I’ve loved video games my whole life – they’ve always been the pinnacle of entertainment. Something about picking up that controller gives you a sense of empowerment that’s unmatched. You could sing along to a song or scream at the movie screen, but there’s no other medium that allows the level of interactivity of video games.
For the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to have written enough about video games to earn invitations to the premiere events of the video game industry: the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and PAX Prime. While I’ve heard of both events prior to attending, I can only speak of my personal experiences attending these events.
Creating Exclusivity in Video Games
E3 is an industry-only trade show that’s closed to the public. The only way you’ll get a ticket to the event is by working in the video game industry. PAX, however, is a video game fanfest, like a ComicCon for video games. Both allow for hands-on demos of the latest and greatest video game hardware and software, though E3 typically gives the media first crack at playing new games prior. At one time, they allowed the media with the first opportunity to announce new games as well, though it’s clear from attending that the old guard is fully in charge.
IGN and Gamespot clearly have the most money in the video game media, and they spend this money to form a partnership with the ESA to help livestream and promote the press conferences and other developer events. Any other members of the media, from small-time bloggers to the Associated Press, are left to fend for themselves. At trade shows like CES, InfoComm, and Outdoor Retailer, the media is treated as professionals, but at E3, the media is essentially treated like a pretentious movie star treats paparazzi or fans who cross the lines.
But the exclusivity isn’t really there. At an event like International CES, there is true early access provided to media in the form of CES Unveiled. In addition, auxiliary events like Pepcom’s Digital Experience, 3opolis’s VRFest, and David Leon’s ShowStoppers provide opportunities to get hands-on with a wide variety of toys, gadgets, games, and consumer technology.
At E3, you won’t get a chance to touch a VR headset or any new consoles without an appointment, and what real incentive does a video game developer have to forcing all their appointments into one week? Blizzard already long ago learned the media exposure is better holding an event at a different time of the year.
Raising Expenses While Lowering Expectations
At a certain point, one has to wonder why to even attend E3. Parking in Los Angeles is already ridiculously expensive, but during E3, the price goes up seemingly every minute, reaching highs of $100 in some places. On top of this, food within the convention center is both bland and expensive. While the press pass is free if you register in time (or $1000 if you register on-site), you can easily drop $1000 with nothing to show for it.
At one time it was worth paying these fees in order to gain access to exclusive industry information, but seemingly every company has a press conference these days, and every press conference is livestreamed to the general public…by IGN and GameSpot. It’s safe to assume no one will ever beat IGN or GameSpot’s SEO rankings for video game-related searches because they’ll always have access to the information before anyone else, and the rest of the media finds out right alongside the general public. Is this what the video game industry has become?
Speaking of press conferences, Sony is the only company that’s done it right. Last year, I found myself walking over a mile through downtown L.A. to get to Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft’s press conferences. I almost walked out of EA, when they tried getting people excited about more of their mobile freemium garbage. Those aren’t real video games.
Sony was the only company that provided a shuttle – Sony was the only company that provided food and drinks to the media (Microsoft does have a great afterparty though). Sony is also the company that provided theater screenings of their press conference to the general public – screenings where the general public was treated better than the press at every other company’s conferences. And Sony barely had anything decent to announce the last two years.
Now Electronic Arts is having its own separate event offsite and away from the E3 show floor. It looks like EA execs figured out how to reduce its marketing budget the same way Nintendo cut corners by pre-taping press conferences and streaming them online.
Showing up to E3 still does give you hands-on time with demos of these new games. There’s no denying the value in this. In 2014, for example, I got to play Super Smash Bros for 3DS months before any of my friends. By showing up to E3 as a professional journalist, I was able to get early access to demo games and provide some coverage, but it’s nothing substantial. Also, at PAX Prime I got a Smash Bros towel on top of the demo. In fact, at PAX Prime, I got codes for a variety of games that allowed me to bring the playing experience beyond the booth.
At E3, the swag is mostly laughable – cheaply made bags that fall apart, shoddy trinkets and t-shirts. It’s like a Christmas filled with ugly sweaters from your most boring aunts and uncles. While PAX Prime provided me with a variety of cool toys and gadgets to show off to my friends, E3 simply filled my van with what eventually became garbage.
The other value in E3 is having the opportunity to interview developers and gain quotes for articles. These quotes and interviews, along with early access footage of the games, are the only real reasons to show up, and, because this is necessary for journalism, the media is simply stuck showing up.
If E3 is on your bucket list, take my advice and skip it. PAX Prime is not only cheaper, it’s much more exciting. At PAX Prime, everyone’s treated like a fan, but the fans are actually relevant. At E3, the fans aren’t invited, and the media is treated like a herd of lower beings. The focus on capitalism easily overshadows the fun I used to experience picking up that controller. The interactivity I loved about video games is all but gone, as the industry becomes nothing more than a secondary Hollywood.
E3 has become a shell of its former self, and the hype machine is corrupting the video game industry in my opinion. I had no problems demoing all the latest VR, AR, and toy-to-life gaming available at International CES. I got hands-on with the Vive Pre and Rift, played with new controllers, drone-based games, and still had time to talk to executives from major tech companies around the world.
While sitting in the VR Lounge at the Palms earlier this month, I couldn’t help but notice how personal and intimate the setting was. Professionals working on all levels of VR hardware and content were accessible and eager to talk, show off their work, and discuss plans for the future. There was a level of professional respect I never felt at E3.
So, while I’ll still probably show up to E3 this year because I do still need content for my website and sources for my journalism work, my heart won’t be in it. I love console gaming as much as I love gaming on my PC, Android, a board, a deck of cards, or my imagination. And E3 only respects a small fraction of that.
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on Fast Company, Huffington Post, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, BBC, and Cannabis Now.