Destructoid interview: ESA’s Mike Gallagher on E3 2009

In the past few days, you’ve heard a lot about the 2009 Electronics Entertainment Expo, or as we’re calling it, The New New E3.

Unfortunately, it looks like some outlets have got their wires crossed on what’s actually going down next year in Los Angeles from June 2nd through 4th. Will the public be allowed in? Do you need a press pass? Most importantly, will there be booth babes?

Destructoid was able to speak with the best person to set us straight on everything E3, the Entertainment Software Association’s President, Michael Gallagher. Hit the jump to read our interview with ESA boss and get the lowdown on E3 2009.

Destructoid: Let’s get something out of the way first: We’ve heard over the past few days that E3 2009 may be open to the public in some way. Is this true?

Michael Gallagher: Here’s the deal with the consumer element that you’re referencing: there will be lots of ways for the consumer to experience what’s going on at this terrific formatted show. They’ll be able to experience that through the media that are attending. This is not a consumer show that is open to the public. E3 has never been a consumer show, even in the past years when it was much larger.

Do you have any idea where these rumors came from?

I don’t have any idea. We’re dealing with the facts in the announcement; I don’t know about rumors.

Is your goal to get away from the press-only format of the last couple of E3s?

No, our goal is to put on the preeminent videogame show in North America, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. What we’re going to do is put on a show that’s reflective of the high-energy, high-octane, innovative entertainment that is the videogame industry — one that’s experienced incredible growth even in difficult economic times. That’s the show we’re about putting on.

In the past, aside from being open to press members of almost any time, E3 was attended by game makers, industry analysts, retail buyers, and even game store employees. Is your goal to get back to that type of audience again in 2009?

We have a much, much broader audience than the targeted show that we ran the last two years, which was very focused on press-only and really U.S. press. This is meant to target international press, mass media, as well as just gamer press. It’s meant to look at retailers in particular. We moved it earlier in the year to make it more relevant to the retail environment. We’re looking developers, business partners, hardware and accessory manufacturers. It’s a much broader audience, which is much more traditional, or shares more in common with the older versions of E3.

According to your research, what was not working about the past couple of E3 events to make you feel like these changes were necessary?

First, we sent out thousands of surveys to those that attend the show. Then we take the feedback, we gather that up, we analyze it and refine the show and move forward. We did that again this last year, and so certainly the feedback we received there is a component. The second is a realization, and that is verbalized by a couple of the leading CEOs in the industry. The model that we were deploying wasn’t hitting the mark relative to capturing the excitement, energy, and the high-octane nature of our industry. So we sat down and we figured out the show that’s the best combination of the old version — the big shows — as well as the small shows, to come up with this version, which will be the must-attend event of 2009.

As far as who does get to attend, are the little guys welcome? The enthusiast press, the smaller blogs — are they welcome to apply for a press pass and attend?

They’ll be absolutely the target, one of the target audiences will be that group. The ESA will credential them on a case-by-case basis, but in a manner that those that influence others, and those that are opinion leaders in the videogame space, they’ll be able to get in.

So you’ll be getting away from the former invite-only format for the press?

Correct. As I understand it, the history of Destructoid was around your founder actually scheming to sneak in. He won’t have to sneak in under this model. [laughs]

We think it’s great that you will be letting the little guys in. Maybe the next blogger with plenty to say about games will be in attendance.

I think that the show is more geared to embrace the entire videogame ecosystem, and not nearly as targeted at just certain media attendees.

As far as these recent changes are concerned, would you say that any are a result of the competition from other game-centric events?

What I would say is that this is a recognition of an opportunity for our industry to capture the energy and excitement and growth that’s going on in our space, and to portray that in a forward-looking way. That’s really what it’s about. It’s not about competition with other shows that are consumer oriented. If you look at PAX or Comic-Con, those really are not the same type of show. They’re really focused on the consumer. This is, after all, an expo and a trade show.

From today’s release, we read that larger booths can be expected. Except for the last couple of years, weren’t they already pretty big? Can we expect even larger ones?

No. Actually, the increased booth size is relative to this past show. There will be substantially larger than the ones they were allowed to have. Plus, there will be much, much more individual creativity allowed for them to display and design the booth, as well as to display their very exciting titles that they’ll releasing in the coming years.

Finally, we have to ask: does this new E3 mark the return of the booth babe?

[laughs] I was told to expect that question. Here’s the situation: As I mentioned just a second ago, the companies are going to be given great latitude to display, in an exciting way, the products and the titles that they are going to have in the pipeline in the upcoming year. We’re excited to capture all the energy under one room. Models will certainly be a part of that, but they’ll be subject to standards much like in previous E3s.

Mike’s final words:

We’re looking to put on a really smart E3 that combines the elements of the big and the small format, and it takes leadership to make that happen. This industry has it, and you’re going to see it on display in June.

[Destructoid would like to thank Mr. Gallagher and the ESA for their time]

Dale North