I first went to E3 in 2008. Back then, it felt like an adventure, and an invitation to the inner sanctum of the industry. Today, as I gear up to attend my ninth E3, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the state of this event.
E3 is an event that I somewhat dread, to be honest. Last year was, perhaps, the worst manifestation of everything I dislike about E3. Namely, crowds and lines. E3 is Disneyland on steroids — more crowded than a Tokyo subway, and full of people who spend 4-6 hours in line to get a 2-5 minute glimpse at something they can see video footage of online as soon as the convention starts. Those were already problems with E3, but with the public being allowed in last year, 15,000 extra people joined the swarm, bringing the total to 68,000.
Gone are the swag, booth babes, and room to walk around from the old days. A lot of the gamers coming here for the first time are entranced by the glamour of the cool booths that ascend to almost artistic installations — little do they know that when the convention is over, these booths go into a box, only to be resurrected next year in an identical company showcase. For many of us, the real draw of E3 is more similar to the draw of a high school reunion, and the sheer decibel level and inability to find a place for a conversation is a hindrance to that.
I think part of the reason E3 remains so free from criticism is that a lot of people have no comparison, but I’ve been sent to every major games conference in the world. Among them, Gamescom, in Germany, is the closest in terms of tone, and also infinitely better. Why? Gamescom has about 10x as much room as the LA Convention Center. The Koelnmesse hosts Gamescom across 11 gigantic halls, with outdoor areas occupied by food trucks littered between them. E3 crams everything into two halls, with a crammed food truck area in two locations — one across the street, and one behind the building. Gamescom had 350,000 attendees in 2017, five times as many as E3, and it didn’t feel nearly as claustrophobic.
Perhaps E3 will make some changes this year. I’ll let you know. But I’d suggest a few things that happen at other conventions:
1) Have an industry/press only day earlier in the week before it opens up to the public.
Gamescom does this and it’s a godsend. Sure, waiting in line for 4 hours to play, say, Anthem, sounds alright when it’s your leisure activity, but when you’re required by work to do it, it’s a slog. Imagine having an 11 AM meeting but because of the crowd it takes 45 minutes to walk 5 minutes worth of distance, so everyone is late and your schedules get destroyed.
2) Get a bigger space
90% of the problem with E3 is that it’s cramming about three times as many people into the LA Convention Center as can comfortably fit. Parking, walking, restaurants — nothing in the supporting infrastructure of the LA Convention Center is capable of accommodating the crowd that comes out for E3. Simply put, it’s outgrown the LA Convention Center and, short of the possibility of the convention center expanding, there’s no way it can continue to grow at this location without collapsing under its own weight.
3) Fast Pass
Since E3 already kind of feels like Disneyland on a holiday weekend, why not take a page out of Disneyland’s book and implement some kind of fast pass system? It’s a little depressing to see people wasting half their day in order to gain first-come-first-serve entrance to these booths, and I don’t see why a system can’t be implemented that allows them to just show up at a specific time, so they can at least wander around and look at the other booths while they wait. The lines add to the crowded feeling of the convention and there’s no need for them.
I would add, also, that E3 is continually losing relevance. Not only is it too small to accommodate the crowd, it’s too small to accommodate the current size of the industry. The days when about 12 publishers dominated the games industry in terms of creativity and sales is long gone. Now, there are so many different publishers, so many ‘scenes’ of games, and everything else, E3 feels like a narrow slice of the industry — the flexing of a few corporate behemoths desperately trying to cling to the zeitgeist of the mid to late 2000s.
After last year’s E3, I’m unenthusiastic about returning, even though I’m actually quite excited about some of the content on offer this year. But, perhaps they’ve made some changes to the way the event is organizing. I’ll find out next week.