I still remember 2007, that dreaded year when E3 was gutted and shoved into the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Nobody showed up. Nobody cared. This wasn’t the E3 we knew, or wanted, no matter if you were a developer, a journalist, or just a gamer. It sucked. It felt as if the life was being sucked from the one event that DEFINED gaming. Being in college, studying game development at the time, my friends and I couldn’t help but feel discouraged by the event. PAX was barely a thing and PAX East was still 2-3 years away from happening. GDC was industry-only. When it came to gaming conventions in America, E3 was the place to be, and it was about to die. Heck, a lot of photos of the convention have been scrubbed from Google Image Search, as far as I can tell. In short, we don’t talk about the E3 Media & Business Summit. It never happened.
Fast forward 13 years. E3 made a powerful comeback. We have announcements of new consoles (XB1, PS4, WiiU AND Switch), incredible game announcements (see: God of War), and even breathtaking memes. E3’s resurgence over the past decade has been great. The show got over some major stumbles and returned to being the biggest holiday in gaming.
Then E3 2019 happened. Media attendees were inadvertently doxxed and their contact info leaked out all over the internet. Sony was nowhere to be found. Nintendo was comfortable with their digital-only presence. Now E3 2020 is on the way, the list of attending exhibitors has leaked, it’s known that the show will be placing celebrities and streamers in the crowds to try to hype them up in the lines, there will be a Lakers exhibition game, and Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards and a longtime E3 attendee, has publicly announced he will not be going. Normally one person not attending a conference isn’t a big deal, but Geoff puts together behind-the-scenes interviews and information that no other media personality does at the show. Will someone pick up the slack? Maybe, but that is yet to be seen.
Geoff states that E3 needs to be more “digital, global and inclusive.” I agree, but the same could easily be said of Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show, which cater more toward European and Asian developers respectively. While I think it would be good for E3 to lead the charge, they have chosen their direction. The other big conferences are sticking with what has worked traditionally, while E3 is going to focus much more on streaming, celebritydom, and basketball. In essence, E3 is going to be about LA, and not about games. Games just happen to be what the show has been about, but I bet we see that change going forward.
The point is, E3 – sorry, LACon – is starting to drift back to those dark 2007 days, but possibly in an even worse manner. At least in 2007, the focus was still games. Now the focus is Los Angeles, Hollywood, and superstardom. Other than developers in Los Angeles – and yes, there are plenty – I don’t think many of my fellow game developers would be enthusiastic about attending an event like that. When we founded BostonFIG in 2012, we wanted to cater to Boston and New England-based developers, specifically because the only other local option – PAX East – was filled up with every other developer from around the world, and our burgeoning community didn’t feel like it had the home there it should have. With more conferences springing up, E3 has competition. With hundreds of new games released every day, conferences in general being a pain for everyone to attend, and the media looking to go elsewhere just for the sake of keeping their addresses off the internet, developers and publishers are simply going to walk away and never look back. We don’t want LACon. We want E3.