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E3 2020 organizers look to ‘shake things up’ amid flagging industry attendance

ESA says it’s ‘committed to keeping E3 at the level you’ve come to expect’

A mob of fans waits in line for the opening of the E3 convention in 2017.
A scene from E3 2017.
Photo: ESA
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

With the list of big-name participants in the E3 convention dwindling, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) said Thursday in a news release that it is “committed to keeping E3 at the level you’ve come to expect.” The solution, it says, is to “shake things up” with “surprise guests, amazing stage experiences, access to insiders and experiential zones.” The statement mirrors a plan that leaked out in September 2019 to recast the industry event as a “fan, media, and influencer festival.”

The ESA — which includes members such as Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, Ubisoft, and Wizards of the Coast — has been sent reeling in the past year following several major public relations disasters. Most notable was the release of the personal information of thousands of influencers and members of the international press who attended last year’s E3. At the same time, it has been battling with legislators and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the topic of loot boxes. This has all been taking place against a backdrop of continued pressure from the administration of President Donald Trump, which has persistently targeted video games as a contributing factor in school shootings.

The E3 expo itself has been a marquee event for the ESA since the convention’s inception in 1995, bringing together retail partners, industry executives, and the media for several days in Los Angeles. But attendance among developers and publishers has been flagging for the past several years, leading the ESA to open the event up to the public in 2017. Thursday’s announcement is a clear attempt to reestablish confidence among its industry partners, while pivoting toward an even more public-facing event.

“We are well down the path on the development and production of a large, super fun floor experience that celebrates gaming culture in exciting new ways,” said the ESA. “We will be showcasing E3 to the world through new streaming and digital programming while creating gatherings on the show floor that let people do what they love the most… play and celebrate games.”

The ESA also acknowledged last year’s security breach, saying to the media that “earning back your trust and support is our top priority,” and adding that it had worked to shore up the security of registrants’ personal data.

“We rebuilt the E3 website with enhanced and layered security measures developed by an outside cybersecurity firm,” the ESA said. “This included updating our data management processes, including the handling of personally identifiable information, and we will no longer store that data on our site. We have also changed our registration practices and will collect the minimum information necessary to complete your registration.”

Public registration for E3, which has previously run about $250 for a three-day pass, begins Feb. 15. The event runs from June 9 through June 11.

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