For 12 years, E3 - the Electronic Entertainment Expo - filled out May with excitement for gamers. It was second only to the avalanche of quality games that comes every fall in terms of getting our engines revving. It had the newest hardware (over the years, everything from Sega Saturn to PlayStation 3) and the first looks at amazing games: Metal Gear Solid trailers, Halo previews and Final Fantasy demos, sometimes years before the games went on sale.
But things have changed irrevocably. Though last year's E3 was as huge and loud as ever, Eurogamer's Rob Fahey sums up what E3 had become by 2006: "...increasingly despised by the journalists who were meant to be covering it and equally unloved by publishers who saw more and more of their marketing budgets being poured into the event each year..." The old E3 died because big companies like Nintendo, Sony, EA and Microsoft decided that they were wasting money and pulled the plug. Hopes ran high that what replaced it would become tighter, more focused, more business-oriented and a better place for people to play new games and write about them - all so we could inform you about them, of course.
But according to Next Generation's Colin Campbell, "It may be called E3. It may feature some people looking at games in a big room. There may even be some free drinks. But it ain't going to be E3." Though that prediction dates to last year, it seems eerily accurate with just a week left until E3. It's now an open secret of the industry: E3 2007 is going to be a trainwreck. As Game|Life's Susan Arendt casually puts it: "Sure, it's spread out across a zillion different hotels and nobody knows exactly what they're doing or what to expect, but come on... what could possibly go wrong?"
And that's the central problem with the new E3. The main show floor is in Barker Hangar, a Santa Monica airport that's often used to house big events. That sounds alright, till you realize a few things. Getting anywhere in the Los Angeles area is a disaster - five miles can take 30 minutes - and the rest of E3 is taking place in nine different hotels. One well-placed company spokesperson told us, under the table, that the hangar is largely a dog and pony show for the mainstream press: newspapers, Entertainment Tonight, whatever.
The real meat will be behind closed doors at the hotels. But wait - some publishers are only showing in Barker Hangar, so everyone will be forced to trek around Santa Monica in crawling cabs or sluggish shuttles. And once you're at the hangar? Paltry 20-foot by 20-foot spaces are all that's on offer, with room for only a handful of demo kiosks. 1UP's story on the changeover illustrates this beautifully.
The most damning thing we've heard is that, confidentally, a staffer with the new E3 (run by different people than ran the show for the past 12 years) offered her opinion: the show won't make it to 2008. This was months ago, too, before the full extent of the disaster was apparent to the press and publishers at large. In our talks with publisher reps since then, we've heard everything from "don't expect much" to "clusterf..."
So what can we expect? We're not sure. Around GamesRadar, we're planning for the worst. Months of whispers have led us to believe that E3 2007 will be a disorganized shambles. Each publisher, desperate to stand out from the crowd, is putting on a press conference designed to call attention to its lineup - an E3 first, and one that should tax the resources of every site on the web. Even though hundreds of companies that used to attend the show won't be around anymore, most of them put out games and accessories nobody looked at (except to make fun of) anyway. E3 was always a beast. But it's now metamorphosed into a hungry beast with ten heads, instead of that lumbering behemoth - which was more roar than bite. Is there any doubt that this show will be anything but a disaster?