The Benefits of E3

By Louis Bedigian

It’s weird to think that there was a time (a very brief time, thankfully) when game publishers and developers began to question the importance of E3. They raised some interesting questions, to be sure: Are the multi-million-dollar booths worth the money? Could that money be put to better use? In media terms, would a single, publisher-specific event (sometimes called a Gamer’s Day) be more cost-effective?

But as we saw over the course of 2007 and 2008, those were the wrong questions to ask. E3 isn’t just a trade show. It isn’t merely a gathering of developers, publishers, and a few select journalists who were deemed worthy to enter the LA Convention Center. It’s a show that (despite the organizer’s continued policy on barring the public) is very much about the public – or anyone else who plays or profits from video games. Here’s why.

The World is Watching

E3 2010 wasn’t merely an event for hardcore gamers to drool over; it’s something everyone has or will be exposed to via the mainstream media. Every summer the show is visited by countless websites and news organizations from all over the world, and this year was no different. Though you can’t find the same caliber of in-depth coverage on CNN that you can get right here on, you’ll always see updates from the network, along with Fox and MSNBC. Major E3 announcements also trickled down to local TV stations, providing further exposure to casual gamers, as well as the non-gaming market that Microsoft is targeting with Kinect.

Many newspapers devoted a portion of their entertainment sections to E3, while Yahoo and Entertainment Weekly provided some coverage of their own. even added an “E3” button to its banner of top links.

Meanwhile, in addition to the E3 stories and videos (and national TV specials) from MTV, GameTrailers, and other Viacom-owned properties, Spike TV jumped aboard the E3 bandwagon with exclusive television rights to Microsoft’s press conference.

All of this comes on top of the hundreds of game-dedicated websites and magazines that will attend E3 in search of the next big story, ensuring that by the end of June, you and virtually everyone you know will be exposed to at least one announcement from the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Trailer Fun for Everyone

Where else can you expose a new game trailer to hundreds of thousands (potentially millions) of people in one week?

Other trade events may claim to be huge. If nothing else, the Tokyo Game Show looks like it’d be a ton of fun to attend. But only at E3 will gamers find an endless supply of new trailers, gameplay footage, and other publisher- and media-produced videos.

This format is self-serving: the more screenshots and videos that are released for our most anticipated games, the more consumers care about the show. And the more they care about the show, the more likely they are to swarm the web in search of what publishers announce.

Ad Dollars Well Spent

I’m not sure if publishers consider E3 an advertising expense, but they probably should. While a national TV campaign can only promote one game within a 30-second window, an E3 booth can promote dozens of games to multiple audiences at the same time.

“Oh, but the competition is so fierce,” you say. Like it or not, that’s one of the challenges of being in the game industry. But E3 gives you a much better chance of successfully promoting at least one of your games than a commercial wedged in between ads for beer, fast food, tampons, and Sex and the City 2. Publishers have begun to realize this, which is why they came to E3 2010 with enormous, ultra-gorgeous booth designs that were much closer to those featured at E3 ’05 and ’06.

Even if national ad campaigns were successful (the Grand Theft Auto series seems to benefit from them), it could cost a publisher two or three times as much as one E3 booth to promote their whole lineup of games on TV.

More importantly, by the time a game hits the airwaves, your primary market – the hardcore crowd who will buy your game first – has already decided which games they want. The commercial might be a nice reminder, and it might help spread the word. But E3 – and all the screenshots, trailers, and previews spawned from it – do a much better job of creating pre-release anticipation.

Furthermore, E3 is the reason why pre-orders exist; without the show, only the most hardcore gamers would be aware of the biggest upcoming releases.

Better than a Gamer’s Day

I’ve touched on this before in my critique of the reduced E3 format. E3 ’07 and ’08 had a case of Trade Show Dysfunction that was so big that even Viagra couldn’t fix it. But considering what an important issue this is, let’s dissect it one more time:

When a publisher – any publisher – has an event to promote one or more games that it plans to release, hardcore gamers are the only ones who pay attention. Video game-specific websites are typically the only ones who attend, and if Joe Gamer doesn’t like what he sees (or care about the publisher holding the event), the hype will die down as quickly as it was announced.

But at E3, you have almost every game publisher and developer crammed under one roof. This means that there will be something for every kind of gamer, no matter what it is you like. Thus, gamers are a thousand times more likely to click on an E3 story than they are to click on a Gamer’s Day write-up.

From there, the chain effect occurs: Joe Gamer may have intended to only read about the 3DS, but then he saw a link for 3D content on PlayStation 3 and couldn’t resist clicking on it. After that, he noticed a new game that was announced for Kinect. Later on, he saw a story on a new Harvest Moon game – one of the niche franchises Joe Gamer loves.

And it goes on from there. The hype from one story inevitably builds hype for others.

The Support Must Continue

Now that the bad years are behind us (and the powers that be realized they were wrong), E3 seems safe. But is it?

Going forward, publishers need to continue to support the show. I believe they will – for the next five years or so, they probably won’t even consider another format adjustment. But if that thought creeps back into their minds, they need to realize that what they have is something special – something that no other industry has.

E3 is a unique entity all its own. We already know what life was like to lose it once. Do we really want to find out how bad things could get if we lost it again?