at Coliseum, which means that conversation with innovators and with developers and with luminaries who love games, but also adding new elements to make it exciting both for those on the floor but also those in the online audience, but all to amplify what the exhibitors are trying to share with consumers and fans."
Pierre-Louis explains how with E3 constantly evolving, he sees 2020 as an especially big year for growth for the gaming convention. Consumers, once again, will be able to register for tickets starting on February 15. The website, which was originally planned to launch later in the week, was accidentally made partially accessible early this morning.
"There was no leak, there was no hack or anything like that," says Pierre-Louis. "We're in the process of finalizing the site for registration and a staging link with a portion of the site was temporarily available to test it. [...] But no, no access controlled part of the site was up. It was a portion of the site to test it for a public landing page."
The E3 website itself has gotten something of an overhaul this year. Over the summer, the website for E3 was subject to a massive security vulnerability, as it leaked thousands of private information of members of the media, streamers and other personalities, and even analysts. In 2020, the ESA has said in previous statements that it will no longer store sensitive information directly on the site, as it did before.
"We saw what happened last summer and we heard what happened," says Pierre-Louis. "We understood the gravity of it and decided to rebuild the site with consultation from a cybersecurity firm and put in a new set of practices, both in terms of the technology on the site and the layers of security, but also on dealing with personal data. So, for example, we'll be taking less data than we have in past years. None of the data will ever be stored on the site. And so, even in the access controlled areas of the site, personal data won't be there and it will be transferred in a secure way. And then the commitment we've made to ourselves and to the public is we'll continue to upgrade the site to ensure that we're keeping up with changes in technology and ensuring that we're always conducting best practices."
Of course, the events over the summer were a huge shock on the already shaky foundation of what E3 has become in the past few years, as more and more companies steer to off-site presences over E3 itself. The ESA is the representative body of the most cutting edge technology industry out there, and its website had seemingly not been upgraded since I made MySpace layouts as a tween. I ask Pierre-Louis to explain how such gross negligence even happened in the first place.
"The information with personal data was in an access controlled area of the website," he reiterates, "but someone—just wanna make sure I'm saying this right—exploited a vulnerability in that system. And so, what we've done is ensure that that vulnerability really doesn't exist both in the technology but also with the fact that personal data won't be stored on the site. So we've heard from the community. You know, for us, media badge holders are critical to E3 and gaining back that trust is important. We make sure that we revamped the site, we've changed our practices, and then we've continued to do outreach to express our regret about what transpired, but also to gain back the trust based on our new practices."
As for E3 itself, Sony once again won't be attending. "We are definitely at our strongest when we get everyone under the roof and really creating a loud echo chamber to industry," says Pierre-Louis, when I ask about Sony's absence's impact on E3 as a whole. And as noted above, industry pillar Geoff Keighley won't be either. It's an admittedly strange time for the conference, but Pierre-Louis remains optimistic about its future, particularly as it pivotes to "increase digital programming," like the livestreamed E3 Coliseum.
Pierre-Louis says the plan is to bring in more celebrities, including "celebrity gamers," to appear at E3 at some capacity. As E3 still reaches more people online than any other game-related gathering, Pierre-Louis isn't ready to put his skeptical cap on like the rest of the industry already has. In shaping E3 2020's radical (or not so radical, depending on how you look at it) direction, the ESA has looked to its biggest recent challenges for lessons.
"I think the biggest challenge is making sure that the show still amplifies the messaging," the president says. "Last year was a great example. There were many games that were announced that were many, many months from being announced, but there was so much excitement about them and being able to share with them. And then you had the Keanu Reeves moment, which is not something you can plan on. You can bring people on. You can talk about games and the like, but there was a special connection between him and the audience that day that captivated those online as well. And so it's, how do you create more opportunities for those moments to take off and go viral?"
Is it possible to manufacture virality? Is it just a case of inviting more celebrities? The ESA is banking on both for E3 2020. Let's just hope they don't have any more leaks in the months to come before the convention, for exhibitors, media, and everyone else's sake.