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Life after E3

Leaders of the video game industry's best-known conferences discuss what a scaled-down version of the giant E3 will mean.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
5 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Anyone who thought the video game industry would come crashing down because of the demise of E3 as a giant trade show should think again.

For one thing, E3 lives on, though in a smaller, more intimate setting. On Friday, the Entertainment Software Association revealed its first public plans for the reborn E3.

Instead of 60,000 people jammed into the Los Angeles Convention Center each May, the ESA said it will now hold an invite-only event July 11-13 in nearby Santa Monica, Calif.

The three-day event will still allow major video game companies like Electronic Arts, Nintendo and Activision to hold big press events, but it will also enable more intimate meetings in a quieter, less frenzied atmosphere.

The news was the first specific information offered by the ESA since it announced in July that it was planning a major downsizing of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the most famous of the many video game conferences.

And as E3 moves forward with its weight-loss regimen, leaders of several other well-known video game confabs are already looking at ways to fill the huge hole it's leaving behind. They don't sound particularly worried about the alternatives.

"Given the demand we experienced on the (July) news about E3, (we're expanding)," said Jamil Moledina, executive director of the annual Game Developers Conference. "In terms of what we can provide to...companies that are wondering what they're going to be able to do with the new landscape, GDC has provided for several years an avenue for people to present games."

Moledina was one of several executives who spoke Thursday on a panel called "Life after E3" at the fourth annual PR for Games conference here.

An invite-only model?
And while no concrete solutions were presented, the panel gave event coordinators a chance to tout the virtues of their own conferences, as well as to reassure the many public-relations professionals on hand that there's a healthy future for those who want to spread the news about their video games or their clients' games.

On Monday afternoon, meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association is expected to announce a "major" new video game conference that will be separate from the annual Consumer Electronics Show. CEA is planning a press conference in San Francisco to unveil its plans.

But since July, many in the industry have been questioning what, if anything, would or could replace E3. Some may find such questions unnecessary, given the ongoing presence on the industry's calendar of huge shows like the Tokyo Game Show, the Leipzig Games Conference, China Joy and others. But there has nevertheless been a fair amount of hand-wringing as people have tried to figure out how to replace E3's platform for publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision, Take-Two and others to show off their forthcoming wares.

Not much to worry about
But to listen to other game conference executives, there isn't that much to worry about. It will be up to shows like GDC, the Austin Game Conference (AGC), Leipzig and many other smaller events to provide the industry with enough opportunities to showcase their games that the E3 of old can become an afterthought.

Moledina acknowledged that E3 did serve its constituency of game publishers well, since they had an annual opportunity to get their games in front of the world's game journalists, retailers and enthusiasts. But he also said E3 was a rare opportunity for publishers and console makers to meet with the makers of middleware and other tools, and that those professionals are now looking for other venues.

Still, he said, he thinks the GDCs of the world can serve that purpose just as well.

"For that group of people, we've been getting a lot of interest at GDC," Moledina said. "We've been dedicating a lot of time and energy to meet that demand."

E3 2006

To Chris Sherman, director of The Game Initiative, host of AGC for four years, smaller shows can serve many industry professionals' purposes just as well as E3. It's just a matter of making sure the dynamics of a show meet those needs.

That means ensuring that there are ample networking opportunities, as well as chances for companies to stand out among their peers, primarily through sponsorship opportunities.

And for that, Sherman said, small shows have an advantage, since one major sponsor can stand head and shoulders above other companies in attendance.

Another key element of E3 was that it gave the film and television industries an easy place to go to develop partnerships. But David Glanzer, director of marketing for the annual San Diego comic book industry blowout ComicCon--which draws more than 120,000 attendees--said he thinks his event could provide the video game industry with similar proximity to Hollywood, and thus a place to cut licensing deals.

Plus, he said, ComicCom has many similarities to E3.

"It's a huge consumer show," Glanzer said. "People are coming from all over the world. And there's an incredible amount of press coming too, and they come from all over the world...The ability to make a press splash is huge. You can use that press to your advantage. The press list is made available to anyone who exhibits at our show."

At the same time, while E3 is known as the launching pad for many of the most famous video games, other shows can serve that purpose just as effectively, said Moledina. For example, Electronic Arts unveiled its much-anticipated "Spore" at GDC in 2005, and the sleeper Japanese hit, "Katamari Damacy," was also unveiled there.

And that's because, Moledina said, GDC vets all publishers' offerings the same way, thus rewarding quality, not the size of the publisher.

"It's a really level playing field for small developers and large developers at GDC," he said. "Everything goes through the same process."

In any case, the ESA's Friday announcement underscores that E3 is likely still to be a force to be reckoned with. And other game conference executives recognize that.

"They really do want to continue to be that central lightning rod and continue to be that point of contact" for the press and the industry," Moledina said.