Just a short time ago, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was a video game trade show in crisis. Longtime CEO Mike Gallagher of the Entertainment Software Association, which runs the E3 video game show, resigned in October. Sony pulled out of E3 for the first time in 24 years, even as it started preparing for the launch of the PlayStation 5. And both Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard confirmed that they wouldn’t have large booths at the show.
But when the show opens next week (starting Saturday with publisher events and Tuesday for the main shindig), the show floor will be sold out, according to Stanley Pierre-Louis, the new CEO of the ESA. He’s the former general counsel for the ESA, the game industry’s trade group. This means that companies such as Epic Games (maker of Fortnite), Oculus VR, esports vendors, and others have soaked up the space that the big companies have abandoned in recent years. And in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat, Pierre-Louis reiterated that the show should draw about 65,000 people, about the same as last year.
I talked with Pierre-Louis about the show, and he said it remains a “cultural moment” for the video game industry. That’s why Activision will still be showing its latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in meeting rooms and EA will be nearby, catching some of the billions of eyeballs and millions of tweets that focus on the show. Netflix will make an appearance at E3 Coliseum, an onstage event that gaming personality Geoff Keighley hosts.
We also talked about the World Health Organization’s recent decision to declare “gaming disorder” as a medical condition, the management of the ESA, the realistic violence in the new Call of Duty, the impact of social media, letting fans into the show, the growth of esports, and for how long E3 will remain in Los Angeles.
As for the show, the truss and hoists at E3 — used to suspend lighting and hanging elements — weigh the equivalent of 136 orcas. The Ethernet cabling at the show weighs more than 2 tons and could reach from Los Angeles to San Francisco — twice. More than 55 miles of fiber optic cable sits throughout the convention center.
E3 provides jobs for more than 4,000 people in the course of producing the show, and it generates more than $88 million in revenue for Los Angeles. It has 5 miles of aisle carpet, more than 250 trailers of equipment and exhibit materials. The event produces enough graphics to cover seven basketball courts (and that is only the graphics the ESA produces — exhibitors do a lot of their own).
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What’s exciting for you about all the things that are happening next week?
Stanley Pierre-Louis: E3 is the cultural moment for video games throughout the world. It’s the one conference that draws everyone’s attention to the announcements and the launches and the messages that the industry wants to share on a global scale. This year will be no different. It’ll be as exciting, if not more, given what we expect to be happening.
You have traditional players in the space who’ll be talking about their content, talking about new developments on their products. You also have a lot of new players, a lot of discussion not only about content but also technology. E3 has always been about innovation, impact, and investment. We’ll see a lot of that around mobile technology and streaming technology. There will be tech companies showcasing some of their technology, like Verizon with 5G. You’ll see traditional and non-traditional players in E3 all wanting to reach this important global audience.
Obviously we’ll still have E3 Coliseum, where there will be panel discussions with producers and developers, as well as superfans, Netflix, all manner of companies and people wanting to share in this global moment for video games. And then of course we’ll have fans, 15,000 strong coming to E3 to experience it and shout out to the world about what they’re seeing and share their excitement about the show.
GamesBeat: With all of the changes, like Sony pulling out, do you net out in a positive way? More square footage, more attendees, anything like that?
Pierre-Louis: There are 200 exhibitors at E3 this year, more than 200 exhibitors, 50 of whom are new. You’re seeing a lot of excitement from traditional players, but also from new players who want to reach that important video games audience. Our audience is digital-first and receptive to new content, new devices, and new messages, because video games represent so much to them. With such an important audience, many players want to get in front of them to showcase what’s new.
GamesBeat: Does that still mean these big spaces are going to be soaked up by the new people?
Pierre-Louis: There’s a lot of excitement on the floor. Every inch is going to be taken. In addition to the traditional booths that you’ve seen, you’ll also see an esports area. We have an esports college competition, where you’ll see some of the finalists. There will be a gaming lifestyle pavilion, where we showcase how video games are part of our cultural zeitgeist, whether it’s graffiti or sneaker designers or music. The way that video games impact culture in such a positive and dynamic way will be showcased.
Every inch is being used. The fans who are there live are going to get to experience it, and those who aren’t there are going to get that excitement when they’re watching things being streamed. In fact, last year there were three million tweets. The trailers for video games were viewed more than 69 million times.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about some of the folks who are on the edge of the conference, taking advantage of E3 but not actually taking part in the show? Companies like EA. Sony doesn’t appear to be doing much, as with Activision Blizzard. There are people taking advantage of E3, but they’re not contributing to the E3 infrastructure.
Pierre-Louis: We’re gratified by the fact that both EA and Activision have taken suites on the floor. Activision has some games showing at a smaller presence. We’re seeing participation by many of the leading companies at E3. We’re also seeing a lot of excitement for the show. The consumers who are coming, we’re excited to see what they’re doing. We’re having a launch event by Square Enix. I don’t know if this is the first time they’ve done one, or the first time in years, but it’s the first time they’ve done it on that Monday evening.
We’re seeing a lot of excitement from traditional and new players. I talked earlier about the fact that streaming is going to be showcased. Verizon will be there to talk about 5G. There will be discussions about mobile broadband. Obviously Netflix, at the E3 Coliseum, is discussing some of their new ventures in the streaming world.
GamesBeat: The Coliseum seems to have quite a few announcements these days.
Pierre-Louis: It’s a great opportunity for fans to hear from developers, to hear from creators, to hear from superfans, and to hear from Jack Black, which I love every year. [Laughs] It’s about what video games mean to them and to the future of our industry.
GamesBeat: I got a look at this year’s Call of Duty, and it was a bit on the red-alert side for me. It’s back to the issue of realistic violence. I wonder how you react to something like that. It’s bringing up a familiar issue for a lot of us.
Pierre-Louis: One of the things about our industry is we are leaders on a number of fronts. We’re leaders in job creation, innovation, audience engagement, and creative expression. Each of our members chooses exactly how best to express the content they have. We’re also the leading industry in the media sector on providing information to consumers about what’s in the games and the parental tools to manage the use of games.
We’re excited about the content that our members produce, but also the fact that we provide information and tools for consumers to be able to engage with games in the way that they want, or the way that they see their children fitting best.
GamesBeat: We did have another shadow on the industry from the gaming disorder ruling at the WHO. Does that represent a bigger concern now?
Pierre-Louis: We’ve been engaged with the WHO for well over a year, registering our concerns with the classification of gaming disorder. Our chief concern is the potential stigmatization of gamers, which we think would be unfair. We’ve seen, based on the evidence, that gaming disorder is not an accepted term. There’s a lot of medical discussion about whether it should be categorized as such. Often what we’ve seen in the studies is that the underlying issues are a concern, not playing video games.
Obviously we believe that anyone who needs help should get it, but we’re concerned about misdiagnosis, and those using gaming disorder instead of what the underlying concern might be. But we continue to have a dialogue with the World Health Organization about what’s next with its classification.
GamesBeat: What’s a good thing to communicate to all of the people who’ll intersect with gaming next week, as far as how they should look at the industry as a whole? Especially if they’re on the outside of it — parents, people watching TV, the general population that’s not as much into gaming, but will see gaming all over the place next week.
Pierre-Louis: Video games have reached the cultural zeitgeist. This really is the golden age for video games. It’s the leading form of entertainment in American culture. It’s changed the way that we connect with technology. It’s introduced technology to people in new and exciting ways. Next week represents a great opportunity to showcase new games and new products, but also to share the narrative and story of what video games represent in American culture and society. Next week is about investment and innovation. You’ll see a lot of that throughout E3. You’ll see new technology, games, and new entrants wanting to stake a claim in this growing and vital global audience.
GamesBeat: Are there specific things you’re excited about, or that you think will make the biggest splash?
Pierre-Louis: I don’t know what the biggest splashes will be. Microsoft has clearly invested significantly in Xbox, and in showcasing a lot of their messages, as has Nintendo. We’ll see Bethesda showcasing quite a bit of their content in exciting ways. We’ll also see some non-traditional players. Netflix is talking about its entrance into the streaming world. Square Enix will have its Marvel game, the Avengers game. You’ll see all manner of companies making exciting announcements about products they think will connect with the larger video game population.
GamesBeat: Are there any other issues you feel should be publicized, things we should take note of?
Pierre-Louis: This is an exciting time to be in the video game space. We’re seeing more games with more impact hitting more demographics. We’re seeing people play video games for different reasons, exciting reasons. We’re also seeing a continued growth of more groups entering the video game space and enjoying it.
When we talk about diversity, for example, today the number of women who work in the video game industry is double what it was in 2009. You’re also seeing products like the Xbox adaptive controller expand video game play for those with accessibility needs. You’re seeing more outreach to veterans and veterans’ groups around engaging with video games in positive ways. More and more we’re seeing the video game industry reach out to more audiences, to ensure that everyone’s included in this growing and dynamic space.
GamesBeat: I’m curious how you see companies interacting on the marketing side. Do you see a lot of changes there, with the rise of influencers and YouTube and all that? It’s a visually communicating world now. I wonder how you expect to see some of this manifest itself at E3.
Pierre-Louis: Social media is all about engagement. What you’re seeing with each of our companies, they’re trying to find the right ways and means to connect with audiences, not only on the floor, but around the world. Whether you’re talking about the video packages that will be distributed and used online, or if you’re talking about the way exhibitors present what they do for the live audience, to be able to share that with the world, everything is about connecting with audiences. To make it visually appetizing and make it visually captivating. The content we make is captivating. It’s about getting mindshare that week to ensure that people understand what exactly is being shared and marketed.
GamesBeat: Esports seems to work its way into E3 now. It’s a bigger and bigger part of the show.
Pierre-Louis: Esports has been an innovative area for us at E3 for the past three years. We’ve had competition on the floor. We also have a college competition. You’ll see more of that this year. Esports is just a growing phenomenon throughout the country and around the world. A year ago you probably had 50 schools with esports programs, in terms of colleges and universities. This year there are more than 160. It’s an area that’s captivating new audiences, and also opening up new opportunities to reach people interested in STEM, in coding, and in other new tech fields. It definitely represents a growth area, but also an opportunity in terms of engagement and education.
GamesBeat: What’s your feeling about VR these days, as to whether it’s going to take off as a next-generation gaming platform?
Pierre-Louis: We’re excited that Oculus will be on the show floor this year, demonstrating its VR devices. It’s an exciting opportunity for those on the floor to engage with it, and those who are watching from the streaming sites to get a look and see what Oculus is sharing. There’s clearly a significant investment in VR and other XR devices. It’s a new platform and a new way to reach audiences, a new way of storytelling. The more platforms we have, the better our industry thrives, we think.
GamesBeat: As far as the number of fans, did you think about changing that this time, or does 15,000 still feel right?
Pierre-Louis: Every year we examine how the show is doing from an exhibitor standpoint, from a logistics standpoint, from a fan standpoint. We’re comfortable with the 15,000 number this year, but every year we reassess that to determine how we ensure strong engagement and ease of use on the floor. We look at every aspect of how the show is doing and ensure that it’s being maximized for everyone’s benefit.
GamesBeat: There were some strongly worded stories about the way the ESA is run. How did you view that? Do you see any change or evolution to how you’d like to run the ESA?
Pierre-Louis: We have a dynamic, collaborative, and committed workforce here at ESA. They’re experts in their fields. They enjoy the engagement with our member companies, and they enjoy collaborating with each other. I want to make sure that our team has an opportunity to showcase what it does it to our members on every product that we have. We see a lot of exciting opportunities for us here, but also to really represent the most dynamic industry in the world.
GamesBeat: Are you committed to Los Angeles for a further amount of time, or are you thinking about going anywhere else?
Pierre-Louis: We’re committed to Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. It’s been a great partnership with the city. We generate $88 million in one week for the city. It’s been a very productive relationship with the city of Los Angeles.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Pierre-Louis: We’re excited about this year’s E3. We’re proud of showcasing to the world the dynamic new products and content that our team wants to show the world. We’ll be appealing to audiences around the world in a unique way, captivating everyone in a way that allows our exhibitors to showcase their content to the best audiences the world over.