After two lackluster years of tiny audiences and slashed budgets, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is trying to recapture some of its past luster--but it may be too little, too late. That's a shame, because E3, being held next week, is one of only a handful of trade shows the public actively follows, with legions of gamers, from hardcore to casual, eagerly tracking each day's new announcements.
After years of excessive budgets and outlandish displays, essentially turning the Los Angeles Convention Center into a futuristic minimetropolis, game companies retrenched in 2007, looking to display their wares in a more cost-efficient manner. The first attempt to modernize E3 was by moving the show to Santa Monica, Calif., and cutting the attendance from more than 60,000 to less than 5,000. Of that 2007 show, we said:
"Rebelling against the high costs of the LA-based show, the big game companies instead elected to put on a radically different show in 2007, losing the massive convention center booths and moving to a handful of hotels in Santa Monica, along with cutting attendance to less than 10 percent of last year's...The verdict is still out on the show's new format. Some would call it smaller and more intimate, while others said it was inconvenient and a scheduling nightmare."
Last year, the show returned to the Los Angeles Convention Center, but kept the small, low-cost format, ditching the main halls of the LACC for a series of underwhelming meeting rooms. It was an awkward experience at best, and at the time, we said:
"(2008's) smaller, quieter E3 video game trade show may well mark the end of an era, with no solid plans announced for next year's show, and many participants lamenting the stripped-down vibe. Despite powering a multi-billion-dollar industry, the big game companies collectively decided that the massive shows of previous years were too expensive to put on anymore--but the pared-down version of E3 that started last year failed to inspire the industry or generate much significant media coverage."
The 2009 version of E3 is being unofficially billed as a return to form, with more than 40,000 people (many only marginally connected to the industry) expected to attend, and major gaming displays from publishers including Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Activision, and EA. Of course, many of these grand plans were hatched before the current economic recession hit, and some of these game companies may be experiencing buyer's remorse over investing so heavily in an E3 show modeled on the free-spending glory days.
We're eager to see how excessive the show's booths are (previous years resembled an arms race to see who could build the biggest, most ostentatious display), and whether the game publishers will feel as if they got their money's worth from their sizable investment--which is why the show was scaled back three years ago in the first place (and that was even during the economic boom times). If not, this could very well be E3's third strike, and the end of a 15-year run.