By now, the entire industry is talking about this week’s news that E3 is no longer the enormous, loud, bombastic event with which many a games journalist enjoys a love/hate relationship. IGN caught Doug Lowenstein, President of the Entertainment Software Association, in the midst of planes, trains, and automobiles just long enough for him to clarify a few of our concerns.
IGN: How, specifically, have the goals of E3 changed?
Lowenstein: Well, when E3 was first launched 12 years ago, a lot of things were different with the videogame industry. For one thing, the industry was looking for visibility and, in a sense, credibility with the mass media and culture at large. This was an industry that was obviously much smaller than it is now, and virtually no major newspapers in the country even covered videogames. Sites like yours didn’t even exist. There was very little mass media awareness about videogames. So the show was a way to aggregate this industry and collectively send a message that this industry was big and important and relevant and deserved attention. Obviously a lot has changed in 12 years; the industry is well-established, it’s a global entertainment powerhouse. And the need for a single event that calls attention to this industry is significantly less than it was 12 years ago.
The other thing that’s very different is a lot has changed in the retail market place. E3, when it was first conceived, was a show where companies would come and have a lot of meetings with retailers and actually write orders and have retailers decide how many units of a game they were going to stock that coming holiday season. Again, you don’t really need a trade show for that anymore because game companies are meeting with retailers throughout the year. There are only a handful of them that dominate the market. So, I think those are the two big things that have changed since 1995 when we did our first E3.
IGN: What are the purposes of E3 now, going into the future?
Lowenstein: Well, I think what E3 has become is much more an event where companies are seeking to get media attention for the products and technologies coming to market. So it’s much more about reaching the mass media and niche media like gaming websites and magazines and so forth. So the focus of what we are going to be doing in the future is creating high-quality opportunities for the game companies to get their message to key people across the media and other constituencies. We’re not, obviously, going to ignore retailers and other audiences that are obviously still very important to the industry. But the primary focus of this event is creating the right venue, the right opportunity, the right setting in a quality, business-like way for companies to talk to members of the media and show what they’ve got coming.
IGN: So E3 2007 will be an invitation only event, correct?
Lowenstein: That’s right.
IGN: Who will be invited?
Lowenstein: It will be primarily media, but there’s no list of people that’s been developed. It will be driven by the companies that are part of the event and the people that they feel are important for them to reach to get their messages out. I think time will tell as we get closer to the event and companies focus a little bit more on the people they feel are most important for them to interact with in that setting.
IGN: You’ve mentioned that when you first started E3 in 1995, the videogame industry wasn’t getting much attention from the mainstream media. Do you think E3 is responsible for the greater exposure that videogames receive these days?
Lowenstein: Well, that’s a good question. I think certainly E3 had a lot to do with announcing to the world that videogames were a big part of the future and the present of entertainment. I think it served an extraordinarily important purpose, because as people came to it and heard about it and the buzz it created I think really was very positive, and an important catalyst to draw attention from the media. But now, you don’t need one three-day extravaganza for the media to cover this industry. The media is covering this industry throughout the year as it is. We have huge powerhouse companies that are part of the industry. So, certainly, E3 was an important part of raising awareness. But there are a lot of other factors far beyond one three-day event that are responsible for the very high profile that the videogame industry has on a global basis today.