Was Opening E3 to the Public a Bad Idea?

Was Opening E3 to the Public a Bad Idea?

2017 was my third year attending the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I always saw the convention as a sort of fantasy land, a place that I would be able to watch from afar and only wish I was lucky enough to see first hand. When I was offered the potential opportunity to attend with one of my video game journalist jobs, I honestly went through a period of disbelief. That feeling didn’t wear off until my second year of attending. The first year was a blur, the second fairly similar, and this my third year was the moment I realized what E3 meant to me.

In 2016, E3 opened for a handful of members of the general public (mostly YouTubers and other top influencers). It was seemingly a tester year for event producers, the Entertainment Software Association. By allowing a small number of “regulars” into the event, they were able to better decide if they wanted to do a more large-scale inclusion of non-industry members. It seems the feedback was positive enough, because this year (2017) marked the first year of full non-industry inclusion at the event. When they announced the sale of tickets to the general public, the ESA stated that they would sell 15,000 general access tickets. These all sold out of course. There were also on-site passes available for a whopping $995, but it’s impossible to say at this time how many of those were sold. Needless to say E3, was packed this year. In 2016 there were 50,300 visitors to the convention, with this years numbers reaching 68,400.

The spike in attendance is obviously helped hugely by the inclusion of public passes to the convention. But this decision remains controversial. I’d like to talk about the different sides of this argument, as I made a point during this year’s convention to talk with people about the addition of “fan passes.” All sides of the issue had positive and negative points, and I find myself somewhere in the middle.

For those on the side of the public, E3 opening up is a fantastic decision. Now everyone who can afford the exorbitant ticket price can have the opportunity to experience the blur that was my first bucket-list-checking E3. The chance to attend a typically industry exclusive event is seriously an honor. There’s a sense of wonderment that you could bump into your favorite game developer at literally any moment. The chances to play games that aren’t even released yet is also super cool from an outsider perspective. There’s also the mere spectacle of it all. The installations at the event are huge and a sight to behold.

On the flip side, there are many places that the general public cannot access at E3. There are plenty of sections that are devoted to press who have appointments to cover the event. These are not necessarily marked as clearly as they could be either. So general public often has to ask what a certain area is, just to find out they can’t go in there. Another negative is the mere fact that gaming stations are already booked full when attending E3. Press, industry, and influencers are constantly lining up to experience the next best thing. Because of this, your chances of actually playing a game are pretty slim to none. You’re going to be waiting in line forever, and you have to decide which are your top “must-plays” because you almost certainly won’t get to everything you want to see.

Another interesting factor for the public attendance at E3 is by far the simplest. All badges are color coded on the bottom based on what type of pass you have. Industry is blue, press is another color, and exhibitors have a different badge design altogether. It stands to reason that the fan passes would have their own color as well. As it turns out, the ESA went full over-kill on this one. Rather than a different colored tab on the bottom like most badges, the fan passes had an entirely differently colored badge holder. It was super easy to see who was non-industry, because their badge holders were a bright neon highlighter color, rather than mostly clear like the others. In a way I understand that this makes things easier for security so they know exactly who to deny entry to certain areas. However, it also lends a sense of sarcasm to the whole thing. It’s really like the ESA saying, “All right, we’ll let you in, but we’re going to put big giant flags on you so we can keep track of you better.” I can only imagine that it’s a little embarrassing.

Moving on to the other side of the argument, E3 was no parade for industry and press members either. The massive amounts of people meant it was incredibly difficult to get to appointments at the least. I usually loved the fact that E3 was in such a large venue with the amount of people that it had, because it meant there was some breathing room in the aisle. This is especially useful as a member of the press, because you generally have a large backpack with your all of your gear in it. It’s nice to not have to worry about bashing your bag into everyone around you. The other big factor here is that industry members are there for work. They’re either working the event, covering it, or getting in some necessary networking (which is crucial to this industry). When you’ve got the public (who are there to have fun) mingling with you it can lead to some unfortunate situations. Our very own Lucas White had an inebriated person spill a drink on him while he was waiting in line.

Another part of opening E3 to the public that especially struck me was the intense commercialism of it all. I know, E3 itself has always been a commercial event, so let me explain this a little further. E3 prior to this year was always commercial in that the products showcased there were always meant to be bought by the public. But they weren’t meant to be bought there. It was an industry convention where creators showed off their newest stuff. This year, almost every booth had their own little store if they weren’t already a retailer to begin with. At Bethesda, you could buy all kinds of merchandise, and Loot Crate was there with their products. A great example of what I mean is the G Fuel booth. They had free samples of their drinks, which is totally normal for E3. But rather than just having contact information and potential order forms for distributors, they also had regular customer sales available. You wouldn’t have been able to buy just one thing like that from an exhibitor in previous years.

Was Opening E3 to the Public a Bad Idea?

There was also a culture of swag hunting this year that just didn’t exist at E3 before. Yes, E3 has always had swag; it’s been a part of it from the beginning. As a member of the press, you are often given things as a thank you for attending a meeting. It’s like sending a card to people who attend your wedding. It’s not really a big deal for you as the sender, but the receiver appreciates it very much. This sentiment took on an almost manic feel at this year’s E3. I (among many others) witnessed lines of people that sometimes went out the door standing in front of an empty display box in which tote bags were placed from time to time. People were joining the line with no knowledge of what was at the front of it, just because they assumed free shit was waiting for them. There were some people who clearly had five or six of the bags already, but they were still waiting in line for more.

There’s also the simple fact that the Electronic Entertainment Expo was always meant to be just that. It was an exposition for members of the electronic entertainment industry to meet and greet. It was a place where new technologies were debuted and future plans were made amongst businesses. It was a convention that allowed like-minded people with similar goals to connect and further the industry. This year it was loud, obnoxious, and felt completely off the mark from its previous intentions. And that’s saying something, since the majority of attendees were still industry and press members. If the ESA opens E3 even further in future years, they’re going to have to come up with a solution to the problems we saw his year.

Public reaction to the opening of E3 has been incredibly positive so far. And the ESA is looking at the social media interactivity they got this year. Obviously it was higher since there were more people, but from a business standpoint this is all leading up to the conclusion that they made the right decision. It’s almost guaranteed that E3 will continue to be open to the public in future years. But if this is the case, we need to make some other serious decisions. In my personal opinion, with everything in mind that I’ve already said from both sides of the table, there need to be some changes next year.

E3 could have separate days for different types of attendees. Say there’s a day just for press and industry members, and two days for everyone including public. Or two days for industry and press, with two more days for everyone. If this isn’t a feasible or acceptable arrangement, then E3 should have sections of the convention for just the public to access. While this might sound immediately prejudiced or exclusionary, it’s actually the best option for everyone involved. Fans will actually be able to play games and get the experience they want, while industry and press members will be able to do their jobs and enjoy the convention as well.

This year was a transition year for the Electronic Entertainment Expo to say the least. There were positives and negatives from industry, press, and public attendees. One can only hope that the Electronic Software Association is listening, and that they take all opinions in equally. We can only wait and see what changes will be made to the convention in the coming years.

What sort of set-up do you hope to see at E3 next year? What were your thoughts on the convention this time around? Let me know in the comments section below. I’m happy to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject.

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