E3 is there for the games and console publishers to present their new hardware and in-development games to the press who visit the LA Convention Centre, this year is no different to any of the others since 1995. As well as the trade show itself there are conferences held for select invitees only by the major manufacturers and publishers to showcase what they’re working on.
I wrote that nearly 2 years ago on a piece I did for Tech Fixation about how people were moaning and complaining about the 2012 expo on the second day because it didn’t feature new releases or information on the next-gen hardware, which are now the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as we know them. I stumbled across the article and started to correlate what I’d written then with how I feel now, only a relatively short time on, and started to wonder if the large scale trade shows like E3 were necessary any more given we have so much available at our finger tips now.
Expo is short for exposition, and means “a large scale public exhibition”, there for putting lots of things on display. In its simplest terms this is what the internet does every day – puts anything we want out for public consumption and comment. It’s strange that this level of attention is placed on only one event when there are several large trade shows throughout the year like TGS, GDC, Gamescom and even CES (though that covers all electronics). So why are we drawn to this date in June to make announcements and showcase what’s not going to be in the consumers hands, in a growing number of cases, until after the event the following year? It seems contradictory to me that in an era of instant gratification we’re drip fed content over massive timescales when sometimes it would be nice to see something presented and then told ” you can have that in a month”. That’s one thing Apple do exactly right, and half the reason the keynotes are widely anticipated – they reveal the new products and then launch them, not teasing information over a long period of time.
This years E3 hype started at the beginning of May with numerous speculation stories landing online about what was going to be shown and what might be featured, and we’re seeing wishlists pop up all the time leading up to June 10th. The dates and times of the major press conferences have been revealed, and all sorts of rumours started flying about things we won’t know for sure until we pass the dates. Is this really necessary? We live in an age where we digest most of our content digitally and are rapidly getting used to live stream broadcasts and multiple sources of information assaulting us 24 hours a day. We here at Codec Moments are testament to the fact that anyone can set up a website and start putting what they think out there, particularly when it comes to gaming. We’re not trained journalists, we won’t ever make careers out of this (except Cev, he’s an actual fiction writer unlike the rest of our sales/research/planning/insurance focussed team), but we’re able to pull together news and data and regurgitate it for you to read, like you are now. Trained PR companies that work for developers and publishers already work well on promotion (as long as you’re not sending a copy of WATCH_DOGS in a beeping safe to an Aussie news station), and the games press work hand in hand with them to feed you the content.
It could be simple why E3 is the most talked about and used for promoting the new and different, and why it grows its visitors every year. Because the event is trade and press only where a lot of the others are also open to the public, it makes more sense to reveal all your products and work to the right crowd of people at one time, this cuts down on multiple meetings and special events. This could still be done online with a co-ordinated broadcast and release of information, but it misses one thing – environment. If you’ve ever attended any convention or exposition you’ll know that the atmosphere lends a more receptive environment to the attendees, so they feel more positively about what they’re hearing and seeing, and if you’ve got press there they’re more likely to pass that positive message on and start building hype. Add in a fancy presentation and some theatrics and you’ve sold a large portion of your copies months/years before the game hits the shelves. There’s also the fact that reps from the companies are on hand to answer questions immediately and face-to-face. Maybe most importantly there’s networking. In a secretive industry like games and tech development, there’s probably not often the chance to meet your competition (pretty much like any business!), there’ll be a lot of things talked about and discussed behind closed doors about future directions and opportunities both for individuals and projects. The same goes for journalists building those important relationships with the devs and PR teams.
If E3 is a hype machine though, why do we hype that hype machine so much? Most of the E3 related articles you’ll find online now are personal opinion about what people want to be revealed there, and they’re sometimes topping the most hit, most viewed, most liked sections of the various media formats. This says to me that E3 is doing its job spectacularly well, it’s being promoted by people who can’t attend to people who can’t attend, and will garner a third-party audience that spans the world. How many people do you know have mentioned they’ll be watching the live stream presentations and will be retweeting/Facebook sharing everything that’s said? I’ve come across quite a few. How good is that for any game company? Massive advertising benefit for only the cost of sending someone to LA with some screenshots and a bit of video. They have to deliver on what they talk about of course, but you don’t know if they’ve done that until you’ve bought the product.
I started this article thinking about E3 as a physical convention not really needing to be held in a location, it could just be broadcast online, and it may well get to that place considering PlayStation Home has had a virtual recreation of the Sony event space for the last couple of years. As I’ve worked through my own supposition though, I’ve realised that it needs to be both. I don’t agree with announcing games two years before I can get my hands on them, you get info on this stunning piece of work and then get told you’ve got to wait 24 months before you can play it, it’s a disappointing way to end a presentation. I understand though that with the rising cost of production you need to have buy in and engagement with your target audience, and that has to happen as early as possible to maximise the end sales. Aliens: Colonial Marines is actually a good example of this, no matter how bad the game was, it sold well because it was hyped like this.
There’s a synergy between E3 and its followers where they need each other to make it the show it is. By creating an “exclusive” event, people that have the door closed on them feel left out and that they are missing something special. Let them look in through a window and they get a glimpse of what’s going on, enough that they can tell others how great it was, and the invariably will. Let’s just hope that the online moaning and sulking doesn’t start so early this year.