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E3 2017: The ESA’s first public E3 may have been its best.

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What a week it was! For some Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) really started on a Saturday and ended on Thursday. For those counting that’s one day longer than SDCC including preview night. Six days of playing video games till your eyes are as dry as burnt toast in the desert. All things considered, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) put on a fantastic show in 2017. The hyperbolized addition of the general public didn’t do much to balloon the attendance numbers as the organization posted 68,400 attendees. Some believed the addition of 15,000 general public attendees would be problematic, instead, this added a much needed reinvigoration of fan energy. E3 could be ready to expand even further in 2018. For now, let’s talk about the week that was in and around E3 2017.

Electronic Arts goes Hollywood but probably shouldn’t have.

The publisher of games from just about every sport invented went against the grain again by not taking part in E3 directly. Instead, they opted for a 3-day mini-fanfest that took over the Hollywood Palladium. The place that’s had bands like Nine Inch Nails perform for hundreds of people converted its relatively tiny backlot to try and host thousands. While Electronic Arts showed a unique idea with the co-op prison escape game A Way Out during the press conference, their weekend event itself was far from stellar. On Saturday, the line of general public, waiting well over 3hrs in some cases, to get into the venue could have stretched from one end of Hollywood to the other. Some tried to get into the event on Saturday after signing up for Sunday passes, EA didn’t turn anyone away even with incorrect dates. By 4pm the event management advised those still in line there would be a possibility of not being able to gain access that day. Maybe it was overbooking tickets or a lackluster appointment booking system, but the promising EA Play event needs an overhaul of its E3 philosophy and logistics planning. If you’re going to buck E3 there’s plenty of close proximity satellite cities to Los Angeles with venues that have the size capacity you’re looking for. EA is a large enough fish with a developed fanbase that will travel to be part of an accessible event like this. The prestige of the entertainment industry should never trump having a proper ratio of accommodations to guests.

 

Bethesdaland “The most chairless place on earth”

I love me some Fallout, I love me some Wolfenstein, and I love me some Evil Within. They’re all published through Bethesda Softworks. Having grown to the upper echelon of video games, Bethesda knows how to put on a show. Past years have even seen crowds be entertained by the likes of Blink 182 and Jane’s Addiction. This year Los Angeles Center Studios hosted the fun-filled carnival known as Bethesdaland. A good time that could only be described as wild, however the presentation itself was a bit strange. No Todd Howard creative director from Bethesda and I couldn’t even tell you who the musical act was this year. Judging by less than a quarter of the stage crowd hanging around after the presentation, neither could most people. Let me be clear, Bethesda should be commended for putting on press conferences where they only talk about games coming out that year. In 2017, they probably put on the 2nd best press conference because of it. Doom VR, Fallout VR, Skyrim on Nintendo Switch, Wolfenstein; all things to get hyped about and all things we’re supposed to be able to play this year. The only dent in the Bethesda Porsche came from whomever decided it would be a good idea to have a standing crowd during a press conference. With very little bleacher seating room, even for media, everyone had to stand by the stage. The majority of independent journos and streamers aren’t in the best shape to be standing for long periods of time with backpacks full of gear.

Bethesda’s booth on the show floor was a great example of how you combine fashion and function. Elder Scrolls on Switch and Wolfenstein had their own dedicated sections of the booth as did a huge Quake streaming stage. What set it apart was the Bethesda VR fish tanks, mini sound proof rooms where fans could try all their upcoming VR titles in full immersion. It simulates exactly what the average buyer will get when they invest in VR for their home. Plus it was just a quite place to get away from it all for 5 minutes.

XboxOneX was my AIM screen name

Typically, E3 is dominated by any company talking about new console hardware. This year Microsoft sought to be the ones dressed to the 9’s with their reveal of just how powerful Project Scorpio would be. While it definitely has enough teraflops and memory processing to run the infrastructure of a small country, Microsoft forgot to make sure consumers have a reason to buy it. Information alone isn’t enough to embed in the consumer zeitgeist. The power of X would have been a much catchier slogan than their “Experience True Power” which might also be the tagline from an upcoming 50 Shades movie. The Xbox conference had very little showmanship, it doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence in their ability to creatively market the Xbox One X. Secondly, the name Xbox One X goes to waste with the current slogan. At this point, Microsoft might have been better off keeping the Scorpio moniker and doing a series of ads with Albert Brooks voicing the Simpsons character of the same name. Some of the games we saw look great but don’t exactly make you want to spend $500 on a new piece of hardware when their 4k capable Xbox One S is half the price and according to Microsoft will play the same games. One thing that the company continues to do well is putting in the features everyone else forgets. Backwards compatibility with original Xbox hardware library is bigger than it should be because neither Nintendo or Sony care about it. It was also a very telling sign that Xbox didn’t close their presentation with a brand new unannounced IP that belongs to Microsoft or something synonymous with the system such as Halo or the return of Fusion Frenzy.

The Xbox booth at the show, however, was packed full of excited fans. To the point of sardines. From the controller design lab, Windows 10 PC rigs that were works of art, and hundreds of gaming stations; Microsoft squeezed every little bit of space they could on their floor. Though moving their live stream stage to inside the booth may have taken up valuable room for more games or line queues for bigger titles. Xbox had a solid year, but lately, they’ve felt like that sports team that reaches the championship round but can’t quite win the big one. I really don’t want them to be the XFL or Buffalo Bills of video games.

PlayStation shows why they’re the masters of theatrics.

I will say once again, Spider-Man being the thing Sony bet on to close their most important presentation of 2017 was a milestone. PlayStation definitely won the media weekend and at least tied with Nintendo for most buzz at the show. Yes, most of what they showed were games previously talked about such as Days Gone, God of War, Uncharted, and Spider-Man. It’s not always what you say but how you say it.


It’s not always what you say but how you say it. The PlayStation showcase, whether watching in person or online conveys excitement. Showing a bunch of gameplay is always cool, but Xbox does it, so does every conference. Sony put a level of bombastic theatrics in every piece of information they showed the audience. At times, its as small as a few fake rocks on the stage, others its suspending actors upside down in zombie makeup; it’s these kinds of details that turn a product into an experience. No, you won’t have anyone setting off pyro when you play Call of Duty, but seeing it happen during that part now gives my brain an association with that game and excitement. Showmanship matters!

 

What Sony do need to work on is the bandwidth for their app. Before the floor opened at the convention center every morning, fans could go onto the Experience PlayStation app and try to make a reservation to play demos of the hottest games or sit in theater presentations. 3,000 people would line up to get into the west exhibit hall every show morning where each Sony demo hosted only 16 people at a time with 30 min sessions at most from 10:30a.m-4:30p.m. Doing the math estimations, only about 544 people had a chance to play a demo from Battlefront II, Call of Duty, Detroit Being Human, and Destiny 2 respectively. Combined that’s estimated less than 3% of those attending got to play the demos at the Sony booth. The app is a noble gesture on Sony’s part to make sure attendees don’t waste their entire day waiting in line risking disappointment, but a way to get more people in needs to be executed. Whether it’s satellite off-sites only badge holders can get into or having online connection required demos of titles like Being Human available to play at home during E3 week.

Nintendo is once again a good thing!

Nintendo has been killing it since the launch of their Switch hardware. While its games lineup is growing from a drip in the faucet to steady stream, Nintendo needed to come out and tell everyone that their favorite property is coming to Switch at some point. Metroid Prime 4! Gaming’s first female protagonist is coming back. While nothing is known other than Nintendo actually working on it, for consumers it’s still a reason to be excited. Nintendo are learning their lesson in every aspect including E3 presentation. Their booth is always a decorating treat for the eyes, but this year it was better managed and balanced. Instead of focusing on only one game everyone would play the publisher had a headlining game in Super Mario Odyssey, supported by a handful of titles such as Splatoon, Arms, and a few 3DS games. Not only were the massive lines for the booth better managed with holding areas, it was soo well-done anyone could just walk through the booth and admire it all if they had no desire to wait in line.

The ESA essentially successfully put on Comic-Con for video games.

E3 2017’s biggest mystery had nothing to do with game developers, rather the question was how would the addition of 15,000 people who paid (in most cases) $249 to attend 3 days of the show affect it. The answer was… not very much. At times the show floor felt crowded but no more so than any previous year. The E3 Colosseum, which held all the panels across the street from the convention center, helped alleviate crowds from the bustling show floor. Walking from the LA Live to the convention center, I could see a line of people that wrapped around all the restaurants and across the street halfway down the Staples Center arena. Those became satisfied attendees who weren’t taking up space inside. For the most part, everyone seemed really happy with the results, those attending for the first time were just thrilled to be there and it brought an energy that took away much of the cynicism people who’ve done this show for years had. Best of all, there wasn’t tons of cosplayers causing artery clogs in the aisles from people stopping them for photos. When it rarely happened, just about every booth had an area of open space they could slide into to clear up room. Most cons could learn a thing or two from it. If the ESA is set on turning this trade show into more of a fan convention then it’s off to a great start. As someone who’s seen almost every kind of convention in pop culture; E3 is light years ahead of where I thought it would be for a first-year public show.

Here’s a few more images from the show:

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