July 19, 2007

E3 in Review: Did the show work?Tale of the Tape: The Battle for E3

GamingPolo’s E3 Journalists express feelings about the 2007 E3 Media & Business Summit

Michael Lafferty:

E3 used to have significance. The mere mention of the show’s abbreviated name (which stood for Electronic Entertainment Exposition) would conjure up images and sounds, a montage of larger-than-life displays, a hectic feeling and a certain amount of dread.

The show was busy, and it was a brisk, purposeful walk from one hall to another inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, making meetings, contending with the barrage of sound while trying to hear what developers and publishers were trying to tell you about their games. Those were the good old days of the show – days fondly remembered (at one time “fondly” would not be the first adjective that would spring to mind) in the light cast by the E3 Media & Business Summit held in Santa Monica last week. It was the revamped version of the video-game industry’s heretofore biggest show. “Light” is probably not the right word either; “shadow” might be more appropriate, or even “unorganized nightmare,” short of logistical focus and long on standard fare.

To say that that the show was somewhat low-key in terms of titles would be an understatement. There were some very good titles shown, but the show itself failed to pack that one powerhouse title that had the media – what there was of it – abuzz. But this piece is not about the games – that will follow in another one. This is about the show itself.

As bold as this may sound, based on what E3 has become this year, it is time to end it. Let other shows pick up the mantle and move forward. There is more value in the “gamers’ days” (events for the media hosted by one publisher in which one game or several are shown) from the press perspective. E3 did have some good moments. The press luncheon that the Fairmont Miramar hosted was well done … if you could get to it. The media room was also a good work environment. There were enough available machines, the atmosphere was quiet and the environment was pleasant.

But what E3 did wrong was almost a case of misrepresentation. It was advertised as an intimate chance to chat with publishers. For the most part, that was true. But the publishers were scattered in hotels around Santa Monica. On the first day of the event, one hotel didn’t thoroughly brief its staff and there were some confused looks when asking about where the publisher was located.

One of the “central” hotels was the Georgian, which is a very nice place on Ocean Avenue across from the Pacific Ocean. The nearest shuttle service was at the Fairmont, about 1/3 of a mile north. On Thursday, the bulk of my meetings were at Le Merigot and Casa del Mar. Now, according to the information given, shuttles would be running on scheduled short rotations. That was not the case. Further, Le Merigot was 7/10s of a mile south of the Georgian. The choice was simple: head to the Fairmont, wait for a shuttle and perhaps get to Le Merigot in 30-40 minutes, or walk for 15 minutes and get there in time for the appointment. Walking proved to be the most efficient use of time. The map showed Casa del Mar as being a stone’s throw away. It wasn’t. Three blocks over and one block down a hill was where it was at – about a 10-minute stroll.

By late Thursday, “trudging” was no longer applicable in describing the journey. In the L.A. Convention Center, you were in an air-conditioned setting with even walkways. In Santa Monica, you were on uneven pavement (as in, driveway dips, curbs and so on). In the Convention Center you were weaving through other people on the way to meetings. In Santa Monica you were weaving through bicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters, beach-bound people, and a host of others, as well as dodging cars and waiting on walk signals – all while the sun beat down on you.

Actually, the weather was moderate and nice. The week of E3 saw temperatures in the mid-70s. Back home it was in the upper 90s and low 100s.

Santa Monica is a nice town, but it is not the backdrop a show like E3 needs or deserves. Some publishers still crammed as much volume as they could inside their meeting rooms, while some were a lot more relaxed, to the point of being in no hurry whatsoever. As a result, some meetings were late getting started.

The time with the developers was a good thing, but was the value enough to warrant a show of this (albeit reduced) scale? No. When one juxtaposes the value of the event against the cost, E3 loses. E3 used to be a power player in terms of an industry trade show. The most recent iteration showed it to be anything but that.

Steven Hopper:

This year’s E3 was certainly one of the stranger ones in recent memory, given the complete restructuring of the event. However, for being so fundamentally different, the E3 2007 lacked any real surprises. There were very few game announcements at the show, and those that were announced weren’t much to get excited about. Even the big trade shows were fairly devoid of new information, with probably the biggest news from Microsoft being the official announcement of Gears of War for the PC (which most of us probably figured out by now anyways).

I’ll also have to add my two bits about the location issues. Don’t get me wrong, Santa Monica is a great place, and we couldn’t have wished for better weather when we were there (especially considering the nasty heat wave going down just about everywhere this summer), as it was in the cool seventies for most of the week. However, walking up and down a two-mile stretch of Ocean Ave. to get from place to place is a pain, and lugging around a laptop bag only makes matters worse.

On the plus side, this E3 was good for allowing more hands on time with games than we are traditionally used to at the show. Previous years, the event has been a loud, boisterous affair where you’d have to scream to get any questions answered, there were constant crowds everywhere you turned, and generally less conducive for getting stories on games. However, this year’s closed appointments allowed for more time with each game and more of a chance to talk to developers for more information.

However, the location issues and the general lack of organization for last week’s event raise many questions about the current state of the show. Much like the mass exodus that occurred last year when the show outgrew the LA Convention Center, several publishers seem to be unsatisfied with how this year’s E3 turned out, and could very well pull out of next year’s show altogether, leaving the ESA up a creek.

When looking at this year’s disappointing E3, it can be easy to forget that the show as we knew it prior to this year was in dire need of a restructuring. However, something had to change, but unfortunately the change wasn’t in the right direction in 2007. Hopefully, the ESA can learn from the mistakes of previous years and this one, and come up with a happy medium that will allow both media and exhibitors alike to restore their faith in E3.

Louis Bedigian:

On August 3, 2006, I sent an e-mail to our senior editor, Michael Lafferty, to discuss what might come of the newly announced (at that time) E3. Here are two snippets from that message:

“From what I can tell, it seems that E3 won't really shrink. It will shrink in terms of the lights, sounds, and the amount of attention it gets from the mainstream press. But there will still be the same amount of games to cover each year, and the same amount of developers looking to get our attention.”

“This [the dispersed hotel setup] sounds like an awful lot of extra, unnecessary commuting. I personally would rather continue fighting large crowds of people [at the LA Convention Center] than large crowds of traffic….Which is why, if [the proposed event] is held, E3 2007 will likely be the only E3 of its kind.”

If all my e-mails were this good at predicting the future, I’d spend my days nights investing in the stock market.

There were so many things wrong with this year's E3 that it's easy to lose sight of the one thing it did right. Actually, it wasn't the show that did anything proper, but rather the developers and publishers that invited us to their meeting rooms and said, "Go on, play whatever you want." I commend all who gave us the opportunity to get serious, uninterrupted hands-on time with the year's most promising games. Some demos weren't ready for press consumption, and I understand that. If a developer thinks that that its game is ready to be shown but not played, then a restriction must be employed. We'll cry, but we know that it's necessary for titles that are nowhere near completion.

However, when a game is ready to be played, there should be no more waiting. That's the only area where this year's E3 excelled – due to crowd reductions and a greater focus on pleasing the media, many publishers came with the attitude that they were there to serve us. Assassin's Creed, Silent Hill Origins and Super Mario Galaxy look good on paper, but no amount of screenshots or fact sheet data can compare to the experience of playing them, an experience we had the joy of sharing with our readers. It was a win-win situation for both parties. We walked away with smiles and publishers walked away knowing that we were equipped to provide superior coverage of their games.

If the ESA could take this one element of E3 and bring it back to one central location (a smaller convention center would work), next year’s show could stand to be the best one yet. But until that day comes, I will only allow myself to remember the games. The show itself, though wondrous in its golden years – overcrowded or not – is no longer worth remembering.