The Electronic Entertainment Expo was not just the place to play early builds of highly anticipated games, or the place to get a lot of free drinks, or even the place to find obscure Korean games that would never be seen on these shores again. It was also where PR got to shine. A company's public reputation vis-a-vis journalists or prospective publishers could live or die by how PR managed the five day hell storm that was E3. With the news of its major reorganization (some still refer to it as an outright cancellation) many are left wondering, what is life without E3?
A panel discussion entitled “Life Without E3" hoped to answer that question. Panelists were David Glanzer, director of marketing and PR for Comic-Con, Christopher Sherman, executive director of The Texas Entrepreneur Initiative which runs the Austin Game Conference, Frank Sliwka, director of the Games Convention Developers Conference, and Jamil Moledina, executive director of the Game Developers Conference (CMP media owns both the GDC and gamasutra.com). Moderation was handled by Tom Byron, Editor-In-Chief of the Official U.S Playstation Magazine.
Byron began with the wistful recollection of when “gaming was relegated to the ghetto of CES (consumer electronic show)” and how the formation of E3 was a “deceleration of independence. It was the day we got our driver’s licence.”
Moledina took the reigns by saying “It’s worthwhile deconstructing who was targeted by E3. Major publishers still need to woo their games to the press,” also noting that there was a “vicarious need of getting actual consumers and people who are opinion makers in their friend and family groups... a lot of these people were just breaking the rules to get in, but I think [the Tokyo Game Show] has learned from that.” Concerning how his own conference may fill the void, he added, “E3 is a place where a lot of business was done. From that group we’re getting a lot of interest for GDC. We’ve been spending a lot of time and energy to accommodate that demand.”
Concerning the idea of getting business done in a highly noisy and hectic show, Byron wondered if there is even a place for the E3's renowned spectacle at other conferences. Sliwka commented that “I think we need both. One side to make the business deals, on the other side we need the consumers and the media. When we created the GCDC, we made it into those two parts,” adding that the third part is the actual conference.
Sherman asked who in the audience was happy that there was no longer an E3, then asked who was not happy. There was an almost perfect divide between the two. Moledina commented that when he first heard about the conference downsizing, “I first was relieved. And then it hit me, ‘oh man, what are we going to do without E3!’.” He saw it as “a cautionary tale. Whatever your market, you need to stay close to your core values to your constituency.”
Glanzer added: “The show had gotten too big, too cumbersome. It wasn’t fun anymore. Our show is different show, it’s a consumer show,” quickly noting that “that doesn’t mean networking doesn’t happen at [our] show, in fact, there’s a good deal of it.” He also said he did not have an opinion on whether the dissolution of E3 was a good thing.
Sliwka emphasized that “when you make an event for the games industry, be sure you have a part for the consumer.” He continued, “We think we can give the media the message when they see consumers on the floor playing.” He cited an attendance of 180,000 people at the most recent GCDC, “so there is big interest from the consumer side”.
Jumping off the point of conference growth, Moledina said that, “there’s been a natural growth curve for GDC. We’re going to be in San Francisco for the foreseeable future. GDC is driven by the conference, that’s what attracts people. Last year the largest conference room could hold 600 people, now our regular session room holds 1000.” He added, “We are already virtually sold out on our show floor and have rented out a second floor to accommodate that.” Concerning the worry of game unveilings sans E3, he said, “In terms of companies worrying about what to do with the new landscape... there is a way to present a game in the editorial process at GDC.” He cited Will Wright’s Spore’s unveiling at GDC 2005 as an example.
Byron then asked the question that everyone assumed would start the panel: should a new consumer show be created to fill the void? Glanzer started, “Was E3 at the end what it was in the beginning? Was it just a place for developers to meet and for the press?”
Moledina summed up the situation in these terms, “The constriction of E3 was a reaction to what constituents were disappointed in. I think the consumer show works well as a regional event. It seems consumers prefer to go to something near their home,” adding that “for developers it gets tiring, going from GDC London to TGS... how do we do something that doesn’t completely fatigue anyone with an investment in the games industry?”