Interview: ESA's Taylor On Bringing E3's Buzz Back

After a renowned slimming-down, this June's E3 Expo is bulking up, and ESA SVP Rich Taylor talks to Gamasutra about how publisher feedback drove improvements, and why a "return to a bit of the buzz and excitement" is vital for E3's future.
After a few years of trying to find itself, the The Electronic Entertainment Expo is ready to launch a revamped event once again this year. E3 2009, taking place on June 2-4 at the LA Convention Center, is intended to address criticism of last year's muted event, where many publishers were openly displeased, and quite a few decided not to go at all. The new E3 event features less stringent criteria for both exhibitors and attendees to participate, and a much larger showfloor in order to expand publisher presence overall. Industry trade body the Entertainment Software Association, which organizes E3, is tasked with making a step back in what it hopes is the right direction this year. So can we really call it "the new E3"? "I think it is accurate," the ESA's SVP of Communications and Research Rich Taylor told Gamasutra. "I think people have remembered the old E3, the giant E3 of many years back -- and then you have the E3 expo of the past couple years." "I think this year's -- for the targeting and design of this one -- is going to be unique compared to other editions that people might have in their recollections." Unique -- and improved, Taylor claims. "As you probably know, after every edition of E3 in the past, there's been research survey work done with attendees both qualitatively and quantitatively trying to figure out what they liked and didn't like, and all of that went into the formulation of the next show." Taylor believes that it's feedback from press and publishers that motivated E3's progression over the past couple of years. The event has gone away from the sprawling, large-scale glitz-fest and through a few smaller, more private iterations that have met with mixed receptions. 2007's E3 decentralized the event, much to the chagrin of media who had to travel to many different locations for appointments. Following that, 2008 brought a return to a noticeably quieter, more austere Los Angeles Convention Center format. This year, says Taylor, "There was definitely a feedback that while there was a lot of appreciation from the media perspective of more access to publishers and the return of centralization... there was also a cry to return to a bit of the buzz and excitement and sort of identity that each of the publishers and participants in E3 bring to the table." "By letting them expand their presence a bit, letting them put their personalities into the display place itself... each will be able to tell their story the way they want to," Taylor says. "It's much better reflective of the industry, which is really special, unique and creative as anything out there. To have a show that doesn't allow that creativity to be expressed and viewed would just not be the course we wanted to go; it was not the feedback we were getting." When the "new" E3 was unveiled this year, top publisher Activision was back on the attendee list after skipping the event last year. "A reason we're seeing such a high level of early exhibitor interest is that they recognize that if you're going to be in this game, and be part of a vibrant community, you have to be at E3 in June," claims Taylor. E3 is indeed in June this year -- and last year's mid-July show timing was partially blamed for the event's loss of luster. It was apparently scheduled poorly for major publishers to debut games, and after many had already revealed their holiday slates, leaving few big announcements to buzz about. "From [exhibitors'] feedback, this show timing doesn't disrupt their dev cycle... and it also allows for maximum retailer attendance this time, allows a chance for retail to be there on a schedule that... gives them longer lead time to plan their holiday purchase patterns," Taylor explains. So at least some of E3's showmanship will definitely be back this year. It's a challenging time for showmanship to make a return, though, alongside a deepening recession that has had an effect on staff and projects industry-wide. With that in mind, might it be challenging to set the tone for E3? "I think moreso than setting the tone, it was making sure that there's value in being a part of it," says Taylor. "How can you make sure everyone answers 'yes' when asked, 'is E3 still worth it'?" "Hopefully we're being intelligent about this and the feedback of our members is right on track; we've seen a lot of great enthusiasm, people signing up, and a lot of media interest, which tells us we're on the right track," Taylor adds. He concludes, hopefully: "We just want to improve the show this time and we think we're in a sweet spot now more than ever."

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