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The Free Zone: E3 2013: One Outsider's View

Column By Richard Aihoshi on June 18, 2013

Until a few years ago, the trip to Los Angeles for E3 was a fixture on my annual travel calendar for about a decade. As a result, it's hardly a surprise that the question continues to come up each summer as to whether I miss it. My answer isn't as straightforward as most people seem to expect, which is simply an unqualified, resounding “yes”. The truth, however, is that while certain aspects of the show were great, there were others with less appeal, and even some I didn't care for at all.

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Now, although I don't regard myself as one, I do get the large majority of my information from the event in the same way most consumers do, via reports by publications that attend, like MMORPG.com. In general, they do a pretty good job of covering the game presentations. The thing is... that's what they are, presentations. Even if you have the chance for some hands-on, you don't get to see the game in question. Not really. Not unless you think only seeing parts that were carefully chosen for your viewing pleasure is representative of an entire title.

Frankly, if something doesn't have enough appealing bits, pieces, segments and snippets to fill a 15-, 30- or even 60-minute presentation / demo session, why would a publisher or developer want to show it at all? They wouldn't. That goes a long way toward explaining why out of the hundreds of games I saw during my trips to E3, very few looked bad. Sure, some weren't great or even good fits for my personal preferences, but that's not the same thing.

One thing I miss by not being there any more is the chance to “read” the show for what's not being shown or said, not just about individual games, but also companies, people, the industry, the market, etc. Admittedly, such things interest me much more than they do a lot of other people. Accordingly, I don't blame publications for paying them limited attention, if any. That said, they always comprised a highly significant, integral portion of my overall E3 experience. So I miss this element quite a bit.

To my mind, the entire free to play sector is very much a case in point. From everything I saw and read about this year's edition of the show, what I learned was essentially all game-specific. Furthermore, since only a few titles were shown, the information I did receive was disproportionately small relative to the total MMOG market share held by releases that use this business model. Here in North America, we're talking about roughly half and growing, so it's far from insignificant. Globally of course, it's even more.

Yes, it's easy to point out that most of the major Asian-based publishers chose not to exhibit. However, it also seems fair to ask if their presence would have materially shifted the overall balance of media coverage. Let's just say I have my doubts. I understand about publications focusing their attention on the games that most interest their readers. But I don't have to like it, especially since they all write about the things they were shown in the same brief presentations and demos.

Perhaps this has some connection to my suspicion that E3 may need a reboot in order to regain some of its former importance and relevance. I remember one such attempt; the event was downsized and moved out to Santa Monica where it was spread out across several hotels. Personally, I rather liked the smaller concept but was not fond of the multi-site implementation, which meant it could take a half hour or more to get from one appointment to the next. In any case, it went right back to the old format and location the next year. To my mind, that was unfortunate. I'd have much preferred to keep it lower key in style and magnitude, but simply to move it under a single roof.

And what happened? The show shrank anyway. From my admittedly outside perspective, it seems to have declined substantially from the level of significance it had during its heyday. While there's certainly more to this than just the low presence of F2P, I don't know if it can ever be as important within the entire global industry as it once was. By way of illustration, the exhibitor list this year was only a fraction as long as it used to be. Making it back into an event that hundreds of companies feel they need to attend will take more than a small, easy fix – if it can be done at all.

So, to get back to the original question, I miss a number of things about the “old” E3. To cite the main example, it was always great to reconnect with many bright, interesting, knowledgeable people I'd met before. But I miss the show itself less and less with each passing year. 


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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