E3 2020 could be turned into a “fan, media, and influencer festival,” according to a proposal recently released by the ESA. For the last few years, E3 has been turning more toward fans, allowing 15,000 members of the general public to attend each year since 2017, when the event had previously been open only to members of the media and the games industry.
The ESA has good reason to consider changes to E3. While becoming more fan-friendly, the event is also becoming less attractive to video game publishers. E3 has become less useful to publishers like Sony, which are increasingly able to host their own streams and shows apart from the conference. The consequences of that could be seen at E3 2019, as EA and Microsoft both had events away from the main E3 floor, while Sony pulled out entirely. More seriously, poor data security at the ESA led to a major data breach last year that leaked identifying information of E3 attendees, including phone numbers and addresses. The breach, and the ESA’s response downplaying its severity, damaged E3’s already flagging reputation.
A new proposal from the ESA obtained by GameDaily.biz doesn’t directly address either of these issues, evidently leaning on increased access to influencers to win publishers back to the show. If the proposal is adopted, E3 would allow 10,000 additional fans in next year, and turn the first day of the event into a media-only day. The more fan-focused event would be geared toward experiences that attendees could share on social media, including exclusive events presumably targeted at the most popular influencers, to “create buzz and FOMO,” as the pitch puts it. These experiences could include athletes or actors playing games for an audience in newly designed event spaces on the show floor. The proposed redesign would also address one of the most often heard complaints about E3 by offering an app to reserve appointment times for games in an effort to shorten the sometimes hours-long lines to play demos.
Along with a better experience for fans, the ESA’s proposed changes would give the organization more opportunities to advertise. With the lines that aren’t eliminated by the reservation app, the ESA would use what its pitch calls “queuetainment” to advertise to attendees waiting to play games, though exact plans weren’t laid out. Further, the ESA hopes to use Millennial and Gen Z attendees’ proclivity for social justice to promote “E3’s social good brand.” According to a slide in the pitch, the group would partner with influencers to improve its public image, earning the lobbying group leverage to fight negative coverage or push the ESA's policy goals.
While its dwindling importance to the industry does signal a need for E3 to change, the shift toward fans and influencers may not be a move in the right direction. It would certainly help the ESA’s image, but between streams and live events from companies like Sony, publishers already have plenty of ways to reach their audience. Without exhibitors, E3 wouldn't exist, and even the ESA itself doesn’t seem to know what it has to offer publishers.