How to improve the E3 Expo

E3 2011 was considerd a runaway success by just about everybody you ask. The show went smoothly, the booths were packed, there was plenty of awesome games on display, and as far as I know, nobody got hurt. So why nitpick? Well, there are some issues with E3 and I think it would be wrong not to talk about them. Here are a few ideas I have about how to improve the gaming industry’s greatest event.

Increase access to the show

I discussed how the ESA is in essence creating a closed loop by restricting access to smaller media sites a bit before the show, so I’ll keep that brief, but there are ways in which the E3 Expo could improve access to the show floor without compromising the media’s ability to work.
E3 2011 ran from Tuesday to Thursday. The press conferences generally take place on Monday and Tuesday, and a few parties last until Friday or Saturday, but the show floor itself is only open for three days. Publishers spend unspeakable amounts of money to construct their booths, only to have them up for three days. My idea would be to extend the show for two more days, but allow those who don’t qualify for media badges only to attend days 4 and 5, while days 1, 2, and 3 would be media exclusive. The media would benefit by dramatically smaller crowds during their stay, and even with one less day, the general attendees would also have a smaller crowd. The extra two days would also extend coverage of the show, allowing for some of the smaller titles to get some additional exposure. Due to thinner crowds, the ESA could relax the media restrictions enough to get smaller sites a better chance at attending the conference.

Consider a new venue

Los Angeles is actually not the most ideal city for holding E3. It’s convenient for many of the developers that live in the area, but for travelers, it’s not great. The city is expensive, it’s public transportation isn’t as good as other popular convention cities, and downtown LA doesn’t have much to offer in regards to activities besides crummy bars and some movie theaters. A city like Las Vegas offers better public transport, more hotel options, better activities, and an overall more affordable destination for most travelers. Even San Diego or the Bay Area would be better if they wanted to keep the convention in California.

Require more from official partners

The E3 Expo is a huge benefit to the city of Los Angeles, its hotels and restaurants, and local businesses. Hotels, in order to be part of the official E3 housing, should offer free Internet to their guests. My hotel, which was a very nice hotel, still charged a $13/day Internet fee. I guarantee that they’d drop that fee for E3 attendees if it was a requirement to be part of official E3 housing.
Given the huge boon to the local economy that E3 provides, it wouldn’t be hard for the expo to leverage their muscle just a bit more to help attendees get some extra perks. I’ve been to other conventions that have handled this much more proactively than E3 does.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I dislike E3, because I love going to the conference each year, but I do think it could be better. It seems that each year the show has a healthy showing and a good time is had by its attendees, but I rarely see the show organizers strive to improve the conference in a measurable way. With a few improvements, E3 could be more accessible, more affordable, and an overall more comfortable expo to attend for both media and general attendees.

Report: Nintendo to unveil a new HD console at E3

Game Informer is reporting that several sources have confirmed that Nintendo will be announcing and unveiling a new HD console at E3 this year. In an article posted on their website, Game Informer pieces together some quotes from people who have seen the console and they also report that developers are already being brought into the loop. It sounds of Nintendo is going to make this one very developer friendly and is going to be finally joining the ranks of the HD gaming movement.

Nothing has been said in regards to whether or not the console will have motion controls, but one anonymous source did say, “Nintendo is doing this one right. [It’s] not a gimmick like the Wii.” While I hope that doesn’t spell doom for motion controls, I do hope that it means that a more standard control scheme will be optional for developers and gamers to use if they wish to do so.

Check out the full story at Game Informer: http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2011/04/14/new-nintendo-console-at-e3.aspx

Update: More sources are reporting, and now it looks as if there will be an announcement this month. Also, IGN is saying that the new console will indeed be backwards compatible with Wii software. Some sources are saying it surpasses the 360 and Ps3 in power, others are saying it’s just shy of the Xbox 360. We’ll wait for official specs to call that one.

Is the ESA creating a closed loop with their E3 Expo media requirements?

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I have been accepted to E3 for 2011 and have had a media pass for the last 8 years. However, I have seen many great journalists denied entry for E3 2011 that have always been able to go in the past.

Every year the E3 Expo is the industry’s biggest showcase for games to be released over the next year or two. Major announcements are made at E3, media is able to get early impressions of games behind closed doors, and general attendees can play games that are still months from seeing a release date. For those that aren’t too familiar with the requirements to enter E3, here are the ways to get in:

  • Qualified Media – The ESA gives free E3 passes to qualified media members. This is how I’ve been going for the past 8 years. To qualify, you have to prove you are employed by a member of the gaming press and the site you represent must meet certain standards (traffic, quality, reputation, etc.) defined by the ESA for entry. The number of attendees from each media outlet allowed depends on how prominent your site is in the industry (usually defined by traffic numbers).
  • Exhibitor – If your company is showing games, hardware, accessories, or industry related services off at E3, you’ll be allowed to enter. A company can only secure a limited number of exhibitor badges, which depends on the amount of floor space they purchase.
  • Exhibits Only – Exhibits only badges are for people who are part of the industry but do not qualify for media or exhibitor badges. This can be developers, hardware makers, entertainment outlets, or anything related to the industry; even if the connection is rather loose. These passes are not free and must be purchased. Journalists that don’t qualify for media badges may get an exhibits only badge, but they must pay the $400 ($500 after the early registration deadline) for entry.

Nobody under 18 is allowed in the show, but exceptions are made for VIP guests (usually famous teen actors/singers). VIP passes may be handed out by the ESA or certain companies may secure them for special guests or contest winners. All of that looks fine, but I have issues with how the media passes are doled out.

What is happening with E3 is that only the bigger media outlets are being given free passes. I spoke with someone in the registration office and they said it is to cut down on overall numbers and that publishers have been asking for tighter control for years. Again, I ¬†understand the need for crowd control, but the ESA is going about this all wrong. Rather than locking out the smaller sites, it would be far better to limit the numbers being sent by qualified sites. By locking out the smaller media outlets and the enthusiasts, they’re basically killing the best chance each year that these sites have at increasing their readers since they won’t have access to E3 demos and to publishers for interviews. Everybody will still flow to IGN, Gamespot, 1UP, etc. since they’re the ones allowed into the show with full media access. Also, the companies that can most afford to send people to Los Angeles for three days are getting their passes for free.

The ESA is playing a huge role in deciding the shape of games journalism, and it’s disappointing that the locking out of the little guys from E3 will be far more harsh this year than ever, despite the growing swell of support for the enthusiast press by the gaming audience. While this is all disappointing, it’s even more unnecessary to give large outlets a disproportionate presence when you consider all of the pre-E3 events.

Publishers understand that E3 is a busy convention and there’s not quite enough time for every game to get covered in great depth. They also know that the show floor is loud and crowded. In response to this, many publishers hold pre-E3 events where they invite top media sites and freelancers to come see their E3 offerings ahead of time. These sites get quality hands on time with the E3 demos before the kiosks have ever even been set up in the Los Angeles Convention Center. When IGN rolls into E3, they’ve already played most of the stuff they’re worried about and the stories have been written. So why do the big boys need to send 50 people? Well, they don’t really. In speaking with editors from larger sites they’ve always told me that E3 is an excuse to get away for a few days, attend some parties, and hang out with other journalists. They don’t have to sit up until 4:00am each night trying to pound out demo impressions on their computers because they wrote them up the week before after attending a pre-E3 event.

Given that these pre-E3 events are becoming more and more common, it seems that the ESA should be more lenient about letting smaller sites into the show. They can still have restrictions on entry, but maybe they need to scale back the numbers being sent by large companies and reduce the number of attendee passes they sell. Obviously the ESA is hoping that those that don’t quite make their thresholds for media clearance will buy their way in, but ultimately most smaller sites will just have to sit the show out.

Maybe publishers will be happier with the smaller crowds this year when they’re able to have more breathing room in their booths, but I have to wonder how much they’ll love the decreased chatter from the enthusiast press when it comes to impressions of their demos that they spent millions of dollars to put on exhibit at E3 2011.

I’m hoping that those that struggle to get into the show this year are able to make their voices heard and that for E3 2012 the ESA will re-evaluate their approval process and allow for the little guy to attend the show again. If anybody is left out of the show this year, and they need a hands on preview or two, let me know and I’d be happy to do some freelance work free of charge in exchange for a link or two my way.