Commentary

E3's Death Knell

"I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of game journalists suddenly cried out in terror, and were silenced," quoth the writers of Penny Arcade--probably one of the most central sites in video gaming culture--about the demise of E3, announced this week.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest spectacle in video gaming, will be pared down next year to a much more intimate, invite-only, 5,000-7,000 attendee event, compared to the 60,000 that flocked to the Los Angeles Convention Center early this year to hear about the three fronts of the Console Wars.

Why? Marketing and business development reasons, apparently. Major game developers reportedly felt that, at the raucous, noisy, and prohibitively expensive event, business deals and reports of new or upcoming releases got lost in a huge, seething sea of hype. So, next year, scantily-clad booth babes, huge video screens, demo stations, loud music and lavish invite-only parties will be replaced by private meetings in conference rooms and hotel suites.

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Contrary to the PA guy's assessment, video game journalists are largely hailing the cutbacks as a good move, with one columnist from MacWorld describing the struggle to glean the best stories out of the event as "a bit like taking a drink from a firehose." Other reporters describe the dread with which they've regarded the annual trip to LA; some talk about the cutbacks returning the show to sanity.

Doug Lowenstein, the president of the Entertainment Software Association, which runs E3, said that the current form of the show isn't as necessary to draw the attention of the mainstream press to gaming as it used to be in the past. "The buzz it created I think really was very positive, and an important catalyst to draw attention from the media," Lowenstein told IGN.com. "But now, you don't need one three-day extravaganza for the media to cover this industry. The media is covering this industry throughout the year as it is."

If the cutbacks make developers happy, and the media happy, who, exactly, is crying out in terror? E3 became such a huge spectacle because it wasn't just devs and journos ponying up for the trip to LA. It was gamers, in droves, who wanted to see the latest and greatest before their friends. Now that E3 is going to be more trade and less show, there could be a void for a new sort of gaming expo. Something like--and I hate to use the comic analogy two weeks running, but it fits--Comic-Con, a much more fan-centric event, which is what E3 was looking more and more like. E3's tagline was "Where business gets fun." But now that it's where business is getting done, maybe the fun can happen somewhere else.

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