A little over a decade ago, the Electronic Entertainment Expo shut its doors to the general public. Burgeoning attendance and pressure from exhibitors pushed the ESA (Electronic Software Association) to limit the event to industry insiders and media only. In recent years however, with the prevalence of livestreaming and ever earlier online reveals, publishers seemed to be considering whether or not the high costs associated with making a showing at E3 was worth it. Many media outlets took note of the decline of vendor attendance. So perhaps in an effort to revitalize the show, they once again opened the doors to the public with much fanfare.
Ever since I first saw videos of the spectacle of E3 as a young teen, I always dreamed about attending in person to witness the public unveiling of the latest titles.
Ever since I first saw videos of the spectacle of E3 as a young teen, I always dreamed about attending in person to witness the public unveiling of the latest titles. I can imagine I wasn’t the only person who was quite bitter about the closure of the event to the public. But much to my delight early this year, completely out of the blue, the ESA announced they would be opening the doors to the public this year. 11 years I had been waiting for my chance and here it finally was. So I made plans with Kevin, our editor-in-chief, bought a plane ticket, and pored over the exhibits planned for this year.
Fast forward to our arrival in Los Angeles, passes in hand, ready to dive into this event. Our first stop was the South Hall, where juggernauts like Microsoft, Bethesda, and Activision resided. It was no surprise to see the massive lines stretching around the booths. The Bethesda VR demos caught our attention first, but our enthusiasm soon dwindled when a booth worker came around and informed us the wait would be 4 hours from the point we were standing at. Glancing at the time and the sheer number of exhibits on the map, we decided it would be a better use of our time to briefly watch the lucky few players who got in and then move on to other booths.
We walked around gawking at some of the larger set pieces laid out in the main booths. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War had one of the most impressive setups for a single game. Their entire area was a mock mountain range engulfed in fog, inhabited by a dragon at the base, and patrolled by several orcs posing for pictures. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was dressed up as a retro diner, complete with milkshakes to go. Smaller exhibits to the left and right of the hall, while not as dressed up, still offered interesting titles for our perusal. They also had much shorter lines. One VR title, Sprint Vector, had a mere two hour wait, so we decided to invest some time and try it out. You can see our interview with the lead producer here. It turned out to be a great experience as Kevin and I got to race each other (I of course won handedly). There was also an indie section hosting numerous amounts of small games that provided a small distraction. We closed the day out browsing other small side booths hawking everything from gaming accessories to domain names.
On the second day we ventured into the West Hall, which contained the other big players Nintendo and Sony. Once again we were greeted with massively long lines. Sony, however, had an online queuing system via a smartphone app. This allowed for people to reserve slots ahead of time, eliminating the need to stand in line for hours. Slots however were extremely limited and filled up almost instantly unless you got lucky while jamming the “Reserve” button on your phone. In any case, it was a much more palatable option than being stuck in line, unable to explore the rest of the show floor.
Nintendo perhaps had the best presentation of any of the publishers. A massive imposing red wall surrounded their section, concealing the grand display they had inside: a miniature amusement park. A brightly colored city-scape lined the entire inner wall and lights provided a simulated weather system that even included thunder and lightning effects. Lines, however, were just as bad as the rest of E3, with fans almost encircling the entire outer wall of the Nintendo area.
It seemed many titles were only available for demonstration to industry insiders. . .
So what does a $250 ticket buy you? A lot of waiting and perhaps a bit of disappointment. After three days of wading through all the booths and crowds, I would say E3 for the general public is a less than ideal experience. If you are extremely patient or dedicated, you could sacrifice four hours to play a fifteen minute demo. With only three days and six to seven hours each day to go through two massive exhibit halls however, you would be limiting what you would be able to see. For the hardcore fan who literally camps at the store entrance hours before opening, E3 could be for you. There’s nowhere else you could have access to these demos months ahead of time. If you abhor standing in lines for hours on end however, it would be best if you avoid it all together and wait for a beta.