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.
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.
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?
It's probably more fantasy than anything else. A fully public E3 will likely result in more focus on esports and free-to-play on the show floor, turning into something that's more similar to what's the case with Gamescom, Tokyo Game Show, and PAX. Turning E3 into just another public show (even if it's the most important one), may even work against the myth that surrounds the event, meaning even more publishers and developers will opt out. But E3 is in a bind. There used to be lots of buyers from various retailers at the show. There used to be lots of excited video game retail staff lining up to play upcoming games they'd then tell their customers about. There just aren't a lot of these visitors left these days, and the void needs to be filled. Dwindling visitor numbers isn't a great look for the greatest show in gaming. I think that's the main reason for the limited introduction of tickets for the public (some members of the public still attended past E3s, of course, buying attendee badges and what not). The image of E3 as the most important gaming event needs to be maintained. And putting gamers at the centre is the thing to do.
The status of the show is the main reason why the industry spends ridiculous amounts on showing their upcoming products in downtown LA each year. Nothing has the mainstream impact of E3 and that was felt when they tried to scale it down that one year in Santa Monica. Without a show floor, without being at the LA Convention Center next to Staples Center and LA Live, there just wasn't much mainstream media attention. E3 week is pretty much the only time when video games are being shown in a positive light across all major news shows on TV in America. It's the sort of goodwill the industry craves. It legitimises gaming to the masses. That's worth a lot. TV needs the sort of spectacle a busy show floor brings or it's not "good TV". Mainstream media needs a few "trends" to spot, a few truly big titles to capture the average viewer's attention for a few seconds.
There is also the change in media, influencers, Youtubers, and streamers. It's a different landscape and perhaps the E3 show floor doesn't make sense if a publisher is targeting a certain category of influencers for their product. Maybe it's better, then, to invite a couple of dozen of such content providers to a separate event, pay their expenses and be more in control of the coverage it results in. First-party coverage that at first glance may appear similar to the gaming press, things like Nintendo Treehouse or Major Nelson, something that is also increasingly taking more space and pushing out independent media (or stepping in to take its place as independent media struggles). These are trends that are global and affect gaming as a whole, but naturally it also affects E3 and the show will change according to the needs and wants of publishers (even if there's some delay).
Winning E3 may not always be key to actual success at retail, but having a great showing at one of the major press conferences can certainly have a tremendous impact, particularly for new properties that can jump from zero recognition to being something most gamers know and talk about. The perception of PS4 and Xbox One at their first E3 was certainly a factor in Sony gaining the upper hand this generation. E3 was never kind or generous on the smaller developers or mid-sized publishers, or runner-ups.
Exhibitors spend relatively large chunks of their marketing budget on going there in the hopes that their game(s) would break through the noise of the show and land awards, get on various media lists of the best games of the show and have the trailers rack up massive amounts of views on YouTube. But for all the media and attention E3 creates, it is largely reserved for the already big and famous, for the first-party titles and your billion dollar franchises. That's how it has always worked. So while E3 will propel a chosen few games or products to the highest heights of hype, for most exhibitors E3 won't have much of an impact - if any - on the level of anticipation for their product(s). Is it then sustainable in the long term with the way it's set up? Probably not. But the industry seems happy to pay whatever it costs to attract the eyes of the world on something positive to do with gaming for one week every year.
E3 is in a position where it fears change (as it risks losing its edge and position), but also needs to change to stay relevant and keep that position. It's a strange and dangerous situation to be in, but hopefully a format can be agreed upon that suits the various members of ESA and that ensures that we get an event where all the biggest upcoming games are shown, and where all the biggest players are represented. It remains to be seen if that's actually possible, but what we do know is that there's no turning back. Public visitors will be a part of E3s to come, but whether or not the event will go all the way and join the ranks of Tokyo Game Show and Gamescom is a different matter altogether.