E3 morphs into a pub­lic­ity ex­trav­a­ganza by let­ting in up to 5,000 hard­core gamers for the first time

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By David Pier­son and Whip Vil­lar­real

Evan Thoro­good, bet­ter known in video gam­ing cir­cles as Race­boy77, has been on a tweet­ing rampage since he landed in Los An­ge­les to at­tend E3.

“Go­ing to E3 has been one of my dreams since I was a kid,” said Thoro­good, who tweeted a pic­ture of the Xbox goody bag filled with candy wait­ing for him in his com­pli­men­tary ho­tel room, his snap of a ticket to the Xbox news con­fer­ence and the selfie he took on the way to the Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter hash-tagged #XboxE3 and #Epic.

Un­til this year, the 22-year-old from Al­berta, Canada, was shut off from the gam­ing in­dus­try’s most im­por­tant an­nual event, which for its first 19 years had been closed to the public. Only jour­nal­ists, in­dus­try of­fi­cials and in­vestors were al­lowed to at­tend, rel­e­gat­ing hard­core fans like Thoro­good to fol­low up­dates online.

But con­ven­tion or­ga­niz­ers and game com­pa­nies are rec­og­niz­ing the power of their fans to pro­mote the $22-bil­lion in­dus­try with an au­then­tic voice. So for the first time, or­ga­niz­ers are al­low­ing up to 5,000 fans into the three-day con­ven­tion, which kicked off Tues­day, with the hope that their fol­low­ings on so­cial media will am­plify the expo’s reach.

“It’s another way to get the word out,” said Rich Tay­lor, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­dus­try af­fairs for E3’s or­ga­nizer, the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware Assn. “Open­ing the doors to a group of en­er­gized fans cre­ates more aware­ness.”

The evo­lu­tion un­der­scores E3’s trans­for­ma­tion from an event largely fo­cused on ink­ing or­ders from re­tail­ers to more of a pub­lic­ity ex­trav­a­ganza high­lighted by splashy an­nounce­ments of new games.

“E3 has changed from a place to go buy games to much more of an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of the in­dus­try where you can get free press,” said Mike Vorhaus, pres­i­dent of media re­search and con­sult­ing firm Magid Ad­vi­sors.

Tick­ets are not avail­able to the public (a three-day pass for ex­hibitors costs $995). In­stead, fans were se­lected by ex­hibitors, who were al­lot­ted a cer­tain num­ber of tick­ets by E3 or­ga­niz­ers. Ex­hibitors who paid for more floor space on the con­ven­tion floor re­ceived

more tick­ets for fans, Tay­lor said.

Sib­lings Domonic Moran and Des­tiny Moran of Santa Fe Springs had no idea that fans were be­ing al­lowed into E3 for the first time. They had al­ways dreamed of at­tend­ing, and couldn’t be­lieve their luck when they won tick­ets Sun­day to the con­ven­tion merely by stand­ing out­side the Nintendo World Cham­pi­onships gam­ing com­pe­ti­tion at the Mi­crosoft Theater at L.A. Live.

The first 50 in line got passes from Nintendo, 25year-old Domonic Moran said, “and we got there at 4 a.m.”

His sis­ter was so ec­static, she quit her job as a Sears sales­clerk rather than ex­plain to her boss why she needed three days off.

“I knew they wouldn’t un­der­stand if I said ‘E3,’ ” said Des­tiny Moran, 18. “They would have still made me come in.”

The two brought a small video cam­era to cap­ture their time at the con­ven­tion. They plan on up­load­ing the footage to their new YouTube chan­nel, Nin­ten­doInTime.

Another fac­tor driv­ing the change is that gam­ing com­pa­nies rarely wait un­til E3 to show­case games to ma­jor buy­ers like GameS­top or Wal-Mart any­more. In­stead, they give buy­ers ex­clu­sive looks well in ad­vance, which has opened up the op­por­tu­nity to de­vote part of the con­ven­tion to ap­peal­ing to the peo­ple who play the games, in­stead of the com­pa­nies that sell them.

“It doesn’t mean E3 is not im­por­tant,” said Pete Hines, vice pres­i­dent of public re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing for Bethesda Soft­works, a Rockville, Md., game maker be­hind pop­u­lar ti­tles such as “Doom” and “Fall­out.” “At the end of the day, pub­lish­ing games is a process. This event is one step in the path.”

E3 started in the base­ment of the In­ter­na­tional Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in 1995, when there was no trade show strictly fo­cused on video gam­ing. CES it­self has been re­think­ing its pur­pose, par­tic­u­larly as many of the largest tech com­pa­nies have sat out to avoid be­ing over­shad­owed by all of the news com­ing out of the mas­sive Las Ve­gas tech gath­er­ing.

In re­cent years, E3 has down­sized af­ter reach­ing 70,000 at­ten­dees in 2005 and ex­hibitors be­gan fear­ing the event was get­ting too crowded. The con­ven­tion had just 10,000 at­ten­dees in 2007 and was briefly held in Santa Mon­ica.

But the con­ven­tion is ramp­ing up once again, with an es­ti­mated 48,000 peo­ple ex­pected to at­tend this week. This year’s show is high­light­ing new tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tual and aug- mented re­al­ity, live-stream­ing plat­forms and mo­bile games.

With ea­ger fans roam­ing the ex­pan­sive trade show floor, gam­ing com­pa­nies have de­signed their booths to draw at­ten­tion. Bethesda dec­o­rated its f loor space with stat­ues of char­ac­ters from “Bat­tle­cry,” a mul­ti­player ac­tion game, and equip­ment from first­per­son shooter “Doom” to max­i­mize the In­sta­gram pic­tures and Face­book posts that they ex­pected at­ten­dees would post on so­cial media.

“Now it’s all about get­ting the word out there,” said Jake Strouckel, a spokesman for Per­for­mance De­signed Prod­ucts, a Bur­bank gam­ing ac­ces­sory maker. “It’s all about just shout­ing it from the rooftop.”

The strat­egy by E3 or­ga­niz­ers fol­lows the lead of de­vel­op­ers, who have long in­vited fans and gamers to their pre-con­ven­tion news con­fer­ences to spur en­thu­si­asm. Elec­tronic Arts, for ex­am­ple, in­vited hun­dreds of high school and col­lege stu­dents to its media brief­ing Mon­day.

“They like hav­ing the fans amp the floor up,” Vorhaus said. “So at press con­fer­ences you have peo­ple scream­ing, ap­plaud­ing, ooing and aahing.”

The at­mos­phere is not un­like Comic-Con with ac­tors dressed as zom­bies, and “Star Wars” Stormtroop­ers and a Mario brother walk­ing the f loor and pos­ing for pic­tures.

Thoro­good was in­vited to E3 by Turn 10 Stu­dios, which pro­duces his fa­vorite “Forza” mo­tor­sports video games. Xbox, which is owned by Mi­crosoft, paid for his flight to L.A. and put him up at the Sher­a­ton down­town.

“My dad used to say I should get out of the base­ment,” Thoro­good said about where he spends hours gam­ing. “Now he re­al­izes it’s a huge deal.”

David Young, as­sis­tant man­ager of public re­la­tions for Nintendo, said such fans are the com­pany’s sweet spot.

“This year we have been do­ing a lot more things with YouTu­bers across our YouTube chan­nel,” Young said. “We have a lot of fol­low­ers in that area so we brought in a lot of those folks.”

The in­tro­duc­tion of fans might change a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion on the last day of the con­ven­tion. That’s when at­ten­dees like Vorhaus have handed out their badges to young fans wait­ing out­side the event, hop­ing to get in.

“We al­ways did it with a wink and a nod,” Vorhaus said.

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

THE E3 AT­MOS­PHERE this year is not un­like Comic-Con with ac­tors dressed as zom­bies, and “Star Wars” Stormtroop­ers pos­ing for pic­tures. Above, an E3 at­tendee at a dis­play for “Halo 5: Guardians.”

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

LARGE CROWDS file into the L.A. Con­ven­tion Cen­ter on Tues­day, the first day of the three-day E3, the video game in­dus­try’s most im­por­tant an­nual event. An es­ti­mated 48,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend.

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