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Edge Online: E3 Must Change Or Die

Leading publishers have been extremely critical of E3. The media has been underwhelmed by this year's event. Change is inevitable.

The trouble with E3, is that it’s trying to be too many things, and isn’t much good at any of them. It’s a product showcase, a media circus, a business and trading forum, a social event, a debate. But it’s also none of those things.

So what function does E3 actually serve? We list the dubious benefits of E3, and how they might be generated in different, better ways.

Show Floor

If you’re going to attempt to represent a multi-billion dollar industry with a few dozen gameplay pods, you can hardly expect to be showered in plaudits.

The show floor was neither fish nor fowl. Not showy enough to impress with bigness and razzmatazz, nor even representative of the quality this business has on offer. I spent an hour or so wandering around and left uninspired, even though some good games were on show.

This sort of thing is best left to the private sector. Let IDG make the case that E For All represents good marketing value. Or publishers should spend their demo effort at retail or in the malls or on a roadshow.

Press Conferences

Press conferences are not supposed to imitate academic lectures; plodding through the various features and release dates of well-known products. They are supposed to be entertainment events, with lots of news and quotes, that inspire the media to feel good about a company or a game. There were some good press conference moments at E3, but also, some sessions dragged and went on way too long.

At press events, short and to-the-point is good. New announcements about new games are also good.

Nobody worries that they aren’t spending enough time sitting in press conferences. If you’ve got something big to announce, do like Blizzard. Make a big deal out of it and spend some money. If you haven’t, find an appropriate way to generate copy without the live event.

Live Media Coverage

Much of the information transmitted from E3 arrived to consumers via live blogs, often inane, that failed to offer anything in the way of consideration or context.

Your precious announcements are merely raw materials that are being fed into the blog-combine to generate instant traffic.

There was a time when embargoes forced editors to come up with actual angles and arguments, rather than stuff like, “Reggie is wearing a blue suit and is showing us a boring sales chart.” Use embargoes, invite only trusted journos, and ban outlets that break them, for life.

TV

There were plenty of camera crews at E3, some of them representing the sum total of their audiences. Mostly absent were the network crews which once came to E3. My view is that this exposure was never as valuable as some claimed (mostly, the stories were about violence, or they were reactively negative about the growth of gaming as a hobby). Even so, at least it was coverage, of a sort.

Some of the camera crews at E3 appeared to spend much of their time interviewing other journalists. If you wanted to convert this coverage into monetary value, you might have enough for a latte and a slice of cheesecake.

One exception was G4 and its useful coverage of the hardware conferences. But G4 and MTV are always up for a TV event around big games brands. Publishers should make them dance.

A ‘Business’ Event?

Deals get done at E3, sure. But how many deals get done as a direct result of E3, and do they justify the expense? E3 is not an international market, like Toy Fair or Book Fair. Very few people are ‘finding a deal’ at E3. They are merely doing business as usual in a convenient environment.

We don’t need a business show, except maybe in places like Eastern Europe or Asia where contacts and information need to be established.

Meet the Press

It was awesome that so many senior execs and creatives were made available at E3. Getting the boss of EA to explain his position direct to games journos is an excellent idea.

But someone like Riccitiello gives interviews and speeches year-round, as he should. There is value in him talking to the specialist press, regardless of E3. And, it would be a shame if E3 is being used as a focal point for this exercise, which ought to be ongoing and year-round. Even just one every quarter would be fine.

Social Activity

E3 is not, by design, a social activity. So how comes this is the event’s most valuable benefit? And, if so, can’t we create something, or grow something organically, that offers the same benefits, only with less expense and more time, say, on a golf course?

Let’s lighten up and find a way to enjoy each other just for the merry hell of it. Companies in the game industry could be spending a lot smarter on reaching out to the business.

Demo Time

Getting a proper demo of a game, in privacy, is still a worthwhile exercise. But building an LACC event around this activity does not make sense.

Publisher-specific media events are becoming more important, as ways to alert the press to product that’s six to 12 months out. These are useful, especially if you’re working out a cover-deal or online exclusive, or merely looking to get a game on the map.

But an event, crowded by other product is just about the worse possible way of achieving real, clear-blue-sky coverage And, anyway, downloadable demos and YouTube are taking the middle-man out of the equation anyway.

Speeches

Did you go to the keynotes at E3? Probably not. DICE is where the best speeches get made, with GDC offering the most choice and the best practical demonstrations. E3 is not a good forum for debate.

A Focal Point

Once a year, just before the big selling season, we all get together and take a look at the games that are about to make or break the financial year. At the end of it, we come out of E3 with a clearer sense of what will be hot, than when we went in. We are also able to take stock of the hardware guys and how their plans are likely to impact on the year ahead.

E3, somehow, is still good at this, but only by being a focal point that we all gravitate towards. It’s not really doing anything but providing that slot in the calendar when we can all take stock and tot up the scores.

For all the reasons stated above; we do need something that provides focus. But, frankly, we need something new, relevant, cost-effective and fun.

Instead of bleating about the crummy job the ESA is doing, it’s up to the publishers to figure out what that is and create an E3 event that's worth the name.

Courtesy of Edge Online

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