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GI.biz Editorial: Countdown to E3

Let's get bizzy!

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer a day after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

Hear that ticking noise? As unlikely as it may seem at the start of July, that sound is the countdown to Christmas - a timer often foremost in the mind of games industry professionals, and never more so than around E3, the industry's annual jamboree in California.

For years, E3 has marked the crucial point in the year when companies set out their stalls for the vital Christmas market. If it's going to be on the shelves when the holiday season rolls around it needs to be on display at E3, preening and pouting in the midst of the overbearing, extravagant cacophony of light and sound.

At least, that's how things have worked in the past. In previous years, E3 has been the lynchpin of any product announcement strategy, whether it was a game, a franchise or an entire hardware platform.

Despite the once-upon-a-time success of London's ECTS show, or the more recent prominence of Leipzig's Games Convention and the Tokyo Game Show, E3 has been the centrepiece for as long as most people in the industry can recall.

This year, the rules may well have changed. E3 died last year, in effect; the giant convention which took over the entirety of the LA Convention Centre and clogged the city's hotels with over 60,000 attendees from around the world is no more.

E3 died beneath the crush of its own enormous weight, a victim of the same loud noise and bright light which had come to define the event.

And of course, E3 has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. It's a leaner, tighter event this year; faced with the choice between either cracking down on the freebie-hunters who turned up in their tens of thousands, or biting the bullet and making the show into a public affair (like Leipzig and TGS), the organisers have opted for the former. Cut down the size and increase the focus.

However, with only a week or so left before the world's media descends on Santa Monica, a greatly diminished horde compared with last year's influx, it's extremely - and perhaps surprisingly - hard to tell which way the wind is blowing on this new format.

Within the ranks of publishers and media who actually had to attend E3 for work, there was remarkably little sorrow at the passing of the old-style show. The reasoning was simple. E3 was a terrible venue to showcase new games, and on the flipside of the same coin, was a terrible venue in which to experience new games.

Most games aspire to being powerful, immersive experiences, and nothing kills immersion like being next to a rival publisher's stand which is kicking enough decibels to take down a jumbo jet, and a flashy light show for good measure.

On that basis, then, most people seem cautiously welcoming of E3's new format - and for consumers keeping up with the show from home, the presence of the customary platform holder conferences at the start of the event ought to provide the requisite level of interesting news and product announcements.

After an uncertain start to the new event, when it wasn't clear whether even all the platform holders would sign up - let alone the major publishers - it looks to some extent like it's business as usual for the new look E3.

But is it really? Certain factors whose impact won't become entirely apparent until the dust has settled on the show suggest that E3's old prominence may not have been fully regained by this new event.

Many in the media have noted that despite seemingly strong support for New E3 from the publishing community, a lot of the larger firms are very visibly hedging their bets on the event. While it has been de rigeur for large publishers to stage their own showcase events throughout the year, these events have been much more prominent than ever before this year, which isn't exactly a great vote of confidence in E3.

Indeed, even the platform holders have been at it; Sony's Gamer Day event earlier this year was used as a showcase for a significant part of the company's line-up, a strategy which points to a more low-key E3 conference than we've been used to in the past.

Microsoft, too, seems unlikely to repeat the kind of stunning line-up of products which debuted at its X06 event in Europe last autumn. It's clear that this event, with its tight focus on Microsoft's products, has surpassed E3 as the firm's favoured stage for major announcements.

Of course, the increased prominence of individual publisher events is an unpleasant situation for smaller firms, whose reputations cannot attract legions of journalists any more than their budgets can afford to stage these kind of events. This being the case, it's telling that E3 this year seems much, much quieter on the small publisher front than it has in previous years.

For these firms, it seems more important than ever before to find alternative ways to promote their products to the media. In some respects, the fact that E3's new format militates against these smaller firms could be a blessing in disguise.

Relieved of the need to attend the hugely expensive event and compete against the odds to drag coverage away from the world's largest games firms, small companies now have an opportunity to put much more effort into doing PR away from the chaotic E3 week.

Another factor regarding the new E3 which has raised its head in recent months is the question of who, exactly, the event is targeting. In previous years, E3 has been a completely international event, bringing publishers, developers and media from all of the global territories together and, for the most part, treating them even-handedly.

With its reduction in size this year, there's a strong sense that E3 has become altogether more provincial. The focus is very strongly on North America, with many overseas journalists facing difficulty in getting invited to the event.

In the show's defence, we've heard remarkably few horror stories about gaining admittance - but the message is clear, not least from the fact that some publishers have handed the reins on the event entirely to their US PR departments, with some even choosing not to bring European PR to Los Angeles at all.

E3's international flavour looks set to be significantly diminished; just as Leipzig is Europe's event and TGS is Japan's, E3 is now North America's show.

This year, the difference will be noticeable but perhaps unimportant. E3 will still be the platform of choice for product announcements and previews - for now. However, as the European market continues to grow in stature, the Japanese market rallies around Nintendo's products after years of stagnation and other East Asian markets continue to grow in prominence, for E3 to become more provincial in its approach almost certainly means that in future years, it will merely be one of many global game shows.

In the meanwhile, though, the diminished scale of the event seems unlikely to detract from the charged atmosphere which will inevitably result from the first E3 of the current generation - with all three platforms on the market and everything still to be played for.

E3 may be a shadow of its former self, and it may face an uncertain future given publishers' focus on individual showcase events and the question marks over its continued global appeal. But this year, at least, it's still the biggest show in town.

For more views on the industry and to keep up to date with news relevant to the games business, read GamesIndustry.biz. You can sign up to the newsletter and receive the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial directly each Thursday afternoon.

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About the Author
Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.

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