E3 is dead. "It is no longer necessary or efficient to have a single industry 'mega-show'," Doug Lowenstein, then-president of the Entertainment Software Association, said last August as the organisation confirmed that it would be axing the much loved (and hated) Electronic Entertainment Expo, and reinventing it as a "more intimate" affair. Cut from the flabby folds of the Los Angeles Convention Center and deposited in an aircraft hangar on the Santa Monica coastline (an aircraft hangar with a spectacular website), the new-look "E3 Media & Business Summit" has already been dubbed "Min-E3" by bloggers. Booths would be smaller, we were told, and everything would be invitation-only.
So when we threw up our list of E3 line-ups last week, there was some surprise. "From the looks of it, nothing has really changed," one of our beloved forumites, spongebob, observed. "There's enough games to satisfy everyone." What's more, the staples remain: major press conferences will be held by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, as usual, prior to the show opening. Even the growing prevalence of publisher-specific events like EA's annual summer gathering, Ubisoft's UbiDays and Sony's Gamers' Day elsewhere on the calendar, and the enduring profiles of Leipzig's Games Convention (August) and the Tokyo Game Show (September), won't stop the likes of EA, Vivendi, SEGA and Namco bundling us into countless screenings and demos.
The key to this is actually rather simple: websites like Eurogamer have always been filters for what's at E3, and, with a lot of the extraneous nonsense gone by default, there'll simply be less to filter out. The majority of what you experience - a huge influx of new videos and screenshots, and previews of the latest games based on demonstrations from developers - will endure. For the place where business gets fun, it's business as usual. Long live E3.
Get Ready For Something New
The newest of the new is the change of dates. 11th-13th July, rather than mid-May. The focus, if you listen to the official website, is the Barker Hangar a few blocks inland in Santa Monica. There we'll find the usual collection of publisher booths, albeit vastly reduced in size, volume, and the other kind of volume (thank f***), and from what we've been told there will indeed still be queues. Although we probably won't write about them so much this year. But the more interesting stuff is happening away from the Hangar. Microsoft is set to address us at Santa Monica High School, with Nintendo elsewhere and Sony relocating everyone for its traditional Culver City Studios event, where PlayStation 3 - at least in the eyes of officialdom - was first held up to the world.
What they will say is the usual mixture of predictable and wholly unpredictable. What's been interesting in the last few days has been watching them form up. Newsweek's delightfully loquacious Level Up blog pointed out the other day that Nintendo has already said that we should not expect to play Smash Bros. on the Wii (said now, that's one less negative news story), and that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has been delayed a week in the US (two). Microsoft's nocturnal mea culpa - swallowing a billion dollars to extend the Xbox 360's warranty, and solve everyone's ring-of-death problems for free - may have cost a lot, but it also rewrites the agenda for every Peter Moore interview you'll read this week. It's unusual for an executive at a platform holder to go to the press the week before E3 unless what he says is under embargo; last week's interview with GamesIndustry.biz, among others, is geared towards eradicating the quality-control issue in the media as much as anything. Sony has been relatively quiet, save a price-drop sort-of-denial, but after last year's conference concluded on price points that won it no end of trouble, we'd be surprised to see thematic mistakes replicated in its 2007 execution. The company's recent decision to launch a US blog to discuss things directly with its customers seems to support that theory.
(Update: Obviously, since we penned this piece, Sony has confirmed the price cut, seemingly having timed it to grab a place in the USA Today newspaper, which gives it a corner of the front page. This led to a lot of puzzled looks over breakfast tables in Santa Monica hotels on Monday morning, as everyone wondered whether that was it for Sony's big week, or whether the Japanese firm is simply clearing the decks for something more positive.)
Beyond the conferences, which we'll be covering with our usual live-text updates, publishers are taking over suites at a number of hotels scattered around Santa Monica. The majority of our appointments are in places like the Fairmont (where a range of publisher-specific press conferences will take place - the first time they've been integrated into the E3 programme with this much consistency), the Loews, the Viceroy and the Casa del Marr. We're told security people will be checking our badges on the way in, so gate-crashers will probably be out of luck. It's in these suites and conference rooms that we'll get to see, and hopefully go hands-on with, the likes of Halo 3, Killzone 2, Rock Band, Assassin's Creed, and Super Mario Galaxy. "Lucky bastards," said smoothpete when he read the line "beachfront hotels in Santa Monica" in our copy. We're just dropping in. This is actually good news for you more than anything, because we can only imagine how much more comfortable and talkative our contacts and friends in development will be when they get to sit in air-conditioned rooms all day rather than dark, humid boxes surrounded by concrete, musk and astonishingly loud music.
The Real Next Generation!
There's been a tendency in some quarters to reduce E3 2007 to an almost provincial affair, geared towards North America. That's even been the view of the local arms of worldwide publishers: one fairly gigantic uber-publisher was so taken aback by the sustained interest from UK journalists, it told us, that it was forced to revise its plans upward. It's true that companies have reduced their PR footprint, then. But judging by the volume of appointments on our schedules, the range of games already confirmed for the show, and the potential - as "next-generation" console formats move to establish themselves, and Microsoft's Games For Windows movement gathers similar momentum - for a tsunami of announcements to strike the journalistic huddles on the Californian coastline, it would be churlish to pay E3 any less attention than usual. Indeed, we've high hopes for the new format. We're not going to waste your time plucking predictions from the air, or painting portraits of games; we, like you, are simply waiting with great anticipation.
Perhaps the only really considerable stumbling block that E3 faced, reborn as the Media & Business Summit, was in its timing. The old show's position in May gave developers and publishers licence to produce specific show demos - excerpts from the games due for release in the fourth quarter that could be polished, and go further than the smaller taster-demos traditionally released to the public. There is a view that E3 could lose out because of its increased proximity to Q4; that the demos we play could be months old, or, worse, that we simply won't get to play things for ourselves.
And maybe that will be bad for the content you read this week. Maybe we'll have to surmise more than usual. Or maybe not - as one of the platform holders' UK representatives pointed out as they tried to reduce their entire line-ups to half-an-hour press slots last week, "no-one ever got to play much for very long at E3 anyway". But either way, reflection gives us cause to consider the broader, beneficial point, and perhaps E3's secret gift to the industry that sustains it: having been forced, in some cases, to abandon the annual pain of producing E3-specific demos, game developers will have more time to spend making sure the games we play later in the year are better. It's an idealistic interpretation, and ignores any number of snags and contradictions. But it could be the case. And if the reborn E3's legacy is to keep you entertained to the same degree, to relieve some of the stress developers are traditionally forced to endure, and to enable better development...wouldn't that be something?
It could even be where business gets better.
Join us all week to see what really happens.