At this year’s E3, there was one big question exchanged between journalists, industry folk, and pretty much everybody present: do you like the new E3? How different is it? Where the hell are all the scantily-clad booth babes? Sure, that might’ve sounded like three questions, but they’re all part of a greater theme: the new versus the old.
Those familiar with the epic saga of one Destru C. Toid knows how this little experiment came to be: Niero created a Web site with the aim of fooling the E3 people and letting him into the show. Things have changed quite a bit in a year; our staff has jigtupled, our readership is growing day by day, and last week nine of us were unleashed upon the invitation-only, kinder, gentler E3 where men lived and died by shuttle schedules.
Niero’s been to the big dance before, but this was my first visit and first major industry event — unless, of course, you count that sexy slumber party/trade show that Anthony and I held in an abandoned factory where nobody else showed up — so we figured ourselves the perfect pairing of veteran and newbie to mark up impressions of the show at large. Hit that jump like it deserves it.
Attending E3 2007 was like participating in an antiquated ritual. The long tradition of being part of the spectacle, the fact that you were summoned by your little family within the industry, and the great memories you associated with the name were all seemed like bigger reasons to attend the show than the actual expo’s content itself. While I’m always happy to attend these reunions and learn more about the people the curious people responsible for the current state of the video game industry, I was surprised to find a less than exciting E3.
Whatever spirit and legacy the event had was gone, and we attended what is redesigned to now be: Destructoid attended a trade show, did our business, helped the industry as media, drank with industry people, and lived to talk about it. I had fun, but I had less fun than last year. Obviously, the excitement of three brand new consoles launching last year set the bar pretty high. But given the few announcements at this year’s show, the awkward physical distribution of the various press conferences, and the expensive location I’d have to say I really missed having it at the big convention center. Had I not been in the company of people I loved, it would have been a pretty dull week.
As a functioning trade show, the new E3 certainly felt more effective. There were less people and we were all spread out, so there was rarely a long line to play even the most exclusive games and what little new hardware was present at the event. However, there was no reason to have everything so spread apart. The entire expo could have easily been packed into one large area like years before, making the jobs of coordinating with multiple teams of people much easier. Shuttles were often slow, eating up precious time we could have spent on the floor or writing. The main gaming area was 20 minutes away and didn’t have any area for press to work, so that was a logistical stupidity only suitable for television stations that only wanted to capture some buzz footage on video and get out. The old E3’s were physically more blogger friendly.
As an outsider invited in, my E3 this year was completely different on a personal level. Some people had heard about Destructoid and were very open to spending time with us, including Microsoft ex-honcho Peter Moore and Sony’s Executive VP of Sales. This should have all been extremely exciting, except that companies have appeared to have peeled back the amount of information they would have otherwise held for E3 into smaller events. More and more information leading to the event was leaked online intentionally or through other events, so it was a surprise that there was little to do after the press events than to play a few games for a limited time in makeshift kiosks. This seemed absolutely wasteful to me – in the age of downloadable games, consoles with huge hard drives, and blazing internet connections we would have all been better served by having some of these sessions online.
One thing slightly improved but not by much: We still had to make spot decisions on games to see them all. The hangar had weird hours and we needed to go there and get back before getting abandoned by shuttles. We still were lead to booth bots that didn’t always have answers to our questions about the state of the games. These are all things some gaming companies are taking upon themselves in better-planned media days to promote their games instead of inching for a slice of E3; a problem they only improved by having less people attend the show. However, they made it unnecessarily hard to do this when they were all at E3 as some required their own registration processes that completely ignored the universal E3 badge around your neck. As if getting there wasn’t hard enough, in some conferences it wasn’t enough – nor was it clear on the E3 site and unless you had a relationship with the company you were out of luck.
My biggest gripe is perhaps emotional: the feeling of being in the world’s biggest and most exclusive and futuristic arcade was completely gone. Nobody screamed when Miyamoto took the stage. There were no huddled groups of giggling gamers around Heavenly Sword. Instead there were slick reporters everywhere, tired camera crews pacing between isles capturing video gameplay footage without uttering a word, and an ant-colony-like doldrums of games-related business getting done at an efficient pace. The few of us that made it out there had plenty of elbow space to do our jobs, and we were able to do it well. When we clocked out for the evening and attended industry parties at night, well, let’s just call them mature gatherings to be nice.
In short, the trade show experience was vastly different than the big convention center experience. They both have their pros and cons, and I’m hoping that if an E3 returns in 2008 there will be a marriage of the best of both concepts, however I’m assuming the industry needs other things to make those big coins hit the pan. It’s a shame, too. Last year’s E3 was total chaos, but it had a pulse.
Like I said prior to zee jump, this is my first E3 and my first major industry event. I’ve little to compare it to, and having only been a part of Destructoid for the better part of nine months, you can expect that the bright lights, big city aspect played a big role in my impressions. The milling about, the exchanging of business cards, the games, the conferences, the big names — it was all quite overwhelming for a newbie, to be quite honest. And while I can’t measure my experiences at this year’s E3 against any similar shows, I can certainly tell you what it was like for a fresh-faced, newly-graduated gameslut like yours truly.
Our first night was a fine one. I was welcomed by the Destructoid crew alongside Nick and Alex as the late arrivals to our first night of drunken debauchery, which Chad and I promptly abandoned to make the Microsoft conference in time. The event was being held at Santa Monica High School, which had been completely assimilated into the Xbox Collective — green lights and decor everywhere. Chad and I made our way to our seats in the outdoor auditorium, settled in and waited for the big announcements. Viva Pinata and Gears of War on the PC — well, yeah, that’s swell — oh, hey, what’s — no, that’s just Scene It. The traditional end-of-the-show surprise was… another Halo 3 trailer? Huh. Well, that kinda sucks.
I walked away impressed by the presentation, but a little disappointed by the lineup. I was as pleased as anybody that these were games we were going to see this year and that many of them would be playable on the show floor, but there was something missing — that spark, that gleam in the eye of journalists and enthusiasts alike at the rumbling approach of the unknown, the megaton announcement. I considered myself satisfied on the whole and went to bed that night with dreams of all kinds of crazy shit from Nintendo and Sony dancing in my head. As for those — well, hell, at least Sony showed off Echochrome.
Of course, I knew going in that this was going to be a different brand of E3. Developers, publishers and marketing teams were all trying to grind the now into our heads as opposed to the years from now, so I figured that if the heart of the show was anywhere, it was on the floor — a sprawling wonderland full of games that I had lustily pursued for so long but had not yet played. While the floors of previous E3s have been much larger, much glitzier, much more awash in swag and breasts, I must confess that something in me stirred when I looked out over the Barker hangar and saw all of those demonstration booths and absolutely zero lines.
Here’s the bit where I show just how green I am: walking into Barker was like that bit at the end of Video Power where they’d loose some children upon aisles and aisles of gaming merch to try and nab as much as they could physically take with ’em. That sort of raw desire that propels you at Mach 10 while staving off the need to actually stay in one place and digest the material properly. In the end, this is what the event was about — not networking, not conferences, hell, not even drinking, as hard as that might be to believe. It was about checking out games that were yet in development.
Whether you’re new to E3 or an old hand at it, it’s still plain to see that the decentralization of the event was a bit of a mixed bag for attendees. It was swell that no one place was absolutely stacked with journalists and getting to walk right up to my game of choice and take a crack at it was certainly appreciated, but getting from here to there and back again was a hassle no matter what your experience was. Like Niero said, getting work done and blogging straight away after an event or appointment was a little touch and go, particularly when it came to the Barker hanger — I played games, took copious notes, and tried to keep the experience fresh in my head until I reached a place that I could get some writing done. Nine times out of ten this was our base of operations, the Fairmont Hotel. They had terminals set up for our use, and that was swell, but being able to post impressions from the show floor would’ve streamlined the hell out of the work, and prevented those painful losses of data. (If any shuttle drivers are reading this, the flash drive I lost has an entire post about Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and I’d much like it back. Please?)
The quieter environs, however, definitely made it easier to meet and greet. Good gravy, you should see the stack of business cards I had walking out of that show — I got to meet a lot of the folks I admired, developers I’ve followed, and other journalists who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting face to face. It’s a lot easier to speak to someone when you’re not screaming over the hurricane boom of a booth, after all. Most of all, though — oh God, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry — I valued the opportunity to finally hang with my fellow Dtoiders. It was alarming how recognized we were, and we owe that to how much great work has been done these past few months. By extension, then, I have to thank all of you for getting us there, and letting us represent you at the show. Will we do it again? Hell yes, we will. But will we grace E3 again next year? Hell — will there even be one next year?
In my interview with Peter Moore, I asked him why Microsoft kept the conference and their presence on the show floor largely limited to products that we’ll be seeing before this year is through. He told me that there were still plenty of shows yet to go — Tokyo Game Show, E for All, Leipzig, et cetera — but in his words I distilled the death rattle of E3, that the big show was no longer the big show, and that the megaton announcements that were once its hallmark were being reserved for the bigger, louder conferences that would follow in its wake. Walking away from the show as an active participant, I felt that the show was E3 in name only, and that the show that I had embraced as a spectator in years past just wasn’t there. Once October rolls around and E For All kicks up, we’ll see where the crown of the Industry’s Big Day finally rests. And once we do, you can bet your knickers that Destructoid will be there.
So will I. Y’know, provided someone brings a Segway for me to tear around on.