The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is one of the most influential events in the world for video games and video gamers, because it’s the place where all that is new and exciting is revealed to the world – traditionally though the games journos who cover the Expo and, increasingly today via social media such as YouTube, which allows gamers access to information previously available only after it is filtered through the games journos.
Several times in years past I tried to explain why, despite having access to recordings and live streams for various press events, presentations, and the like, as well as feeds from the main floor, the element represented by games journos is still incredibly important. I am even willing to say that we are crucial to the process of communicating games news from events of the magnitude of E3.
The filtering mechanism is, depsite more open access, still critical to the process of sharing information about the games that are coming and the various new projects announced. The reason for that is the signal-to-noise ratios that attach to that information. I didn’t think that previous attempts at explaining this were very successful – so I vowed that this time, as I settled in to prepare to cover the Press Briefings and the show, I would make a special effort to get it right.
With the exception of a couple of years when things were dicey in the industry and he show was gutted and moved to hotels at the beach, and when the show appeared in Atlanta, E3 is mostly held in LA at the Convention Center. This year’s show runs from 13 June to 15 June – last year the show ran from 14 June thru 16 June (2016). The important point here – the fact if you will – is that the show takes place officially over a three-day period. That’s just 72-hours. Or if you count it by the minute, then it’s 4,320 minutes.
Regardless of the year then, E3 gobbles up the very same 3-days in abstract. So what happened at E3 2016 that is worthy of our attention now? Well, we chose E3 2016 for a very good reason – it is the most recent E3 for which we have figures and statistics available. Cold hard facts in other words. So let us begin to examine those facts, shall we?
E3 2016 was the 22nd Electronic Entertainment Expo, and as usual it was organized by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center. While the ESA organized it, in reality the bulk of the logistics — and the lion’s share of the success for the event — is down to the individual presenters and their efficient strategic booth design and operation.
Now to be fair most of the studios and publishers who exhibit at E3 hire consultants and coordinators who are expert in pulling off and organizing events like this. They offer organization so that the staff from the publisher or studio can focus on their presentations — the video games that they are briefing the press on that year — all of which are both professionally developed and organized and incredibly effective at delivering the information that the attending games journos need. And none of that is accidental.
The delivery and the content of the briefings at E3 have been carefully polished and refined at other events like PAX / PAX East, and for some publishers and studios at public venues like Comic Con. If you experience E3 and find yourself thinking – wow this is a level of efficiency and strategy I’d expect to see from the military! well that is far more accurate than you might realize.
The booths – and their tactical organization – and the effectiveness of the various presentations – are not the only evidence of organization on that level either. One of the more celebrated elements at E3 every year – in addition to the booths and presentations – are the Pre-Event Press Conferences held by the major game publishers (and to a lesser extent studios), during which important information is presented to the games press and, especially of note, the critical information that the presenter really wants to share with the press. All this happens before the official doors even think about opening at E3.
It is here that the most important elements of the information narrative that each of the studios and publishers lay out is delivered – especially with respect to their product lines and the energy for each – because often this is the only shot they’ll get to reach the games journos with their undiluted message before the chaos that is E3 takes over.
Pre-Show Press Conferences
Last year those epic events included formal PCs held by the major studios and publishers present at the show. While they have booths, the actual business that will be conducted at those booths is almost exclusively restricted to the choreographed game presentations that will play out there. Basically the display of either canned or actual game play, which is meant to give the games journos a sense of how the game looks now. Later in the year they will be invited to hands-on sessions where they get to play the games themselves – for now the idea is to prepare them to be able to write about the games with at least some first-hand knowledge.
The actual back-stories and any important elements of their narratives are delivered at the official pre-show press briefings – the idea being that these Press Conferences are the more ideal setting because only the press has access to them. Even though when they sit down for the game play demos on the show floor each journo will be handed a memory stick with the press releases and game data — including videos and still images suitable for publication — before or after they witness the game play presentations, the meat and bones and especially the back-and-forth in terms of Q&A and deeper information exchanges? That all happens at the PCs before the show opens.
And these PCs perfectly illustrate why today is our 4th day of a full work week that we will spend in LA to cover what is ostensibly a three-day event. Our fourth day of work and the show has not even opened! To highlight these for you, consider this PC schedule – and remember all this takes place BEFORE the actual show – E3 – opened:
- 08 June 0830 — Square Enix (Deus Ex Universe Focus)
- 12 June 1300 — Electronic Arts (EA Play Focus)
- 12 June 1900 — Bethesda (Big Title Focus)
- 13 June 0930 — Microsoft (New Xbox One Models Focus)
- 13 June 1300 — Ubisoft (Old and New IP Reveals Focus)
- 13 June 1800 — Sony (PlayStation VR Focus)
The idea behind the PCs that take place before the show opens is to allow for the heavy hitters to control the narrative briefly, so that they can tell the press – and thus YOU – what they think is important about their coming year, without that message being lost in the massive noise that is E3.
All of those PCs went off without a hitch – call it with military precision if you like – but that is sort of the point. Because when the show opened it was not just more of the same. You see when the doors opened on 14 June last year all the way through the three days until the doors closed on 16 June, the event played host to:
- 300 Exhibitors
- 2,300 Game Titles (estimates)
- 50,300 E3 Attendees (field professionals, analysts, and journalist)
- 20,000 E3 Live Attendees (gamers and fans)
Last year’s E3 was the second time in the past decade when attendance numbers exceeded 50K – though to be fair the numbers for 2015 were a smidge higher, with the ESA reporting that attendance for E3 2016 was actually down 3.6% for reasons unknown. Industry experts expect those numbers to maintain moving forward, especially now that video games have exceeded traditional entertainment in both viewers, eyes, and wallets.
Even stranger, the meaning of the show changed for two major presenters — Electronic Arts and Activision — both of whom opted out of the E3 show floor, choosing instead to either hold their own off-site event (EA), or restrict their presence to appointments in meeting rooms at the venue (Activision).
Last year’s E3 also played host to a new venue in the form of E3 Live, a free event put on by the ESA at L.A. Live that was open to the public.
That might have been a test-run for the ESA, because the 20,000 members of the gaming public whose attendance at E3 Live appears to have been the model behind the 15,000 tickets that the ESA sold to the gamer public this year, when for the first time ever at E3 the event has been opened to non-industry and non-press gamers.
Tickets went on sale on 13 February 2017 at an early-bird price of $150, with the standard price set at $250 after the discount period ended. All 15,000 public tickets were sold out by late May.
The decision to open the event to the public has altered the fabric of E3 in only small ways so far, considering that the bulk of the actual business in terms of media briefing actually takes place at the pre-event PCs – with the show being mostly for demos of game play for the games press. One new addition to the event is the E3 Coliseum.
The Coliseum event, designed specifically for the public, is scheduled for 13 & 14 June, and features game developers hosting discussion panels that will include behind-the-scenes looks at highly anticipated games, as well as the sort of Q & A sessions most gamers will recognize from other events like ComicCon and PAX.
While some panels will be streamed via Twitch for gamers who cannot attend, as is often the case, being there is he best way to see everything right away. I say right away because if the events follow the established procedures of ComicCon and PAX, attendees should be posting their own video coverage to YouTube and other social media sites shortly thereafter.
Filtering the Narrative
When I mentioned previously that the games journo presence at E3 has a distinct and valuable function I wasn’t exaggerating. That presence has the same value today as it has in years past – perhaps an even greater value actually. Despite the hits that the industry has taken due to some bad events, games journos and the news and reviews process are not dying off – they can’t.
Without the filter that games journos provide, the gaming public would be rapidly inundated with a disproportionate ratio of noise-to-signal as they try to navigate the wilderness of annual game releases.
It’s not simply a function of parcing press releases; the function and narrative are directly attached to the function games journos play in both evaluating studio and publisher claims, game realities, and properly ordering the actual and likely release dates so as to present the gaming public with information that they can actually use.
If some illustration is required, consider this: a tremendous selection and number of individual games were announced, touted, and briefed at E3-16. That does not cover titles already revealed at previous Expos and still in the production phase – it only references NEW and emerging games.
Considering the challenge of making each voice heard, the overall numbers are themselves very impressive to the point of terror:
- 2K Games – x5 Major Titles
- 505 Games – x5 Major Titles
- Activision / Blizzard – x4 Major Titles
- Anuman – x3 Major Titles
- Bandai Namco – x9 Major Titles
- Bethesda Softworks – x9 Major Titles
- Bigben Interactive – x1 Major Title
- Capcom – x2 Major Titles
- CD Projekt – x1 Major Title
- Codemasters – x1 Major Title
- Compulsion Games – x1 Major Title
- Deep Silver – x1 Major Title
- Devolver Digital – x5 Major Titles
- Electronic Arts – x8 Major Titles
- Focus Home Interactive – x8 Major Titles
- GungHo Online Ent, – x1 Major Title
- Inti Creates – x5 Major Titles
- Kadokawa Games – x4 Major Titles
- Koei Tecmo – x3 Major Titles
- Konami – x1 Major Title
- Marvelous USA – x8 Major Titles
- Microsoft Studios – x11 Major Titles
- Natsume – x3 Major Titles
- Nintendo – x11 Major Titles
- Nordic Games – x4 Major Titles
- Paradox Interactive – x1 Major Title
- Sega – x5 Major Titles
- Sony SIE – x11 Major Titles
- Square Enix – x16 Major Titles
- Team17 – x4 Major Titles
- Telltale Games – x2 Major Titles
- Ubisoft – x11 Major Titles
- Warner Bros. – x5 Major Titles
To put this in perspective for you, and bearing in mind that the listing above is JUST the major games studios/publishers and their primary IPs (there were a LOT more studios/publishers and games present at E3 mates) the games publishers and studios need to front and brief their titles while the typical games journo (assuming that they did not have a team to cover the event though most of the major sites and publications DID in fact have teams at E3) was put in the typical position of having to cover 169 unique games JUST from these 33 Studios/Publishers.
That is 169 game titles from the estimated 2,300 titles that were present at the Expo! The genuine total for coverage and briefings is far more than that seemingly monumental number. But that is E3 mates. Which is sort of the point to this.
I am not making excuses – or whinging here – what I am hoping to do is communicate a better understanding of just how massive – and important – this event actually is. Both to the industry, to games journos, and ultimately to you, the game consumer, who we know will – over the course of the following six months leading right up to Christmas – be relying upon us to help guide you to the best of the best and then some!
Does our voice really matter to you? The answer would seem to be yes, very much indeed. Games journos and, to an even greater extent, games reviewers, remain an active and influential part of the games community and the defacto interface between the industry and gamers.
Thanks to the huge number of titles that are released every year, even when they are broken out by games genre and, even when the players have a pretty good idea as to what genres they prefer and are interested in, in the end the games journos help to finely tune the interest and game play rotation lists for the vast majority of gamers. In a nutshell this is our role – and if you are a good games journo you take that all very seriously indeed.
How influential can we be? Well if you knock-down and discount the number of gamers every year who say that they pay less attention to games reviews and their reviewers and more attention to the awards that a particular game has earned, allow me to clarify something for you alright then? You know the rewards that these games blazon on their covers and tout in their ads? Who do you think gives them those awards?
Yeah – you probably guessed right. We do. Games journos. In fact one of the by now set-in-stone traditions of E3 will mostly have taken place, and the show has not even opened yet!
What am I talking about? The Awards System. Specifically this year’s Awards – which I can tell you right now most of the journos with the franchise to vote have already pretty much decided upon their choices.
2016’s E3 Awards
For the record, after the closing bell at each year’s Expo, a select group of games journos from more than 40 different games publications / sites gather and cast their votes across the various traditional categories for the Best of E3 awards.
Nominees were announced on 29 June 2016 (this year that will be 30 June 2017), with the winners having been announced on on 5 July 2016 (this year probably 3 or 5 July since 4 July is a holiday in the USA).
- For each of the categories the one that received the most votes wins it – and then the four runner-ups get listed as well but in alphabetical order, so there is no way to tell how close the next game in line was. If you are curious – or you can’t recall – the pick-up-sticks fell like this last year:
- Award / Winner (Studio/Publisher)
- Best of Show / The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)
- Best Console Game / The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)
- Best Original Game / Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla/Sony Interactive Ent.)
- Best PC Game / Civilization VI (Firaxis/2K)
- Best Action Game / Battlefield 1 (DICE/EA)
- Best Action/Adventure Game / The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)
- Best Family Game / Skylanders: Imaginators (Toys for Bob/Activision)
- Best Fighting Game / Injustice 2 (NetherRealm/WBIE)
- Best Independent Game / Inside (Playdead)
- Best Racing Game / Forza Horizon 3 (Playground Games/Microsoft Studios)
- Best RPG / Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix)
- Best Sports Game / Steep (Ubisoft Annecy/Ubisoft)
- Best Strategy Game / Civilization VI (Firaxis/2K)
- Best VR Game / Batman: Arkham VR (Rocksteady/WBIE)
- Best Online Multiplayer / Titanfall 2 (Respawn/EA)
- Best Hardware/Peripheral / PlayStation VR (Sony Interactive Entertainment)
So there you have it – even when it doesn’t appear like your friendly neighborhood games journo is offering guidance they still are! No worries mates, we’ve got your backs.
If there were any typos I failed to catch in this – you have my sincere apology. I am working on around 4 hours of sleep a night in order to make all of the briefings and meetings that we have to cover here.
I know that a lot of my readers think that E3 is Party-Town – and that might have been true once upon a time and a long time ago – but today E3 is a business event and it is anything except a party. A madhouse is a more accurate assessment – but the important thing is that we are getting good information and solid briefings. I won’t say that the 2017 / 2018 Games Season is going to be as good as the year we had in 2011 – that being one of the most impressive years in the history of the industry in terms of major title releases.
I won’t say that 2017/2018 is set to be as big or bigger a year as 2011. Or will I? What I will say is that from what I have seen so far, it’s looking very good.