The Entertainment Software Association sent out a post-E3 press release, boasting about their attendance of 48,900 people and hosting 200 exhibitors at this year’s E3 event. The press release seems targeted at business reporting more than consumer reporting, emphasizing how the event brought nearly $40 Million in revenue for the city (presumably calculated based on the 28,000-room-night hotel bookings generated by the event), and how social media tracking indicates how the industry is growing in both size and breadth.
Joystiq points out that the attendance numbers for this year’s E3 are up from last year (700 more than 2013’s 48,200) and exhibitors are down (30 fewer than 2013’s 230), but that’s a deliberate choice by the ESA rather than a reflection trends in the industry—the ESA restricts E3 attendance to members of the “interactive entertainment industry” with valid credentials, and retail representatives, who it charges $795-$995 for the privilege of attending. Additionally, an exhibitor who wants space at E3 pays the ESA at least $30,000 for the minimum booth space (600 square feet), plus fees to the LA Convention Center and on booth construction that can pass review by the local fire department—quickly adding up as high as $100,000 even on a tight budget for a small developer, and with companies like Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft spending tens of millions of dollars on the event.
E3 simply can’t grow any bigger. Back in 2006, when the ESA “cancelled” the traditional E3 expo format before bringing it back in 2008, they were still at nearly 50,000 attendees, and the main purpose of the cancellation was to purge their attendance lists of people who attended merely because they were interested in the spectacle rather than a professional interest. Attendance limitations are driven by the fire code for the LA Convention Center, and while many long-time industry professionals mourn the loss of Kentia Hall—long-known for being the “cheaper” exhibition space where bizarre peripherals and independent games were shown—they’re mourning what it represents more than the physical space, which most of them still visit each year in its capacity as overflow meeting space for convention exhibitors.
E3 can’t move. They’re already filling the second-largest convention center in California to maximum capacity. Assuming they wanted to move to the Anaheim Convention Center—an option I’d assume they’ve explored—they’d either have to change their timing significantly or somehow displace multiple existing events scheduled, which, while smaller, each have contracts with the convention center ending at different times and promising typically-odious levels of compensation for breaking those contracts.
Penny Arcade is running into the same problem with PAX—filling multiple convention spaces in Seattle and a larger convention center than E3 in Boston. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) fills multiple convention centers in Las Vegas each year, has been at capacity for decades, and in fact its rejection of a proposal for a dedicated video game space simply due to not having the space for it led to the ESA creating E3 in 1995. In the world of conventions, being as large as E3 is a logistical nightmare, not a boon.
So it’s no surprise that, as the industry grows and the ESA’s logistical options shrink, E3 is self-selecting toward having fewer, larger exhibitors. It’s sad, and undoubtedly a problem long-term—growing too dependent on any one source of income can prove ruinous if that source suddenly backs out, and losing EA or Nintendo would probably result in a mad scramble as the ESA figures out what they’re going to do financially to make sure the event can still happen, even in its current state.
Smaller developers are understandably disgruntled by what E3 is turning into, possibly best-exemplified by Indie3: a comparatively impromptu, internet-based counterpoint to E3 showcasing independent games and panels about game culture (now over, but with its content still archived for streaming). The event got off to a rocky start due to inter-community issues and a rather loose schedule, but showed enough promise that we hope it will be back next year, working toward offering the counterpoint to E3 that Kentia Hall once did. The ESA certainly isn’t interested in doing that.