Disney Interactive and Wargaming have decided not to have booths at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), according to a report by VentureBeat. This follows Activision Blizzard announcing its decision to skip an E3 booth this year and Electronic Arts kicking off the whole trend by doing the same in January.
One is an isolated incident and two might be coincidence, but four publishers leaving E3 is indicative of a trend. What we're seeing is a larger shift in how companies reach their audiences. It might have once made sense to throw tons of money at an expensive booth every year to reach the press, that's really not a problem anymore. Disney Interactive is sticking with fan events for the rest of the year and Wargaming ultimately felt that E3 wasn't helping the company reach its audience.
"From a company perspective, we're focusing a large majority of activities on events focused on our players and community," a Wargaming spokesperson told VentureBeat. "Whether it's a small group of players or hundreds at one of our player gatherings, they're our main priority. From a strictly business perspective, E3 just doesn't fit our current direction. It's a show that is very centralized on retail product, and as a free-to-play digital download gaming company, we've realized that while the show may be a good fit for lots of other publishers and developers, it's currently not a great fit for us."
E3 is no longer the primary gaming event. If a developer or publisher wants to show off their wares in general, they can do so on Twitch or YouTube. If they want to talk to fans directly, they can get on Reddit or their own official forums. If they want to show off their games live, there's now four different PAX events, EGX, Gamescom, SXSW, and the recently-added Wizard World Gaming. And that's before we get to platform-specific events like PlayStation Experience and Nintendo's Direct streams.
When it comes to reaching the traditional press, you still don't need E3. Depending on which conventions I attend, I'll sometimes see a game three or four times prior to its actual release. As a running snapshot of a game in development, that's interesting, but sometimes you run out of things to say about a game that's still being worked on. And that's before you get into localized events. Kat, Jaz, and Bob are consistently out at appointments happening in San Francisco, and those events are probably cheaper than any E3 booth.
For many developers, E3 reveals also make little logistical sense. In the past, generally developers and publishers would announce games at E3, with the biggest stuff aimed at the subsequent holiday season. Now though, it's good to give your game room to breathe away from the holiday. Look at our Game Release Calendar. Ubisoft just released Far Cry Primal and The Division, which the company is betting heavily on, is coming out tomorrow. XCOM 2 and Street Fighter V dropped in February. Dark Souls III and Quantum Break are in April. Uncharted 4, Doom, and Mirror's Edge: Catalyst in May.
Given solid promotional efforts, which may include booths at the many shows year-round, your game can and will find its audience. Certain months do have smaller overall sales numbers, but there's no poor time to release a great game. 'When it's ready' is the only consideration that matters.
The last time a major company pulled out of E3, it was in 2008. E3 had grown too big and expensive for many exhibitors, so the Electronics Software Association (ESA) decided to change the focus of the event. For the 2007 and 2008 shows, E3 became a "media and business summit" offering invite-only attendance. This brought the show's attendance down to 10,000 in 2007 and 5,000 in 2008. Activision skipped the latter event entirely, opting instead to hold its own press event during E3 week. In response, E3 2009 went back to the show's previous format and showing continued growth until last year's event, which had 52,000 people in attendance.
It's unclear if we're in for a similar contraction, forcing the ESA to rejigger the show's format. The ESA has already become more lenient as to who can attend E3, offering "prosumer" tickets to major exhibitors. Those tickets allowed those exhibitors to invite Twitch streamers and Youtube creators who otherwise would not be allowed into E3. The show probably won't open to the public in full anytime soon, but it's likely the ESA will attempt to go further down that route.
"Last year we had a lot of prosumers in the hall for the first time. Exhibitors were given allotments of tickets to give to their most valued customers," ESA senior vice president of communications Rich Taylor told VentureBeat. "We are likely going to be doing that again this year. We are looking at other possibilities too. I don't think the answer is to roll up the bay doors in the back of the convention center and firing a starter pistol. I think it has to be strategic."
It'll be interesting to see what E3 will become in the future. Last year was an odd year already, with many trailers and reveals happening weeks before E3 and publisher-centric events taking place before the press conferences and E3 show itself.
These events allow publishers a certain amount of visibility prior to the crowded showfloor and allowed journalists to have preview content ready ahead of time, instead of struggling through convention center Wi-Fi. This year continues that fracturing. Perhaps E3 will just become a week of various game publisher events around the Los Angeles downtown area? Regardless, what was gaming's biggest show has to change with the times if it wants to continue being relevant. It's up to the ESA to figure out the right changes though.