The journey to E3 2017 was exciting, but there’s no denying the air of trepidation wafting in over top of all the hype. This year, the show was open to the public in a big way. The Electronic Software Organization, or ESA, the folks behind E3, sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 badges to whoever was crazy enough to pony up the cash for them. And it was a lot of cash. As I flew across the country to continue my games critic/journalist/hack-fraud/etc hustle, I worried. Would I be able to get my hands on anything on the show floor like in years past or would my scheduled appointments be my only saving grace in getting work done? Would E3 2017 be a disaster, a nightmare, and a flaming garbage dump? The answer, in a lot of ways was yes. But, in some ways, no!
Tuesday was rough. The hype in the air was palatable before the doors to the show floor opened. I had been at the convention center for a few hours already, tucked away in the media room. When I left the unusually quiet corner to make my first appointment, I quickly realized this was a new E3 the moment I saw the line. It was insane – 15,000 may not seem like a big number when you know the grand total is upwards of 60,000, but it felt like all 15,000 were in the same line at once. This number wasn’t spread out through attendees, media, industry, people running meeting rooms, and so on. This was all people waiting to get in the doors and play videogames.
As one would expect, this didn’t end well. The show floors were still very much designed like a normal E3. Huge booths were taking up tons of space and giant creatures were shown off the likes of Monster Hunter World and Shadow of War. There were huge displays and banners for all the big games and plenty of stages and seating areas for the on-the-floor panels and hands-on demonstrations. Again, no difference in scale, as far as I figured, from years several thousand bodies lighter. There was not room for the extra – there really wasn’t. Getting anywhere in the convention center, especially on the first day, was a total wreck. Bodies everywhere, confusion about what lines started and where, people simply trying to you know, enjoy themselves and take pictures – it was overwhelming in a bad way.
This is before you try to get your hands on anything. Lines, as soon as the doors opened, immediately ballooned to hours in duration. Literally the second I got in one morning, I overheard the line for Destiny 2, a single round demo of about 20 minutes, had a six-hour line. People paid hundreds of dollars to be here and spent upwards of six hours in a line to play a game that comes out in a few months. Yikes. I got the vibe that, while plenty of people were enjoying themselves, just as many were disappointed. For every twenty minutes of people going nuts over Dragon Ball FighterZ (that game spawned some serious chatter) was hours standing in line, bumping into passers-by. While there were plenty of new outposts and merch rooms so attendees could spend money, the transparent reason for the open doors, there weren’t many extra opportunities to have fun. I ran into a few people more than once, and they all seemed to struggle to say they were having a good time or to admit that they weren’t.
On the media side, it was frustrating, but not a huge loss. Most of us had appointments to get behind closed doors for more personal interactions and demonstrations. The lines on the outside didn’t get in the way here, but you had to accommodate for the extra time spent getting around. Also, staying healthy, hydrated, and fed was an ordeal in a way it hasn’t been before. But if you wanted to play a game you didn’t have an appointment for, you were screwed. And the extra confusion and hectic atmosphere also mangled backstage schedules, making many arrangements start late and end later – causing potential conflicts.
Overall, I got a sense of confusion and mixed messages. Was E3 2017 a consumer event or not? Nobody seemed to be able to tell. Even the “swag,” silly trinkets and goodies passed out to demo players, seemed sparse compared to previous years when it was mostly journalists being handed things they didn’t want. This was the year you’d expect to see t-shirts being passed out like candy, but no; if you wanted a shirt, you had plenty of options if you wanted to pony up more money. Between frustrated media, stressed out exhibitors and 15,000 cases of muddled expectations, it’s amazing E3 2017 went as well as it did. In the end people were still excited, mostly starstruck at the opportunity to finally make it to the show of legends. Perhaps the ESA took advantage of that perception in an effort to make up for some perceived subsiding relevance. Perhaps this was just one big learning experience for next time. But I think this needs to be figured out fast – perhaps more separation between the media and consumers – different days, rooms, halls, something, needs to be established. Perhaps the booth space and other structural setups need to be altered to allow for more people and more demo stations.
At the end of the day, ESA made their money and thousands of people went home from E3 2017 with a ton of new stories to tell. That’s a success in and of itself, even if there are plenty of kinks to work out for next year.