Most wrap-ups of E3 look at the show in terms of whether it was successful as intended or not. And on that score, it seems both the press and the folks I hung out with at the show felt it was adequate as expected. The ESA was distracted by its own battle with LA, whose sports construction will cut the LA Convention Center in half, as reported by John Gaudiosi in Forbes. Personally, I think the show was a success as intended, for the simple fact that I’m set on buying at least two games, The Last of Us from Naughty Dog, which is a post-post-apocalyptic mature action adventure in the style of Uncharted, and Star Wars 1313 from LucasArts, which is a long time ago in a galaxy far far away mature action adventure in the style of Uncharted. But at SoMoFos, we’re concerned with a slightly different question. Is E3 finally social? We provided some guidelines on the show, and then spent the week at E3, and our conclusion is: sort of. I realize that’s kind of a cop-out of an answer, but alas the situation on the ground isn’t cut and dried. Let’s break this down like a proper postmortem, as would appear is such fine publications as Game Developer magazine, and call out three things that went right and three things that went wrong.
1. The developers. E3 is not so much about the games on display as it is about the developers attending. And everyone’s looking at social and social mobile, studios from the traditional world are getting their feet wet too. In the past, they were mystified and deferential to tiny shops making crappy apps because they got to the market first. These little shops knew fancy new words and acronyms. But at the same time, they only had a six months lead. Now traditional developers are taking that six month education in, and stand ready to school the tiny shops. There’s a lot bristling under covers.
2. The networking. The difference between the show floor and the party lists is also significant. The social world is partying hard at E3. They’re mixing and mingling, showing demos, meeting the right people, and in many cases all without official E3 badges. Much like GDC, the real action of E3 takes place in hotel suites, hotel lobbies, bars, and nightclubs. And yes, I’m still talking about business networking. Even though only a single social mobile game company had a megabooth at E3, namely GREE, all the majors were on the party circuit too. All one need do is take a scan of the lobby of the JW Marriott, which has become the Fairmont lobby of GDC legend. It’s populated by the true cross-section of the modern diversified game industry.
3. The dialogue. I like a skeptical dialogue that challenges the status quo. I’m not happy with the complacency in either the old world or the new world. And on this front, the dialogue was much more open. All the platforms, publishers, and developers are getting very serious about social mobile, but they all seek to bring their own special twist to things. Jake Kasdal who heads 17-bit, the developer of the upcoming Skulls of the Shogun, did the live stage show at Gamespot with me and John Davison, and he just isn’t a fan of conventional social mobile games. However, he is launching his very social multiplayer strategy game on multiple screens with Microsoft this fall. It’s not free-to-play but it’s multiplatform, social, and mobile. This both illustrates the gap that social mobile games have in not being truly social yet, and the market opportunity it presents. Of course the Wii U is a prime example of dancing to your own beat, with Nintendo forging ahead with asymmetric couch mutlplayer, using a tablet very similar in function to an iPad, but integrated into the living room experience. Everyone’s influenced by what they see, and they’re taking their experience and driving forward with their own vision. This should in turn inspire us, depending of course on how these innovations perform at market, but somehow I’m not worried about Nintendo.
1. Previewing. The old world looks forward at E3, or at least six months forward to the holiday buying season. The new world is focused entirely on the present. There is almost no previewing in social mobile, and so the only social mobile games you see at E3 are those that are already out or out in other territories. Certainly this gives a more immediate thrill and access to people with an iPhone or Android device at the show, but it doesn’t create the frenzy you see about getting to be the first to see the next great thing. This lack of previewing has reasons of course, such as maximizing impact with platform featuring, and the fact that these games are pretty much out by the time they’re playable. However, in the trade show format, designed for long-cycle products, there’s a lot to overcome here for E3 to be the right fit for social mobile.
2. Press. The global mainstream press audience at E3 seems a more natural fit to the broader audience of social mobile games than that of console games, but with only one social mobile booth throughout the convention center, the press are naturally guided to sort among the blockbuster $60 games. While some industry press noted the advent of a large social mobile, the large shiny objects where the priority for the press at the show. They’re sorting real news coming at them over two days of back to back press conferences, and social mobile is only showing what’s out now-ish. Granted it’s by design, but there’s limited press oxygen at E3, except for reporters still there on day 3 looking for an off-beat story. [Update: such as Tricia Duryee's piece on the GREE booth in All Things D].
3. Logistics. Los Angeles is a clusterf!@#. We’re used to doing events in Seattle and San Francisco, where there are sufficient hotels, bars, and restaurants nearby for lodging and networking. In Los Angeles, the main airport is awful, the staff at the counters are not helpful or even aware that they have extra seats on planes. Hotel space is in very short supply, and you have to either shuttle around or expend vast sums on surly cabs, most of whom are still in the Stone Age when it comes to credit cards. Also, there are large sports events that interfere with our event, which I have very little patience for. Granted E3 is a gigantic show, so it would strain the resources, but Comic-Con is three times the size of E3, and San Diego seems to handle things better.
The last three things that went wrong could all have been foreseen. In fact, when I asked a couple of San Francisco socialites if they were going to E3, they cited one or two of them, but the main reason they didn’t go is that they only could see one or two meetings worth having. I myself only had 8 meetings set up in advance, compared to the 60 I ran for EA Partners last year. However, once you’re there, magic happens. You bump into key people you didn’t expect to be there, or who have resurfaced in new roles, that you set up meetings for the next day. People come by your booth, and ask to speak to someone in your capacity, and in many cases they have something promising to discuss. Just put yourself out there, and interesting things happen. Several of the factors we talk about, such as traditional moving in, budgets going up, brands starting to matter, are all happening now. So while it may have made sense to skip this year’s E3, make sure you don’t miss it next year.