E3 is gaming's biggest showcase in the Western world, a chance for the biggest companies in the business to show off their products to industry peers and to the assembled gaming press covering the event. But while gaming faces trying times in recent years with a fracturing market and ever more expensive development costs, many developers are having to weigh the difficult decision of whether or ot to make make an expensive showing at the much-hyped show when money might be more prudently spent internally.
Already, Electronic Arts has announced that it will not have a booth on the E3 show floor this year, though they will still have games to show as past of bigger publisher presentations. We can add another name to that list as Activision has announced that it, too, will forego the traditional booth for E3 2016.
A defection from Activision feels more significant than it might from other developers, given the sheer scale of the company's size: In addition to the blockbuster Call of Duty franchise - one of the biggest in the entire industry - Activision also controls Blizzard and its Warcraft franchise, which has a higher profile than usual thanks to a big-budget movie based on the franchise hitting theaters this Summer. In addition, Activision recently made headlines by spending an astronomical $5.9 billion for mobile gaming powerhouse King. While the lack of a booth doesn't necessarily mean that Activision is in poor financial health, it could signal that they consider traditional promotional channels like E3 to be increasingly less important in selling their wares - neither of which would be good news for a notoriously change-averse games industry.
Official confirmation of the decision not to have an E3 booth was buried amidst a press release from Communications Manager Scott Lowe celebrating the ongoing success of Call of Duty, in particular the new officially-sanctioned e-sports venture Call of Duty World League, which reads in part:
"In June, we’re going to be at E3 showcasing gameplay from Infinity Ward’s ambitious new game. We’re looking forward to sharing exciting new details about the next great Call of Duty game in partnership with our friends at PlayStation. We’re proud to be participating in this premier video game event, but won’t have an Activision booth on the show floor."
"We’re also going to be celebrating the community this fall at the Call of Duty Championship, marking the epic conclusion of the first season of the Call of Duty World League, and holding a major community event that will give fans special insight and access to the world of Call of Duty."
"We have an exciting year ahead and have some great stuff planned that we can’t wait to share with you. Don’t be surprised to find us in some other unexpected places as well."
Like the similar statement from EA, this announcement couches Activision's decision in "player's first" language that dovetails (likely intentionally) with the increased criticism of the event for remaining largely industry-only in an era when more and more such promotional platforms are embracing a new openness in the age of new media. Unlike many other developers, Activision is big enough to at least consider shifting promotional work to events and venues that they control more directly (like the COD World League and Blizzard-specific platforms). Still, it remains to be seen whether 2016 will be an outlier year or the new-normal for the company going forward.