E3's first attempt at an open show was, according to ticketed fans, developers and publishers that spoke with Polygon, an event of immense potential and some success, but one also fraught with organizational issues that led to hours-long lines, mass confusion and even some anger.
Publishers and developers seemed to like the conceit of an E3 that allows the public into its halls, but also made suggestions about how to cut down on crowds and wait times, according to those who spoke with Polygon.
But according to Rich Taylor, show organizer ESA’s senior vice president of communication and industry affairs, last week’s show was a “smashing success.”
“I heard anecdotally from people there who were thrilled with the content of the show and that consumers were excited to see it for the first time,” Taylor told Polygon. “Many people were saying it was a childhood dream come true.”
He said the addition of the 15,000 public attendees also added an extra amount of excitement to the floor.
While attending the show for many ticket-buying fans was a dream come true, the experience of doing things once on the show floor was often daunting. Many game demos closed their lines within hours, or minutes, of the doors opening. And those who did get into some lines had to wait four to five hours to experience short demos, according to five attendees who conducted before and after email interviews with Polygon.
"I've had a mixed experience attending E3," Allison Otting, a 26-year-old attendee who managed to snag a $150 three-day early bird price to the show, wrote in an email interview. "It's fulfilled a long held dream of mine, but has also been a bit disappointing.
"My first day was actually great as I snagged one of the last spots in Bethesda's VR line, and was able to try it after 4.5 hours. But today I walked in circles for hours looking for a line that was even accepting additional people. I ended up not finding anything, and headed back to my Airbnb by three because most of the lines were capped for the day."
Jared Lindenau, who paid $250 for his tickets, said that the show was cool, but not worth the price.
"I played eight games that were in beta over the course of three days," he wrote in an email. "A little division gives you $31.25 per play, test per game. That is insane. I think if people actually thought about what they were paying and not how 'cool' it was to be at E3, they would be enraged."
But the most common complaint among the small number of fan attendees we spoke to wasn't the lines, it was the organization of the show.
"E3 was an uncoordinated mess at its worst and a dream event at its best for a longtime fan," wrote Nick Salazar, who paid $150 for his pass. "It needs major improvements to open to the public next year though. I doubt exhibitors enjoyed the mess any more than we did.
"My least favorite part of the show was the terribly designed crowd management across the board with a few exceptions. Don’t invite that many people if you aren’t going to be able to accommodate them, you know?"
Lindenau said those he spoke with referred to Nintendo's area as the "mosh pit" and that the people running the booth didn't seem to expect that crowds that showed up nor were they well informed about how long a demo would take to complete.
"The lines were either inaccessible or insanely long due to the companies having a demo which lasted too long and caused the line to move super-duper slowwww," he wrote. "Especially the VR games that I was excited to play, but didn't even get to touch. Before the event, I spent an hour clicking the categories of games/developers that I was interested in doing on E3's website, but that was definitely a wasted effort."
When asked about complaints of long lines, Taylor noted that the show organizers didn’t have any control over how the various game developer and publisher booths were organized, what they showed to attendees or how they managed lines.
“There were different models from different exhibitors,” Taylor said.
The ESA, working with long-time show organizers IRL, also made sure there were things to do off the show floor, such as the two-day-long series of panels hosted by Geoff Keighley and esports tournaments.
“We had 15,000 consumers there because of that the ESA and our planning made sure there were other opportunities and attractions,” Taylor said. “Not only the traditional E3 floor.”
Keighley’s event, which was in a venue that could hold about 1,500, was filled to capacity for its entire run, Taylor said.
Trevor Jorgensen, 26, who paid $250 for a chance to realize the childhood dream of attending the show, wrote that he was fine with the lines, though frustrated that some were capped very early in the day.
Instead, he was disappointed in how he was treated by press and industry people at the show, he wrote.
"I felt like we were not welcome there based on a few interactions I had," he wrote. "Some industry members said they didn't notice a difference but it was more media that were upset that it was harder for them to do their job. Which I do understand, but it also isn't the fault of the public, more so on the event organizer. Maybe [there could be] separate media days to avoid this from happening."
A few of the booths at the show seemed to stand out to the five public attendees we spoke to.
Several noted that Electronic Arts’ EA Play event (which technically isn’t at the show itself) was over-crowded and a bit of a mess. There were similar complaints about the PlayStation booth and the special app the company asked fans to use to register for demos. Lawbreakers was mentioned by multiple attendees for having one of the better booths in terms of lines and how the event treated them. And Bethesda’s massive, fan-service pre-E3 press event was another favorite.
“I watched all of the press conferences and got to attend Bethesdaland,” Seeger wrote. “Bethesda was a real crowd pleaser. You could definitely tell they love the games they make and that made it great for their fans! Everyone left their conference smiling.”
While the ESA was clear from the start that tickets to E3 didn’t include access to those major press conferences that fill the days leading up to the show, that didn’t stop people from wishing they could attend.
One fan wrote to Polygon after having purchased tickets to the show, traveled to LA and paid for a hotel, only to realize that he couldn’t attend the press conferences. He said he ended up disputing the charge on his credit card and not attending the show at all.
Others mentioned how much they wish they could have gone, suggesting future shows hold raffles for attendance.
But the ESA’s Taylor points out that they have no control over who can and can’t go to those press conferences.
“We hope to attend ourselves,” Taylor said. “They really aren’t a part of E3.”
We reached out to Activision, Electronic Arts, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Bethesda and Lawbreakers’ developer Boss Key Productions for thoughts on how the show went. Microsoft declined to comment and EA, Sony, Nintendo and Activision did not respond.
Pete Hines, vice president of marketing at Bethesda, said that while the event was more crowded than past years, things thinned out a bit after the first day.
“Allowing consumers definitely adds a lot of energy to the show,” he told Polygon. “It was noticeable everywhere I went.”
Boss Key Productions co-founder Cliff Bleszinski said the show went better than he expected.
“It felt like our hall, the West, was the right amount of busy, whereas the South hall was an absolute mess,” he told Polygon. “Re-balancing where the 800 pound gorillas are may be for the best next year.”
He said that he enjoyed being able to quickly tell who was who by their badge colors and meeting fans of both his old and new work. Though, he added, he thought security for the show was lacking. Something that became a common complaint. ESA organizers say that security for the show was, as it has always been, their top priority.
While Hines seemed to like the addition of the public to the show, he did suggest a major change to the way it is handled.
“As much as I hate to say it (particularly cause my staff might kill me), I think we have to consider adding a day and letting there be a day (or two) just for industry folks and press,” he said. “And then two (or three days) that include consumers. Maybe it’s a day and a half just for industry and two-and-a-half days that include consumers as well, spread across four days. But I think we need to consider doing more to accommodate press and retail folks for demos, meetings, etc.”
Germany’s Gamescom, one of the largest gaming events in the world, manages to combine the press, industry and public in one massive event every year.
That event’s approach does two things to help accommodate crowds with such different needs. It has a day or two set aside just for the industry and press and it also has an entire area that is only open to industry and press.
Unfortunately, the ESA has a contract in place with the Los Angeles Convention Center through to 2020 and the current location simply has no physical room to grow in that way. On top of that, the venue is so booked, that under the current contract E3 can’t switch its dates or even add-on to them.
What that means for the future of a public E3 is unclear, but Taylor said that the planning for the show always starts tentatively the day after E3 ends.
“This was a different sort of show we just wrapped up,” Taylor said. “The input I have received has been uniformly positive. Not to say we consider this to be a perfect show.
“We will be having deep-dive conversations with exhibitors, analysts and the press about what worked, what could be better, what could be added, what could go away. But it’s too soon to tell you the answers to that.”
Taylor said that ultimately, the show’s new format did succeed in achieving the chief goal for creating it: allowing the game industry to connect with its fans.
“I think we succeeded in that,” he said.
At least one of the people we spoke with agreed.
When we asked Jorgensen what his favorite part of the show was, he said it was meeting Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima.
“I randomly met him walking past the PS store,” he wrote. “I initially asked for a photo and his assistant apologized as he didn't have time. But without missing a beat, he stepped aside to take a picture and even signed my MGS1.
“Also seeing Miyamoto walk by was pretty wild. Two gaming legends in one E3!”