Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Empty Pavilions

Empty Pavilions

Speculation abounds regarding who will fill the “big show” void left by E3’s revamp, but do the major sponsors still want to make the effort?

Almost everyone who pays attention to game conventions, or even just gaming news in general, is well aware that the Entertainment Software Association recently announced a major shift in the emphasis of the massive, controversial Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Reacting to the unhappiness of E3’s major players with rising costs and effort, the ESA is reportedly retooling E3 to better facilitate press, media and retail networking with game companies. In the process, the expo is moving away from the huge, glitzy (and expensive) displays that many companies felt obligated to put on.

Discussion of what these changes mean in the long and short term has been active on blogs and gaming news sites over the past few weeks. Comments on blogs like Damion Schubert’s Zen of Design and Scott Jennings’ Broken Toys, for example, tend to examine how E3 had changed over the years. But, more importantly, there is an ongoing theme in the overall discussion: “Who will take E3’s place as the three-ring circus of video games?”

Many alternatives and scenarios are thrown out in relation to a replacement venue “taking up the slack” for what E3 will be cutting out of the show. Maybe PAX will be more of a tradeshow now. Or could Austin Game Conference host a “classic E3” kind of convention? GDC is mentioned as well and, most recently, even CES has jumped back into the fray. Foreign game industry shows like China Joy and Korea’s G* have also been promoting themselves as E3 alternatives.

What only a few people are discussing, however, is that E3 is changing precisely because of battle fatigue on the part of the major participants of the show. Companies like Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and NCsoft literally spent millions on their E3 “booths” and, based on their reactions on the ESA’s announcement, seem very happy about the scaled-back E3 planned for 2007. Additionally, a rising chorus around the game industry over the last few years decried the time and schedule disruption necessary to get a product in development “demo-ready” for E3. Some studios have placed the total time lost preparing for E3 at as much as 3-4 months of development time over the course of the year.

It’s becoming apparent that many of the larger E3 participants had viewed the effort and expense as a distraction from what they consider the “legitimate business” of the show: evaluating potential new development partners, showing upcoming products to select press and retailers and general networking with a variety of service providers, support companies, etc.
The possibility exists, of course, that eventually some other venue will provide a home for the bright lights, loud music and extreme spectacles that E3 once provided and is now shedding. However, it’s hard to imagine that the very companies who have forced this change will soon forget the time and expense necessary for that kind of production. Also, once those companies feel the effects of a suddenly and drastically reduced E3 budget, what are the odds that they will want to sink those saved dollars into doing the exact same thing somewhere else?

While many are speculating about what or who will become the “next E3”, nobody is asking the companies that would have to foot the bill for re-creating that experience. And, as everyone knows, fire-dancers, rappers and fantasy-garbed models don’t pay for themselves.


Post a Comment

<< Home