At a private event on the Sunday prior to E3, Gamasutra (along with a number of other members of the press) had a chance to speak to ESA president and CEO Mike Gallagher.
The brief Q&A session essentially flowed into two general topics: The future of the E3 and (more broadly) the function of the ESA; and the industry association's response to the GamerGate controversy.
Once the GamerGate topic was opened by veteran CNBC journalist Chris Morris, it dominated the rest of the conversation -- as it tends to do.
When asked about the association's late response to the issue, Gallagher said that waiting until October 2014 to respond to the controversy, which kicked off in August, was the right call.
"You have to make a smart outcome, and you have to think before you open your mouth," Gallagher said. "If you get into these things without thinking about it, you can have the worst result."
He said that there was, initially, no call for the ESA to become involved. From his perspective, the controversy "was not an industry issue; it was two different constituencies having a shouting match over the internet. ... Intervening in that conversation was not going to be productive."
Without explaining what changed, he also said that industry at large -- including the ESA -- is broadly against organized harassment of game developers.
"I do think the industry has been very clear about harassment, and it's not just the ESA," he said. "We're a First Amendment-friendly industry, so of course we do not want to ... have people's speech rights curtailed through threats of physical harm."
"The industry has a much brighter trajectory looking ahead," Gallagher said, before sharing statistics that he says paint the picture of an industry more welcoming to women than tech in general.
He also added that he has two college-age daughters, and he wants them to feel comfortable working in the game industry if they so choose. "I get the challenge around the perception of our industry. I want my daughters to be able to work in our industry, to be attracted to it," he said.
However, he disagreed that it's the ESA's responsibility to speak directly to game consumers about this issue. While touting the ESA's reach to consumers on Twitter and Facebook, and via the Video Game Voters Network -- and by, for the first time, inviting 5,000 "prosumers" to the E3 show floor -- he maintained that GamerGate was not an issue to engage the public over.
That's right; this year's E3 is the first that will have an official consumer presence on the show floor; the organization let publishers invite a total of 5,000 of their fans to attend the show. This does not, however, mark a policy or format change for E3 -- though more of the public may be allowed in the future, depending on how it goes.
All else being equal, the Los Angeles Convention Center presents problems for any potential plans to expand the show. Unlike Tokyo Game Show or Gamescom, E3 does not truly open to the public -- and at the LACC, it can't, Gallagher said.
The show cannot be extended to more days, he said, and there is also no room to expand its size -- which would be necessary to accommodate a large influx of attendees; otherwise, the number of exhibitors would have to shrink to make room for them.
Gallagher has, meanwhile, been butting heads with the city of Los Angeles about continuing to hold the show at its convention center, its home since 1999. Progress is being made, however, in these negotiations.
"Now LA has put forward a package we're working through," he said. The two parties "continue to have very positive discussions."
The show, however, is in rude health, Gallagher maintained. Even with the loss of exhibitors like Sega (sitting out the show this year) or THQ, which used to have a big booth before it failed, E3 capitalizes on "the dynamic constructive destruction of the industry"; this year Oculus VR's booth is "about the same" size as THQ's used to be, Gallagher pointed out.
But how can the ESA convince companies who don't showcase at E3 to join? "... it's a competitive industry and when companies come here and they succeed other companies notice that," Gallagher said. "If you want to be heard, you have to be here."
But the ESA has to fight to make itself an appealing proposition for companies, and Gallagher made the case that its lobbying activities (on issues such as games being protected by the First Amendment, visas for international employees, and more) are what makes membership attractive.
Finally, the question was raised why the ESA opposes the EFF's proposed change to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act -- which would allow for online games whose services have been abandoned by their publishers to be run by others.
Gallagher says that it's in the ESA's interest to protect these games, because "who knows what's coming next?"
"These [games] can be used, and utilized, and repurposed; there's no such thing as an obsolete game when you can revive it at any time on other devices," he said. The ESA's position is to prevent the creation of "competing economic enterprises" and protect its industry members.