The Real Winners and Losers of E3 2017

There has been no shortage of ink spilled trying to figure out which large triple-A publisher or first-party console manufacturer “won” E3. The implication here is that E3 is an arena where competing gaming companies duke it out for some unnamed crown or glory. In this, it’s become a sort of reality TV show, one watched not merely for the legitimate gaming news, but as a gladiatorial spectacle. People want to see massive corporations like Sony and Microsoft trade rhetorical and strategic blows, see dramatic failures, and ultimately discuss the best and worst of the show as though it was the latest episode of The Bachelor.

There is some merit to this view: we have certainly seen intentional jabs thrown between corporations, and E3 showings can have an effect upon sales. But mostly the gladiatorial appearance of E3’s press conferences is an illusion formed by the cycle of consumer discussion and the gaming media. The relationship between these allegedly competing companies is much more complex than pure competition, and the success of one can often be good for others. E3 started as a trade-show after all, an event focused on bringing together companies to reach mutually-beneficial deals. And while that purpose has fallen somewhat by the wayside over the past decade, these companies come willingly, knowing that, by-and-large, attendance remains to their advantage.

But the times continue to change, and like every E3, there are real winners and real losers. But we have to look behind the spectacle to find them.

Winner: Console manufacturers

Console manufacturers remain perhaps the primary driving force behind the entire event. Their press conferences are the biggest as are their booths on the show floor. It makes sense that they do this: amongst all of the attendees, these corporations are the ones that have the most riding on good public perception and on the relative success of their marketing. Consoles require a significant upfront investment on the part of customers, and the future profitability and development of games for that platform will often snowball(or fail to) from strong initial adoption. Install base is everything. As some gamers also have to choose between available consoles (while others buy more than one), they may actually compare E3 showings when making a purchasing decision.

Of course, it’s not all zero-sum or a direct competition. If every console manufacturer has a great show, it’s likely to simply result in more overall console sales. Nintendo, especially, probably doesn’t care all that much if you have an Xbox or PlayStation. They just want to convince you to also get a Switch, which they probably did quite successfully. But the same is also true for the others, even if to a slightly lesser extent. So whether you consider Microsoft or Sony to have won their perceived war, there’s no need to shed any tears for the loser. Both will do just fine and come out ahead because of their attendance at E3 2017.

Winner: Games media

Games media are, of course, a perennial winner. And it’s not just because of all the free food and parties. E3 drives massive web traffic and ad impressions, the very foundation on which the modern enthusiast press is built.Therefore, we do everything we can to drive up the hype and the endless discussion. Endless pre-show discussion and post-show debate extends their venue bump by weeks. Consider this article to be self-aware on that front.

But keep in mind that this is much of where the endless debate about winners and losers comes from and this is where much of fanboyism is born. We feed on it, and so we cultivate it. You’ll see all sorts of debate pieces on this site and others. Because the more people read opinion pieces and debate their favourite consoles and games on these websites, the more the gaming media wins. Predictions, hopes, analysis, awards, the good, the bad, the ugly. Click click click.

Maybe you don’t agree with me? Tell me in the comments below!

Winner: Marketing, advertising and PR firms

A fairly obvious one, but it deserves to be said. Marketing,advertising and PR firms are easily the biggest pure winners of E3. This is their event through and through. If you’ve ever attended E3, you know that the money spent on marketing is astronomical. It’s much more than what you see on the streams. From the over-the-top parties to the paid models to the huge media outreach to the ostentatious floor displays, there is no shortage of cash to be made by the savvy marketing firm. E3 2017 was no exception.

Losers: E3 and the ESA

It may sound strange to assert that E3 and the ESA, which hosts the show, is a loser. They run the show because it’s profitable, after all.And, very likely, it continues to be. But I put them in this category because E3 2017 suggests that the future of the show may be in some jeopardy. This is the first year they’ve opened the show to the general public, which has received mixed reactions from both media and those who shelled out for a public pass. It was also a lukewarm year for news, and it’s obvious that many of the attendees are holding announcements for later events.

E3 is therefore at a bit of a turning point. It long ago lost its primary function as a trade-show and instead turned into a media event. But the foundations of that are cracking. Publishers and developers now regularly make major announcements at other shows, and some have even started their own. Sony has its PlayStation Experience, Blizzard has BlizzCon, and even Destiny has its own event. Nintendo E3 conference is just another Nintendo Direct, which can come out several times a year. The need for a single media event in the middle of the year is no longer clear, if it ever was.

Opening the door to the public may be the beginning of moving the show towards a more consumer-facing event. But if E3 goes that way, it’s facing strong existing competition from the many other existing gaming events like PAX and even comic expos. And it’s not clear it can do any better than them.

I’m by no means suggesting that E3 will fade away in the short term. But unless the ESA figures out what the future of E3 is and delivers it well, it’s unlikely to remain as large or as important as it was.

Losers: Indie game developers

E3 is all about big money, which is something most indie developers don’t have. While Devolver Digital did put on a brilliant prerecorded “press conference,” indie games hardly made a mark on the show. They’re usually relegated to a small part of the show floor, and are barely seen in the major press conferences, but for a few short glimpses.

Thus, while E3 can be an opportunity for some indie developers to show off their games, by and large the show serves to create the impression that they’re not an important part of the industry and that consumers should overlook most of them. The message sent by the ESA to indie developers is pretty clear: this isn’t for you.

Losers: PC developers

Because of the enormous presence of the major console manufacturers, the PC gets pretty short shrift at E3. Even the major multiplatform games are largely advertised on the consoles due to the money being thrown behind them by those companies. In some cases, such as BioWare’s Anthem this year, a console manufacturer shows off more of the game at its press conference than the publisher itself.

For PC gamers, this means almost zero focus on the PC. This is only made worse by the fact that neither Blizzard nor Valve (owner of Steam)make any serious showing at E3. Of course, even PC-only games are present at E3, but their booths tend to be fairly humble in comparison to the console games.

To make up for this skew towards consoles, PC Gamer has, over the past few years, valiantly put on its own PC Gaming Show. But as this is put on by a media organisation and not the marketing forces themselves, it’s a more low-key affair with few announcements and a commensurately lower viewership.

Like with indie developers, PC developers tend to be overshadowed and have their potential customer bases pushed towards the console market. It’s ultimately a missed opportunity to remind the gaming public that the PC remains the most powerful gaming platform and the one with the greatest development ecosystem.

Winner and Loser: Gamers

In the end, gamers are both winners and losers of E3. Gamers are winners because E3 is an entertaining spectacle, and it can be a ton of fun to watch. It brings out major news and announcements, which are the lifeblood of gaming culture. And, of course, it helps drive the financial success of the gaming industry, which means more games for gamers to enjoy.

But E3 has its negatives. The event is largely an exercise in manufacturing hype. And while hype can be fun, it’s also the force that allows companies to push pre-orders and on-disc DLC. It’s what allows companies to getaway with onerous micro transactions and season pass models. E3, in its broadest sense, is an ad for games complete with direct calls to action. How many times did someone tell you that you can pre-order now? And what have they shown you to convince you to pre-order? A trailer that probably won’t represent the final game, a paid YouTube “influencer” telling you it’s great, and an $800 collector’s edition package? Part of being a mature gamer is the ability to resist that hype and demand a real product for your money, not just empty promises.

In that way, whether you’re an E3 winner or loser is up to you.

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