You could call it an exodus now.
Electronic Arts said in January that it would drop its booth on the show floor of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the game industry’s biggest trade show in the U.S. Then Activision Blizzard, the biggest U.S. game company, dropped out of the show floor earlier this week. And now we’ve learned that both Wargaming and Disney Interactive are also abandoning their booths at E3.
E3 is one of the biggest events in gaming, drawing more than 50,000 people and generating billions of media impressions around the world. But in-person trade shows are getting a lot of competition from fan events and livestreaming, and that has the potential to hollow out E3’s center.
EA will still have a fan event at E3 and an accompanying press event, Rich Taylor, senior vice president of communications at the Entertainment Software Association, said in an interview with GamesBeat
“Individual companies will make their own decisions in each iteration of E3,” Taylor said. “Overall, E3 for the past several years as been among the best shows we have ever experienced. E3 remains a dynamic and valuable and preeminent show of its kind in the world for video games, entertainment, and innovation. It’s still the place to be. We have a record number of press briefings this year in the ramp to opening the show. That’s an indicator that folks recognize how valuable a launch pad it is. Being a part of E3 adds rocket fuel to the attention and eyeballs and interest and visibility of new titles and hardware and innovations that our industry produces each and every year. E3 is a strong, critical, and integral part of our video game ecosystem.”
A spokesman for Wargaming, which makes pure digital online PC and console games like World of Tanks, said in an email, “From a company perspective, we’re focusing a large majority of activities on events focused on our players and community. Whether it’s a small group of players or hundreds at one of our player gatherings, they’re our main priority. From a strictly business perspective, E3 just doesn’t fit our current direction. It’s a show that is very centralized on retail product, and as a free-to-play digital download gaming company, we’ve realized that while the show may be a good fit for lots of other publishers and developers, it’s currently not a great fit for us. And, of course, we appreciate all that the ESA does in their legislative efforts and their work to raise and discuss issues surrounding video gaming as an industry, hobby and way of life.”
Disney Interactive also said that it is dropping out of the show. Disney will be doing “additional direct to fan engagements through the summer this year,” a spokesman said.
Critics have said that E3 booths are too expensive, often costing millions of dollars. I asked Taylor if the booths are hurting this year because of things like streaming, but Taylor said those booths are a big reason that companies have something to share with fans.
“We had 27 companies showing virtual reality at E3, and we expect a similarly strong showing of that technology this year,” he said. “It remains a very important place to be. We dominate social media. We dominate a lot of traditional media. It’s a launch pad without peer in this industry and entertainment across the board.”
Asked if the ESA is doing some reflection on E3 now, Taylor said, “Each and every show, we have conversations with attendees, exhibitors, the retailers, the community. Our objective is to deliver the highest value we can. We continue to go through that process. We are listening and talking and asking right up to the show. We are in full service mode at the show to make it as high quality as possible. I’d argue that is why it’s such a successful.”
Should E3 become a fan event, like the PAX in Seattle or Gamescom in Germany? Lots of people have urged E3 to allow fans in for the last day or something like that.
“It’s a balance,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of prosumers in the hall for the first time. Exhibitors were given allotments of tickets to give to their most valued customers. We are likely going to be doing that again this year. We are looking at other possibilities too. I don’t think the answer is to roll up the bay doors in the back of the convention center and firing a starter pistol. I think it has to be strategic.”
E3 had its midlife crisis long ago, when EA pulled out of the show and E3 shrank dramatically to less than 10,000 attendees in 2007 in Santa Monica, California. The next year, in 2008, the show shrank even more to 5,000 press and executives at a hollowed out Los Angeles convention center. The show began to bounce back after that and grew to 52,000 last year.
There’s no comparison to the crisis of those years, Taylor said.
“There was a direction that E3 went for a couple of years, and we determined that was not the right direction,” Taylor said. “We made proper course corrections to keep it vibrant. That’s why we are in such a great position today.”