Is E3 Reverting to the Craziness That Nearly Killed It?

E3 2011 has come and gone, and now game journalists everywhere, including myself, are busy working on the mountain of previews from the extravaganza in order to provide you wonderful gamers with information on just how your favorite titles are shaping up. Looking back on the actual event, however, I can’t help but feel like something wasn’t right; that something was different. E3 2011 just didn’t feel the same as it had in the first two years since its near death. If anything, it feels like the show may be slowly bringing itself back to the flooded chaos that almost destroyed it.

I first noticed the changes on the first full day of the show. Each publication was only going to be allowed a certain amount of staff in based on its traffic this year. Last year saw over 45,000 people attend, so I never truly had a problem with that new change of policy. This sounded like the ESA didn’t want the show getting crazy big again and was going to keep any Joe Schmoe with a blog and dream of fanboying out from crowding the place up. With this thought of using the method to downsize, I thought it was a good idea by the organization. Then I walked into the West Hall on June 7.

To my surprise, the place wasn’t less crowded, but more. People with the purple “Exhibits Only” badges could be found all over the place, many of them wearing T-shirts of their favorite game series and other clothing items of the like. It was harder to get around, and most of these people seemed to act like kids in a candy story, practically drooling over demo stations. They also didn’t seem to be examining anything with a critical eye, as I had noticed many investors doing the year before, nor did they have anything to take notes with in case they were doing work for retail chains.

I thought that perhaps I was just overreacting or wasn’t looking hard enough last year — that somehow it was just my imagination running wild. But as the days ran on and I had a chance to talk with other journalists and PR reps during the show, I found that I wasn’t the only one holding these feelings. As a matter of fact, practically everyone I broached the subject with shared the same opinion. We discussed how different the crowd vibe felt, almost like that of a PAX, rather than E3. Even Adam Sessler commented in the most recent episode of his Feedback video podcast on how it seems things are starting to get a bit more crowded and possessed a “greater silliness,” though not yet on the level of E3’s worst.

In addition to the numbers and types of attendees, some of the booths dared to revert to the noise and flash of the E3 of old. One company (I had no idea what they represented or why they were at the show) just had a bouncy castle with scantily clad women present to entice men to jump with them. Turns out the company was Nival and they were advertising for a social strategy game, because nothing says social strategy game like a bouncy castle. World of Tanks plopped a tank into the middle of its booth and 2K had a throne for people to sit in and get their picture taken with two schoolgirls. Last of all, Activision played incredibly loud demo videos of Modern Warfare 3 throughout the event.

Now before I continue, I would like to clear a few things up. I have been attending public conventions since my sophomore year in college — that’s five years. There is nothing more fun than going to a three-day event with people dressed as their favorite characters and checking out panels, demos, making friends, and buying things in a dealer’s room. I absolutely love them and have been to PAX East twice, New York Comic Con twice, and the New York Anime Festival for three years, in addition to other cons. Public conventions are a great way to meet people and have fun and they should never, ever go away.

That said, E3 is an entirely different animal from your usual convention. This is the big show that is used by all the major companies in the industry to generate buzz about their product by getting potential buyers to invest, intrigue retailers to strike exclusive or special sales/deals, and excite the media so they can inform the masses of what’s coming. There’s a lot to do and it needs to be done quickly and efficiently. In order to do so, people need to act in a slightly more professional manner than in regular conventions. Though I always have a blast while covering E3, I make sure to remind myself that this is also work and I need to get my work done. That won’t be accomplished by bouncing around in a castle.

In trying to figure out where these extra numbers came from, I tried to do some research. This year’s show saw a total of 46,800 attendees, over 1,000 more people than 2010. As many of the people who were present didn’t seem like your typical business-professional investors, I started to wonder who these extra people were. Certainly not press, as the numbers were cut in the way I explained earlier in the story. It’s still an industry-only event, so there couldn’t be a way for members of the public to get in.

The only conclusion I could possibly draw is that the show is starting to expand in order to allow for more retail or “professionally affiliated” attendees to make it into the show. The price for those who come to the show who are “professionally affiliated” with the industry is $500 ($400 before May 1), and the website does not appear to state what the requirements are to prove how you are affiliated with the industry. Retailers simply need to show two forms of ID that they are employed and that they have authority for company purchasing. So as long as these retailers provide that information, there’s no additional screening or analysis to see if they will attend the show with either a business or pleasure approach.

If the ESA doesn’t want E3 to get out of hand once again, then it needs to do what it did to the press this year for both exhibitors and attendees alike. Provide an extra screening process to evaluate how these people are using their time at the expo. If exhibitors used over-the-top methods that have little to do with truly marketing their brand or interfere with others, make them change to something less ridiculous or give their spot to someone who will. If attendees are going to walk around slowly, eyes aghast for three days at everything they’re seeing and not have anything to show for it post-event, then limit the amount of people that retail chains or stores are allowed to have. If “professionally affiliated” attendees doing the same, simply turn them down.

I understand this can all sound a bit harsh, cold, and like a means of zapping the fun out of E3, but it’s merely a suggestion of returning it to the happy medium vibe that the show had in 2009 and 2010. We definitely don’t want everyone walking around in full business suits with straight faces looking around at a completely bland show floor. However, I also don’t want to be bumping and squeezing my way past hundreds of people wearing Sonic the Hedgehog hats and gawking at booth babes while I’m trying frantically to jot down notes and reach my next appointment.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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