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articles

E3 changes forever as the public are invited for the first time

The biggest gaming spectacle of the year is changing and needs to continue to adapt to survive and maintain its status.

  • Text: Bengt Lemne
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It's a bit ironic that E3 is opening its doors formally to the public this year, and while it's a move that's long overdue, it is unlikely that visitors will feel they're getting great value out of their $250 tickets. Maybe some of them will, but ultimately E3 won't strike normal visitors as very different from a PAX or Gamescom where the ticket price is maybe a tenth of they are at E3. Sure, there's definitely something in the air at the LA Convention Center that's worth a higher ticket price. And maybe getting a chance to line up and play Project Scorpio, Mario Odyssey, Call of Duty: WWII, or Days Gone before your friends (unless they've also got a ticket) is worth that much to some gamers. Then again, playing all four of those in the 2.5 days the expo is open without any special access will probably require a bit of running and a lot of standing in line.

Looking back, the last couple of E3s haven't been the most exciting in terms of what's on the showfloor. The public perception of E3 is largely formed around what's shown at the various press conferences, and to be perfectly frank the show floor is nowhere near as exciting, as most publishers tend to focus on their most imminent releases there (with one or two exceptions), and perhaps some theatre presentations of games that aren't suitable as playable demos.

It is perfectly clear that E3 needed to take the public route. It's also perfectly clear that the 15,000 ticket holders will clog up the lines in the publicly available areas, meaning what's most relevant to media and business visitors will be kept behind closed doors (no massive change, as that was the case previously anyway). As there are no signs that things have been sectioned off in any meaningful way like at Gamescom (where there's a completely separate business area), expect media and trade visitors to complain about the increased crowds.

EA Play allows EA to control their message to gamers better during E3, and let's them get their news out before the others.

This year's E3 is missing out on some major players. EA are persisting with their EA Play strategy, opting for an event in Hollywood the week prior to the show, and in a way maximising their publicity by both being a part of E3 week and going first. Facebook-owned Oculus won't be exhibiting at the show (though the Rift will be on the floor with several interesting first-party titles at various hardware booths). With Rockstar staying away (they haven't had a booth in many years, but this doesn't rule out Red Dead Redemption 2 at one of the press conferences, of course), Take-Two will only bring their annual NBA and WWE titles, skipping media appointments altogether (at least for Europeans). Starbreeze, who have occupied the highly desirable front and centre corner location near the West entrance, are skipping this year's show, even as Dead by Daylight is just about to launch on consoles, Raid: World War II is gearing up for beta and release, and they've recently signed high-profile third party titles Psychonauts 2 and System Shock 3. Warner Brothers are also bringing a thinner line-up than usual, relying heavily on Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Lego Marvel Superheroes 2.

Same as Rockstar, Blizzard haven't been to E3 in ages, in fact, it's been so long that I think the last Blizzard game I saw at the show was Starcraft: Ghost (I could be wrong), either way, it's been a long time. Many other smaller developers and publishers also pass on E3 attendance. Perhaps it doesn't fit with their marketing strategy, perhaps they feel the money spent on E3 is better spent elsewhere. While E3 is still the most important gaming event of the year, it is also clear that it's not really a show that covers the entirety of the industry.

Who could be next? Well, Bethesda who are now in the habit of hosting a press conference each year, could be the next ones to go the EA route. This year the "Bethesdaland" concept would seem to suggest they are at least entertaining the thought.

This year's Bethesda event is a little more ambitious than previous additions. A hint that Bethesda could potentially follow in EA's footsteps?

I've visited the last dozen E3s, starting in 2005 where both PS3 and Xbox 360 premiered, and the pinnacle that was 2006, the dark years in 2007 and 2008, and to what's felt like a reasonably stabile format over the last few years. In many ways 2017 feels like it could be another 2006, the year prior to a major change or shift, and while moving the expo to a bunch of hotels in Santa Monica may not be on the cards again, we could see a show that fully embraces the public next year. Testing the waters in 2017 to see whether it is possible to go fully public (with a dedicated business section, or perhaps business days followed by a public weekend like TGS) at the LA Convention Center. Is that enough to lure back EA onto the show floor once more? That remains to be seen. While somewhat poorly organised last year, EA Play, did give the publisher an edge in the E3 publicity wars as both Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 got more than their fair share of attention. It is reasonable to assume Star Wars: Battlefront II and Need for Speed will receive similar boosts as they are shown off prior to the event kicking off. Could we see Rockstar and Blizzard return to the fold for an epic E3 open to the public in 2018?