The gaming industry is only a few months away from this year's E3 Expo, and several major brands are deciding it makes more sense to skip the show floor this year. Electronic Arts was the first major player to pull out, opting for a separate event that that will run alongside the expo called EA Play, rather than having a floor presence.
It wasn’t long until the next major publisher, Activision, also bit the bullet and decided to skip the event. Soon after that, Disney and Wargaming both decided it was time to skip the event as well. The media and fans lit up the Internet with projections that the trade show was doomed and that this was the end of an era, or that this was only the start and more would skip this year’s show.
Fans of gaming and of the industry as a whole should not worry. E3, the bombastic trade show that collects everything in one place may be going away, but there will be plenty of events, coverage and press conferences to wet even the most gluttonous news lover’s appetite.
To understand the evolution of E3, you need to understand the core concept of what E3 is built to be. It has always served many masters, with three different styles of business all handled in a variety of ways. There is the business side of the convention, used by publishers and developers to broker deals. These could be anything from publishing rights to exclusivity. There is the show built for store owners, showing off the latest in tech, games and accessories to try and lock up shelf space for the coming year. Lastly, the thing that most fans of gaming care about, there is the press side. This is where the press conferences, the booth tours and the behind-closed-doors demos take place.
It is these three different elements that make E3 an odd beast. It needs to have that presence, that ability to show the power and importance of the industry, but because it is only a select few that ever experience the full show experience, it becomes harder and harder to justify the costs of the booths. Take EA; their EA Play event makes sound business sense. EA is bringing the spectacle of the E3 Show Floor, or rather their booth, to the public. It will allow everyone to see what the press sees. The company will be able to control the message and allow everyone to experience the new EA lineup; all without paying the E3 show floor costs. With it running alongside E3, they are not missing out on the press coverage, or even the people that would want to attend.
For the other publishers, it all comes down to what there is to show in order to justify the floor space at E3. Space at E3 is not cheap, and to maintain that impressive presence publishers spend ludicrous sums, —sometimes only to show a single title. Activision, despite being one of the most influential publishers in the industry, does not have a huge lineup of titles. Call of Duty will make an appearance at their hardware partner’s press conference. The need to show that off housed within a huge booth does not make financial sense. They could make just as much impact if they just threw up a live webcast at the start of E3 showing off the new features and teasing out more details as the show progresses.
Disney is in the same boat. Although Disney Infinity is showing strong sales, and there is little sign that trend will slow down anytime soon, does it really need floor space to show off the latest update to what people already own? It is hard for traditional gaming press to cover their lineup of new toys and do them justice within the onslaught of other E3 news.
Then there is Wargaming. An outstanding player in the Free-2-Play space, World of Tanks has taken the world by storm. With most of the audience coming from the Internet, it doesn’t really make sense to show a huge booth on the E3 floor when they are selling their games via the web. This is made clear by the statement made to CGM: "It’s a show that is very centralized on retail product, and as a free-to-play digital download gaming company, we’ve realized that while the show may be a good fit for lots of other publishers and developers, it’s currently not a great fit for us. And, of course, we appreciate all that the ESA does in their legislative efforts and their work to raise and discuss issues surrounding video gaming as an industry, hobby, and way of life.”
This sort of mentality is not new. Nintendo has been following a similar principle for a while now. With their series of Nintendo Direct conferences, they are reaching out directly to their fans and showing what they have planned while ensuring that they are not drowned out by the white noise that comes with E3. Nintendo has managed to maintain its floor presence, but as technology changes, offering new ways to access people's homes, this too may change.
The move to digital for not only sales but also for marketing means fewer obstacles are blocking the publisher from reaching the people who care; namely the players. They can spend their time and money showing off the exciting new trailers and games rather than trying to convince stores to line their shelves with them. Ultimately this makes more financial sense when fewer people rely on Gamespot or BestBuy to purchase their games, and often they can play the game sooner if they just go full-on digital.
While the Show Floor individual may be on the way out, the spectacle will remain. Publishers will find ways to make the most bombastic presentations possible, only this time they will show it directly to their fans rather than a jaded press core and a selection of business men. This sort of move is not unexpected, and is a necessary action to evolve as the industry grows. A centralized location for everything gaming makes no sense in the modern Internet world, and unless E3 changes the way it runs, this is an inevitability.