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E3, the World’s Biggest  Video Game Show,  Says Smaller is Better

Darlene Gudea
, Publisher & Editor
July 31, 2006
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By Darlene Gudea, Publisher & Editor and Hil Anderson, Senior Editor

Los Angeles, CA – The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is cutting the size of its high-profile E 3, The Electronic Entertainment  Expo,  in favor of a “more intimate” event for video game software developers, retailers and the trade media.

The association announced on July 31 that a revamped 2007 show would be markedly different.   In May 2006, the glitzy, sold-out show spanned 540,000 net square of exhibit space at the Los Angeles Convention Center and drew over 50,000 attendees, most of whom were end-users, not qualified buyers.  The expo has also drawn criticism that it has grown so large that many exhibitors and their products are lost in the shuffle. The show’s largest exhibitors including Sony, Microsoft, Electronics Arts and THQ reportedly decided not to exhibit in 2007, starting a chain reaction that led organizers to conclude that it was time to go back to the drawing board.

"Over the years, it has become clear that we need a more intimate program, including a higher quality, more personal dialogue with the worldwide media, developers, retailers and other key industry audiences,” ESA President Douglas Lowenstein said.

 

New Name, New Dates, New Site, New Size

The 2007 show has been renamed the E3 Interactive Media Festival. The ESA indicated that the 2007 event will focus on small gatherings, media briefings and demonstrations for a more select audience and, “will not feature the large trade show environment of previous years.” The show will be staged in July,  two months later than its traditional May slot, giving publishers and developers more time to further develop  their new games and demos to be shown to attendees.

ESA is now targeting an attendance of 5,000,  a drop of 90% from the 50,000 attendees the show drew two months ago. The event will no longer be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) but in the suites and ballrooms of one or more hotels,  to be named.  In the past, the show generated 36,000 room nights  and impacted the local economy to the tune of $50 MIL. No details are available yet on how far into the future the show was contracted at the LACC or if the ESA will compensate the city of Los Angeles for the economic fallout.

 

Was the Writing on the Wall?

E 3 exhibitors consider media coverage of their new products an important metric  when assessing the value of the show. Sources from the  video game media told Trade Show Executive  the show had simply gotten so large that reporters were overwhelmed with announcements of new products, which resulted in many companies never getting the ink that propels their success. They say the change in show format was necessary. Other reporters, however, mourned the loss of the sprawling extravaganza and predicted a drop in press coverage.

Some say E 3’s downsizing may have little impact on the largest game publishers because those companies  can afford to stage their own company-specific events. And some did. For example, Electronic Arts began inviting  the media  to see and play their new titles at their own private event, rather than showcasing  them at E 3.

 

Observers say the small game developers and publishers will be impacted the most by ISA's decision to downsize the event. Many of them depended on the buzz and traffic that E 3 generated,  providing exposure and opportunities with the key buyers they could never draw on their own.

 

 

Will a New Show Take E 3’s Place?

The first E 3 was staged in 1995 by the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA),  which is now the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Before that show, most game developers exhibited at the International Consumer Electronics Show.  E 3 came of age with the release of Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Virtual Boy.

 

The third week of May was a highlight of the year for most gaming industry people. The show was always held in that time frame, in a Tuesday through Friday format. Two days before the show floor opened,  the major game publishers and console makers  staged press conferences to preview their new software titles and  next-generation hardware consoles. These press conferences ranged from no-frills  announcements at  the  Los Angeles Convention Center or nearby hotels  to extravagant invitation-only events at off-site locations such as Sony’s  press conference  at the Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City.

 

Lowenstein stated that the downsizing would not reduce the influence E 3 has in the gaming software industry, but would instead make it a more-efficient platform for exhibitors and key attendees. “It is no longer necessary or efficient to have a single industry 'mega-show,' he said. “By refocusing on a highly-targeted event, we think we can do a better job serving our members and the industry as a whole.”

While critics acknowledge the decision will lower exhibit  costs --  many exhibitors spend well over a million dollars for their exhibit, booth staff and travel costs --- they say that  part of the draw was the sheer spectacle of the event, its noise, crowds and excitement. 

 

And what do the bloggers have to say?  Here are some from www.gamespot.com,  condensed and edited slightly for brevity, clarity and language.

  • “But wait, you're taking away the one and only spectacle that truly gave gaming a mainstream appeal, and turning it into a behind-the-scenes, low-key hotel convention?  I wonder if Doug (Lowenstein)  was working in the film industry, would  massive surging spectacles like the Oscars, the Golden Globes and what not  be relegated to small hotel ballrooms?” 
  • “Changing E3 is just as bad as changing Christmas or the Super Bowl or any other cultural hallmark.” 
  •  “Please,  I am pleading with someone to make a conference to replace E3…. Let Sony, Microsoft and Electronics Arts have the little hotel crap show they just wished for and got. You show the world what gaming really is about -- FUN! “

E 3's loss could be another’s gain, namely the Consumer Electronics Association’s International Consumer Electronics Show  or a show launch by an independent show producer.

Reach Douglas Lowenstein at (202) 223-2400 or dlowenstein@theesa.com.

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