All those people in one space; sounds exhausting right?
Video gaming conventions have been around for a number of decades now, and over the last few years they have been increasing in number. They vary from being specifically for a single game, (i.e. MineCon), to a single publisher’s games (i.e. BlizzCon, QuakeCon), to a variety of entertainment (i.e. ComicCon) to specifically video gaming as a whole (i.e. GamesCom, E3, EGX, PAX). Suffice to say however, times have begun to change. With simply being able to download your games and streamers becoming living advertisements, are they starting to become a dying medium or are they as popular as they have ever been?
It’s only been in the last decade that people have been asking the question if they’re even needed. Most recent discussions about it though have come off the back of the E3 2019 fiasco, when a press list containing personal information of the majority of the press who went to the event was leaked online. Even worse so, although the event organisers known as the ESA stated that this had never happened in the history of E3, this has apparently happened back in 2018, and even earlier in 2004 and 2006. ESA stands for the Entertainment Software Association, and was put in place back in 1994, then known as the IDSA, when violent video games were becoming more main stream, which is how the ESRB rating for video games (which the ESA monitors) also came into effect. Over time the ESA has become a bigger influence in the games industry, where it hosted its first E3 back in 1995; next year will be E3’s 25th anniversary, but since this leak happened, it’s questionable as to whether many will even go anymore.
“But it’s E3, how could you NOT go?” you may ask. Well, I myself have been to E3 back in 2017 as a member of the public (which is when they first allowed the public to attend the show). Allow me to summarise how it went. Now prior to the event opening, I did not get to go to any of the press conferences (because why would I, it’s in the name on who gets to go), but I did get to go watch the PlayStation Press Conference for free at a cinema close to the convention centre. Each day of the actual event though, there were huge queues waiting outside the Los Angeles Convention Centre. When the event opened, the queue’s rushed in (just to clarify too, there were security around, but if you think they were checking peoples belongings for weapons as they were coming in like they usually do at festivals, then you are sorely mistaken). As I entered the convention each of the 3 days its ran, I had some merchandise thrown at me (not kidding, on the first day a guy threw an E3 Xbox t-shirt at me, amazingly in my exact size, which I still use to this day) and for the first hour it was a mixture of me looking for smaller queues of games I want to try and trying to book some demos on an app PlayStation had set up because their games were always in such high demand; if I recall, I managed to go to the Spider-Man demo, the Day’s Gone demo, the Uncharted: The Lost Legacy demo (all 3 of which were hands-off) and to play SuperHot for the PSVR.
Throughout the entirety of my time there, I must have played and watch demos for around 8 to 10 games total out of well over a hundred of them, mostly because the queues were so long and the press, of course, had the higher priority. The convention wasn’t a total waste of time though, as I managed to meet a couple of “internet celebrities”, including AngryJoe, iJustine, who was, believe it or not, walking with Geoff Keighley at the time, and Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario in the Super Mario Bros. games). It also allowed me to meet a couple of my American friends (as I am from the UK) who I had wanted to meet for almost a decade. Suffice to say, E3 2017 was a big part of my life, even if I didn’t get to try as much as I wanted to. Would I ever go back? Yes, but maybe as press (if this site kicks off that is), not as a member of the public. Now before you start to think “you’ve only been to E3 so how do you know what it’s like across all conventions?” I never said E3 was the only one I’ve been to; I’ve been to multiple EGX’s here in the UK (even back before it was EGX and was called EuroGamer Expo) and I’ve been to London Comic-Con; they all played out the same way. Even for the press though, I have heard on the grapevine that most press get all their work done in a couple of days and then don’t even bother attending the third day; I even felt this effect as a member of the public on the third day of E3 2017; I was exhausted and the convention really took it all out of me, so myself and my friends skipped the rest of it and headed to the Los Angeles Zoo.
Back to the main topic at hand though, from what I learnt from my time there, how does that reflect on what people are saying? I think it’s fair to say that conventions are becoming a little harder to manage. As stated, when I went to E3 2017 the press had the upper hand when it came to trying out demos, so as a member of the public you do feel a little left out. On the other side of that though, conventions aren’t just about big names and big games, but it’s also about the sense of community; you have a whole building of people with similar interests to yourself, so it’s often easy to have a long chat with the people next to you in a 3 hour line for “that Call of Duty demo”.
Here’s the thing though: although E3 2017 wasn’t the only reason I took a plane all the way to California, it was originally the only reason for going before I planned other things too. The whole trip set me back around £2500 regarding flights, the hotel and food. If you’ve ever been to a convention that’s not in your home town, you may have felt your wallet take a hit too, which brings me back to the question “are gaming conventions still relevant in 2019?”
These days, you can simply go on the Xbox Store, the Playstation store, Steam, Nintendo E-Shop or any other digital platform and find a vast array of demos to try out. Sometimes even around E3, a trailer will pop up during a press conference stating players can “download the demo now”. If you can do that, what’s the need for the whole convention? Around 60,000-70,000 people attend E3 each year with millions watching the action at home, and while the press will go and play the demos for gamers and report back, if a lot of the news that comes out of the events come from the press conferences, why not just release all the demos on whatever digital platforms they’re coming out for, which will then allow not only the press to play and report on it, but allow players to try and get the word of mouth out?
Take BlizzCon 2018 for example; while granted there was a lot of controversy there with announcements such as Diablo Immortal, one of the big reasons players were going was to hopefully try out a demo for World of Warcraft Classic. However, if you were watching the action from home and bought the BlizzCon pass, you too could get a 1 hour demo session with World of Warcraft Classic which could be downloaded through the Battle.Net launcher… which defeats the entire purpose of going. A player who went had to pay hundreds of dollars to go to the event and try out the game (granted it may not have been the only reason), had to deal with queues, a crowded and probably boiling hot building and expensive food while someone else was able to just watch the event from the comfort of their own home, deal with none of the queues (albeit server queues), discuss the events happening online on forums and even get to try out WoW Classic for less than $50.
You then also have streaming culture and gaming YouTuber’s becoming more and more mainstream. With the likes of Ninja who had millions of Twitch followers before making the move to Mixer, and PewDiePie who is currently a few hundred thousand subscribers from hitting 100,000,000 at the time of writing this, big conventions aren’t always needed. These days a game developer can just pay streamers or YouTuber’s to play their product and before you know it, millions of people are aware of your game and can see it in action without the hassle of press, queues and travel. The same can also be said for the press; all a developer has to do is send a playable demo to, say, IGN, maybe in the mail or via other digital means, stream a video of the game privately back to the developer who can answer any and all questions while on a phone call, and then the game can be reported on. Granted I am unsure if developers have ever done this, but if it’s that simple, I’m surprised no one does it if not.
So why is it, in 2019, gaming conventions still seem as popular as ever if they don’t at all seem required anymore? I already told you: the community. The convention’s aren’t always just about getting the games in the hands of the press or public, but it also allows players to put faces to the names of maybe someone they’ve spoken to online and always wanted to meet. It sometimes allows them to meet some of their favourite developers and show them just how much they appreciate them. It allows solo travellers such as myself to reach out and make new connections. It’s even for the developers and press, as it allows them to meet other developers they may never have before and build bridges with the competition. It even allows small developers maybe just starting out in the games industry to get their game seen and then, if they’re very lucky, reported about. People have met the love of their life at conventions and made lifelong friends with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
The point is: these conventions are more just about the games. For each EGX I’ve been to, and going to E3 2017, all of them took it right out of me. But would I do it all again at GamesCom, PAX, SDCC? You bet your ass I would, as it’s an atmosphere that, while absolutely exhausting and expensive, you can never experience from the comfort of your own home.
All images in the article were taken by myself at E3 2017. You can check out a few more images below, including the celebrity pictures.