E3's Relevance Is Declining Significantly

By Josh Bull on June 5, 2013, 5:12PM EDT
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E3 is getting interesting this year, but that's not because of what's going to be shown, rather, it's because of what's not.

E3 used to be the event of the year for the gaming industry. Almost every major announcement in the gaming industry has been made at E3 since its establishment in 1996, and because of this it welcomes tens of thousands of press visitors every year. However, since the show started to become more open to the public with online streams and live televised press conferences, as well as its brief downsizing in 2007, E3 appears to be becoming less and less important. What's more is that the industry is in a position where E3 may be nearly obsolete.

We occasionally hear about publishers being unhappy with the amount of money spent on their E3 booths and presentations. The first thing that comes to mind about this is that publishers are wasting a lot of money on a show that only the press can experience. This is a sentiment that's easy to agree with. After all, even though nearly 46,000 people attended the conference last year, the effort to set up a complex booth that a publisher makes no direct revenue from is rather risky.

2K Games has already announced that they will not have a booth at E3, although they will still be in attendance. They clearly didn't make this decision because they're having financial trouble as Bioshock Infinite has sold over 3.7 million units since its March release and Borderlands 2 has sold over 6 million since September. Rather, I suspect that the no-show is simply because they don't feel it necessary. Their major property this year, Grand Theft Auto V, doesn't really need much of an introduction. E3 would have been the perfect opportunity to re-announce The Bureau, but they already did that in April

But what about companies that do have a lot to talk about? Well, Nintendo decided to minimize their presence this year. While they'll still have a booth and will have some small media events, they've announced that they will not be hosting a large pre-show press conference. This is the first time any of The Big Three have gone without a keynote presentation.

I think that Nintendo is trying to be forward thinking with this. For the last year or so, all of Nintendo's major announcements have been made through their Nintendo Direct presentations. Their entire upcoming software lineup for both the Wii U and the 3DS have been announced through Nintendo Direct, so, like with 2K Games, there doesn't seem to be a major reason to bother with a major keynote presentation. Again, why waste money and effort on a big, elaborate showing? Multiple smaller and simpler presentations can give the same amount of information without unnecessary cost.

Nintendo's approach appears to be rather efficient. At least for the press. Sure, it's likely that these presentations are going to be problematic for home viewers, but E3 is supposed to be about the shareholders and the press. With smaller events, scattered through the week, Nintendo can focus on different things at different times. I would expect them to have presentations for both the Wii U and 3DS, as well as one just for the business reporting that gamers always complain about having to sit through every year.

With the focus being more concentrated, Nintendo doesn't have to waste time on things the audience doesn't care about. If the audience is at a conference for 3DS games, they're going to get a conference for 3DS games. They aren't going to have to wait through Wii U information to get what they came for.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see how well Nintendo's new approach works. If it works, I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft and Sony adopt similar approaches in the years to come.

But this really hasn't been about why E3's decreasing presence may be a good thing. Or at least, not a bad thing. In many ways, E3 is more about the show than the games and the news. Hosting a booth at the show is expensive. Though there are very few solid stats out in the open, I've heard figures over $45,000, and that's just for the space. Some companies will spend ridiculous amounts of stunts or costumes, such as THQ's Space Marines. This isn't even taking into account the costs that the bigger companies put into keynotes, not to mention after-parties, travel expenses and any other costs associated with the show.

This just seems excessive for what is supposed to be a media event to show the state of affairs to the shareholders and inform the press of what's coming. In fact, the excess is exactly the reason why E3 was moved to Santa Monica and downsized in 2007. Though it has never reached the point that it was at before 2007, E3 remains oversized.

And this isn't even taking into account the fact that a massive media show of this sort is pretty unnecessary with all the tools at the public's disposal. At E3's peak, which was probably around 2006, smart phones weren't commonplace and the internet has only expanded in use in both gaming and the press since. Smaller shows like the Game Developer's Conference are likely to become more important than E3 as the industry doesn't really need E3 anymore. A smaller conference can achieve the same goals as E3, but without the excess.

Major announcements in the last few years have been made more often outside of E3 than before. Hell, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were announced before E3. The public eye doesn't need to be on the industry for a large amount of major announcements to be made anymore. With the internet having more every day use than it did even a mere seven years ago and practically everyone carrying smart phones in their pockets, game news can be read from practically everywhere.

Anyone who's interested in gaming is able to get the news they want just a few hours after an announcement is made. In such a connected world, getting news is extremely easy and accessible.

With all this, can we honestly say that E3 is as important to gaming as it used to be? Every major announcement made this year has been made before E3, including not one, but two console announcements. There is no doubt that E3 will always be important to the industry, but its days as THE video game trade show are likely over.

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