You might call it the PAX-ification of E3.
In 2017, E3 will be open to the public for the first time. For years, the Entertainment Software Association — the trade body that runs E3 — has been toying with the idea of allowing anybody to attend the convention. This year, if you’ve got $249 to spare, you can buy a pass for all three days of the gamer’s Mecca.
Attendees with a consumer badge will almost certainly have to wait in long lines to play games on the E3 show floor, and they won’t have access to the behind-closed-doors demos that many publishers reserve exclusively for media appointments. So the ESA teamed up with Geoff Keighley, producer of The Game Awards and a longtime journalist, to offer the public something else to do: Check out the E3 Coliseum.
A two-day series of panels and presentations, the E3 Coliseum brings the trade show more in line with fan-oriented conventions like PAX, BlizzCon and PlayStation Experience. And if you ask Keighley, this move is vital for the health of E3.
Keighley has attended every Electronic Entertainment Expo, all 22 of them, and it’s clear that he believes in the show.
“I think E3 is a vitally important event for the industry,” he told Polygon, adding that he thinks the game business is “stronger with E3” than it would be without. He also pointed out that the show has gradually become “more of a consumer experience.”
E3 began in 1995 as a trade show for the game industry. In those days it was a rather buttoned-up affair, a far cry from the massive marketing extravaganza that we know today. Game publishers certainly hyped up their upcoming titles, but their primary audience wasn’t the press, let alone gamers themselves. Instead, E3 was a retail-focused event: Marketers vied for shelf space, trying to convince stores like Babbage’s and Kay Bee Toys to carry their products.
Over the course of more than two decades, E3 has grown into the spectacle we’re all familiar with, and it has maintained its status as the defining annual event of the game industry calendar. But as similar international conventions — namely, Germany’s Gamescom in August and Japan’s Tokyo Game Show in September — have faded somewhat in their importance, consumer-oriented shows have proliferated to take their place.
The first Penny Arcade Expo was held in 2004. Now there are four PAX festivals every year: PAX West (formerly Prime) in Seattle; PAX East in Boston; PAX South in San Antonio, Texas; and PAX Australia in Melbourne. The organization behind them is introducing a fifth convention this November with PAX Unplugged, for tabletop games, in Philadelphia.
That’s to say nothing of conventions focused on a single gaming publisher, whether they’re long-running events like Bethesda Softworks’ QuakeCon and Blizzard Entertainment’s BlizzCon or newer shows like Sony’s PlayStation Experience.
Members of the media will tell you that it’s often harder to do their jobs at fan-oriented shows such as New York Comic Con. A show that’s open to the public will likely be more crowded than one that’s a press-only affair; it’s tougher to get to appointments on time when you have to dodge cosplay photography shoots in the aisles.
At the same time, that kind of attitude runs counter to modern trends in how games are marketed and covered. YouTube content creators and Twitch streamers have opened a new path for people to get information about games outside of traditional and enthusiast press outlets.
E3 is facing a declining relevance for much the same reason: The advent of livestreaming platforms has allowed publishers to circumvent the media and get their message directly to consumers. If you’re a big publisher like Electronic Arts, why pay the ESA for a giant booth on the E3 show floor or a timeslot for an expensive theater-style press briefing? Last year, EA dropped out of E3 and Activision didn’t have a booth on the show floor. Nintendo hasn’t held a traditional press conference since 2012.
It’s not hard to imagine a future in which enough companies decide to go their own way that E3 collapses. We may not be at the “adapt or die” stage yet, but the ESA is already exploring some major changes to the format. And opening up a previously exclusive event to the public is a great way to make people care about it in a way they might not have before.
E3 for the people
In 2016, the ESA experimented with bringing fans into the fold through E3 Live, a free off-site event that was open to the public. Keighley said that last summer, he spoke to the ESA about something more substantial, and it just so happened that the organization was thinking of letting consumers into E3 in the future. Thus, the E3 Coliseum was born.
Keighley is working with “a lot of the same team behind The Game Awards,” in concert with the ESA and game publishers, to put together the E3 Coliseum. It will be open to all E3 badge holders, with priority access given to people with consumer and business passes, and Keighley said the idea is “to give consumers a richer experience at E3.”
If the press conferences from Saturday to Tuesday and the show floor itself are the main courses of E3, think of the E3 Coliseum as the dessert. Attendees will be able to get more context on game demos showcased during the press briefings, and hear from the creative professionals behind the games. And if demos are restricted to behind-closed-door media appointments, there might still be a panel about them on the schedule.
“A lot of the game teams are making the Coliseum a big priority for their E3 journey, said Keighley. “We’ll have presentations from pretty much every major game at E3.” In a news release, the ESA said publishers including Activision, Bethesda Softworks, Gearbox Publishing, Microsoft Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Square Enix, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment have signed on to participate. Keighley noted that E3 Coliseum panels will focus on recently released games as well as upcoming titles.
The E3 Coliseum will run for the first two days of the convention, June 13-14 — the Tuesday and Wednesday of E3 week — at The Novo at L.A. Live. Programming will run “all day” on both days, including live music and events with special guests from the entertainment industry at large. These individuals will be creative figures who respect the video game medium and game makers. Keighley wouldn’t name specific people, but you can imagine the appearance of someone like director Guillermo del Toro, who was working on Silent Hills before Konami canceled it and who will be featured in Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.
If nothing else, the E3 Coliseum will give attendees something to do beyond stand in lines (or at least, not just lines on the E3 show floor). More importantly, though, the reinvention of E3 into a consumer-facing — if not entirely consumer-oriented — show depends largely on attendees feeling like they’re getting their money’s worth. As such, the success of the E3 Coliseum is vital to E3 as a whole, and Keighley knows it.
“I saw an opportunity and a need to create something like this,” he said. “I think this is absolutely where the show needs to go.”