It’s been four years since I last walked into the chaotic bowels of E3. At the time, the Nintendo Revolution was announced as the “Wii” and the Sony PSP still looked it could be a contender. We even thought Huxley had a chance of seeing the light of day.
The following year E3 was gutted and left for dead on a San Diego pier. Not willing to spend a ton of money on a convention that didn’t want visitors anymore, I’ve bided my time and waited to see if E3 would ever get back to being the all-encompassing event that it used to be. With an estimated 40,000 visitors this year (still 20,000 shy of the 2006 attendance numbers) I’d say a happy medium has been found. While not quite the crushing mob we’re used to, it’s more than enough to ensure that most of the major publishers will want to put their best foot forward.
Even as I shove my passport into my travel bag, I still wonder if there’s any point in being there. A site like GWJ doesn’t exactly thrive on breaking news and hot scoops. We’ll be seeing the same thing everyone else does. So why bother? The people sitting at home will probably see more of the games than I will and every major press conference will be streamed in high definition. All this without the press of bodies, the sore feet, the lines and the hordes of nerds standing in packs and being whipped into a frenzy by booth babes tossing a few free t-shirts.
So why take a week off my day job and go? As a gamer, I think there’s a great deal of value in actually holding the controller and playing something for myself. There’s also the thrill of being completely blindsided by something cool that no one else is really talking about. The Witcher is a prime example -- I would never have cottoned to if I hadn’t seen it for myself.
There’s also a certain vibe you can’t pick up without being there. While PAX has rightfully usurped E3 as the gamer community convention of choice, there are plenty of friends of colleagues at the show that I’ll never see otherwise. Running into people you know and sharing hot tips on what games to check out is a bit like treasure hunting. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but it’s fun in an adult, Easter egg hunting sort of way.
Finally, it’s all about the context. It’s one thing to play a game at home and enjoy the end result. It’s a rare opportunity to talk to a passionate developer about what they’re trying to accomplish while the work is still ongoing. Like most aspects of E3; it’s not essential to enjoying the hobby, but it sure helps.