E3: R.I.P.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now – and it’s nigh impossible to miss amidst all the screaming, kvetching and outright mania currently raging across online forums – the impossible has cometo pass.   Out of the seeming blue, on Monday, July 31st, Entertainment Software Association (ESA) president Doug Lowenstein confirmed a weekend’sworth of rampant rumors and speculation. Annual game industry all-star gala tradeshow the Electronic Entertainment Expo (nee E3) is, for all practical intents and purposes, officially dead.  Formal word from the industry trade body calls next year’s event, the freshly dubbed E3Expo 2007, an "evolution." The conference – a smaller, more private affair aimed strictly atbusinesspeople and media, versus 2005’s eye-opening spectacle which drew 60,000-plus public attendees (down from 70,000 in 2005) – will certainly be a change from past seasons.   Planscall for a gathering in July vs. the traditional May. Target attendance is set at a modest 5000. The get-together will be hosted across suites and conference rooms in two L.A. hotels as opposed toits previous home at the Los Angeles Convention Center.   Said Loweinstein, "Over the years, it has become clear that we need a more intimate program, including higher quality, morepersonal dialogue with the worldwide media, developers, retailers and other key industry audiences.”   Pardon my French, but bullshit.   Spectacle or no, what organization drawing theamount of attention and revenue (tickets alone could cost $500, before you even consider advertising income) the ESA was netting would suddenly kill off its golden goose?   Word on the street istop execs at leading hardware/software manufacturers – Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony and Electronic Arts – had finally had their fill of overspending on the event and seeing scant return oninvestment. The upshot: Each proceeded to then pull out of attendance, which in turn sparked a chain reaction amongst smaller publishers, who began to question their own involvement.   The logiccertainly fits.   Every year, publishers spent millions to build booths, ship them to Los Angeles, and prepare products for a public unveiling long before they were ready to see the light ofday. Poor developers were regularly being whipped to produce playable versions of titles specifically for the show, never mind the havoc such demands wrought on project schedules or personal livesalike.   Journalists and trade partners had to fight through a sea of starry-eyed fans to snatch only fleeting glimpses of upcoming titles before being whisked off to the next 15-minute meetingor demo. And all for what; the faint hope of earning a 50-word mention in print, if at all, or garnering a faint spark of recognition when sales reps came shilling their wares later that fall?  Countless attendees were, naturally, crushed by the news.   Heralding the dawn of a new E3 that holds no room for the common man within its hallowed halls is like saying Santa Claus, the EasterBunny and the Smurfs just committed mass suicide. And that a troop of Osama bin Laden’s boys suddenly stopped by to chuckle, grin and take a long, leisurely whiz on their grave.   To the averageenthusiast, quite frankly, no E3 means that there’s nothing to look forward to any longer between spring break and summer. No chance to hop an overpriced flight to the west coast, snuggle with aroomful of sweaty geeks and stomach a week’s worth of bad pizza just to sample the hottest titles months in advance. No online sites throwing up smorgasbords of hastily-written coverage penned at 3AMthe previous night for the world’s voyeuristic pleasure. (And, of course, no chance to hustle signed tear-outs of ads for Paris Hilton’s Diamond Quest from official program guides on eBay,but I digress.)   Still, despite all the hysteria presently gripping the nation, I’d encourage you to stop and think of the positives.   A smaller show means media members get more timewith each product, better hands-on impressions and the chance to lavish less coverage on celebrity appearances/booth babes and more on what really counts – the games themselves.   Nothaving to suddenly stop everything and prepare for premature game viewings places less strain on developers, giving them more time and resources to pour into making titles that much better in theend.   Publishers needn’t drop small fortunes on skate ramps or celebrity midgets, letting companies pour much-needed dollars back into cash-starved software budgets, and, potentially, fuel thecreation of additional, and more innovative, digital diversions.   And distributors, retailers and OEM merchants might actually get a decent look at what they’re pondering hocking on anunsuspecting public, so new PC owners, say, can actually score copies of titles worth the CD they’re printed on.   Some would argue they’re other major downsides to consider.   For example,publishers such as Atari and Vivendi-Universal have no problem hosting media events at which the press can gain exposure to core products. Others like Atlus and NIS America, who mostly play to nicheaudiences, can’t afford to pay for that kind of publicity, and suffer from E3’s shrinking attendance.   But the truth is that key players – the people who really need to be at theshow – will most certainly be on-hand. And falling exhibitor prices can only help privately-traded and small businesses more cost-effectively get the word out.   Now, before all younon-believers crucify me upon the altar of fandom, I’d like to share a true story.   The year: 1998. Yours truly was a starving college student running obscure, but thriving videogame fansiteGameSource.com out of Atlanta. Desperate to work in the biz, I’d applied for a May-August internship at every company in the US. (The closest being Acclaim in New York.) None could afford to flypotential hires out, or pay enough to fund renting even a closet-sized apartment.   But, go figure, E3 was taking place right in my backyard.   So I spent the months leading up to the showlosing 75lbs (from 225 down to 150, if you must know). Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the convention limping from a car wreck that had oh-so-serendipitously occurred the night before. Regardless,people’s presumptions quickly worked to my favor. It was assumed that if you were on-hand, you’d flown out and rented a hotel room, not waddled over from your dorm room a few miles away (a sure signthat you were someone with a budget, and therefore worth taking seriously).   And so it came to pass that everyone’s favorite so-called "professional" editor – who generallyground out his stories from 3PM – 2AM in a pair of stained sweatpants and by-then oversized Dr. Dre t-shirt – did indeed land that much-coveted summer job. The assignment: Fly to Paris,France and handle worldwide public relations for a major international videogame publishing firm.   The upshot being that I, like many others, have the show’s previous open-door policy to thankfor what soon became a burgeoning career in interactive entertainment. So don’t go accusing this poor scribe of bias. If anything, I’d like to reaffirm how much you, the videogame enthusiast, deservethe right to freely mix and mingle with the industry’s self-styled elite.   That said, there has to be a better way of doing so than amidst a cacophony of blaring loudspeakers and throngs ofbleary-eyed pedestrians who’d just as soon smile as knife you in the back for your limited-edition Pokemon windbreaker.   In fact, what I’m really holding out for is two shows.   One wherecrusty old curmudgeons such as myself can cram into sketchy hotel rooms like sardines (see my adventures at this year’s expo), thenfreely sully forth as deadlines beckon. And, of course, one devoted entirely to the public, where the average gaming enthusiast can spend time sampling the biggest upcoming blockbusters, chattingwith superstar designers and raking in the swag.   How things proceed from this point forward is uncertain – in other words, it’s anyone’s game at this point.   But with any luck, theend of the old E3 doesn’t have to mean tomorrow’s expo can’t provide a bright new start for an entirely new generation of videogame fan. Or, better yet, the chance to cop a ticket for aonce-in-a-lifetime flight that helps budding captains of industry open up a whole new world of opportunity.   Scott Steinberg is managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants (www.embassymulti.com).

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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