E3 07: Gut Reactions

Find out what the GameSpot editors thought about the new E3!

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E3 2007 will always be known as the show where everything changed. It's the year when the show transformed itself from a bloated exhibition-booth arms race into an intimate "Media & Business Summit." E3 2006 was too big and too expensive to repeat. The new invitation-only event moved from the massive Los Angeles Convention Center to a small collection of hotels, as well as a tiny exhibition hanger in nearby Santa Monica, and reduced attendance by almost 90 percent. We won't know what the future of E3 will be for a couple of months, but we know much more now that the show is over. We asked our editors to tell us about what they thought of the new E3.

Brian Ekberg | Senior Editor, Sports

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Who cares where you have to go to play LittleBigPlanet? The trip will be worth it, regardless.
Who cares where you have to go to play LittleBigPlanet? The trip will be worth it, regardless.
Two weeks ago, you'd have been hard-pressed to find someone more skeptical than me about the retooled E3. In fact, my contribution to our "E3 Predictions" feature was cut from the final product because it painted such a downbeat portrait of the new game show. I think that was partially a function of nobody--and I mean nobody--having a complete understanding of what the new E3 was going to be about, how it was going to work, who and what was going to be there, as well as a hundred other unanswered questions that left many of us scratching our heads in anxious bewilderment. Having spent last week in the thick of things at Santa Monica, I can say that, for the most part, my skepticism was completely unwarranted. In fact, I'd dare say I had a great time at E3.

Naturally, the surroundings had a lot to do with it. Sunny, breezy Santa Monica is a far cry from the too-loud, too-hot, too-crammed confines of the LA Convention Center. Because GameSpot's HQ was set smack-dab in the middle of all the action, it made getting from one hotel appointment to the next a snap, though I did hear a lot of complaints about the shuttle system.

But in the end, location and transportation don't matter nearly as much as the games that are being shown. You could have put games like LittleBigPlanet, Rock Band, or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in the middle of a reeking garbage barge listing idly in Long Beach Harbor, but I would still be chomping at the bit to own and play them all. And that's always been the case with the best E3s; even as far back as when I attended my first show in sweltering, sweaty Atlanta. With great games on hand, you can ignore the stifling convention center confines of years past or the bikini-clad volleyball players on Muscle Beach in 2007. OK, not so much the latter, but you get the idea.

As I told a colleague I ran into while walking to an appointment on Thursday: If the worst thing that happens to you during the week of E3 is the risk of sunburn, things are probably going OK. I don't know if E3 will be back next year--it's up to the folks that run the show (and the companies that choose to take part). Still, despite the changes, E3 07 managed to keep the focus squarely on the games. In that sense, mission accomplished.

Justin Calvert | Senior Editor

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I didn't see all of the games I would've liked to, but Fable 2 was definitely a highlight.
I didn't see all of the games I would've liked to, but Fable 2 was definitely a highlight.

I have very mixed feelings about this year's E3. On the one hand, I feel like the whole experience of working there as an editor was more pleasant and productive than in previous years. On the other hand, the only games I really got to see were those that I was assigned to cover, so I definitely feel like I missed out. Sure, I got to play Fable 2 for a little while, but I didn't even catch a glimpse of Halo 3, Killzone 2, Burnout Paradise, or many of the other upcoming games that I'm looking forward to trying out.

Assuming that there's another E3 next year, which I'm sure there will be, I think the organizers would do well to borrow some ideas from both the Tokyo Game Show and the Leipzig Games Convention. Those shows can both feel a bit like the E3 expos of old at times, but they're not on quite the same huge scale. Crucially, they also do a good job of catering both to those of us who have jobs to do and to the entry-fee-paying public. Having a media-only day before opening up the doors to the rabid fanboy horde should be a given at this kind of thing, but the most I can ever remember the E3 organizers doing was letting us in an hour or two early on the first day.

If I could change anything about this year's E3, it would simply be to have the show floor closer to the numerous hotels where companies were hosting meetings and giving "behind closed doors" presentations because I didn't have an opportunity to visit the Barker Hangar show floor. Although I'm almost certainly in the minority where the media is concerned, I'm sure that plenty of PR people and other attendees who were more or less tied to their companies' hotel suites would've loved an opportunity to duck out for a short time to see what everyone else was up to as well.

Was E3 2007 a success? I daresay the answer will vary wildly depending on whom you talk to about it. For GameSpot I'm sure that it was, and for me personally this was certainly one of the best shows that I've been a part of. The game lineup was arguably the best of any E3 to date; Santa Monica certainly beats a crowded downtown Los Angeles Convention Center; and I don't think the booth babes, the nerd stampedes, the giant swag-filled shoulder bags or the poorly designed free T-shirts will be missed by anyone who really has business being at E3 in the first place. I'm bummed that I didn't get to see all of the games I would've liked, but checking out my colleagues' stuff from the show is the next best thing.

Matthew Rorie | Game Guides Editor

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Meet the new E3: the same, but different.
Meet the new E3: the same, but different.

E3 has been, for me, a welcome diversion from the rest of the year. I get to travel for work just enough for it to be enjoyable. Unlike previews editors, who go on what seems like dozens of trips a year, I manage to make just one or two business-related trips a year, which is fine by me. Thus, E3 has been the constant summer break for me, and despite the fact that it's always hard work, it's also a good opportunity to do something other than sit in the office all day long.

From that perspective, E3 07 was definitely the best E3 experience I've had yet. Compared to the cramped, hot confines of the LA Convention Center, the expansive (but still hot) beaches of Santa Monica were a refreshing change. (Although I've never seen so many ostentatious forearm tattoos.) The process of tracking down appointments was also much improved. Instead of attempting to bowl over the hordes of GameStop cashiers to get to a kiosk, most of my appointments were set up ahead of time and were simple one-on-one demos with the developers. As such, it was a lot easier to ask questions and get good information for the write-ups. While the bags full of loot seem to have gone by the wayside, that's not too disappointing to me because I mostly turned down the freebies in the past; the free bottles of water that were on hand at most of the hotels were a far superior giveaway.

But on top of the various physical amenities, it seems as though the extra couple of months that the developers had to create their demos worked to the advantage of everyone: The games appeared to be a bit more polished (for instance, Halo 3 is only a couple months away from being released); thus, the videos were nicer, the stage demos more informative, and we didn't have to politely avoid writing about awful, buggy builds that we sometimes saw at past E3s.

That said, it wasn't all perfect. It was annoying to get to Barker Hangar, and I only had to go once. It didn't make a lot of sense to have it so far away from the hotels where the main action was unless it was intended to be some kind of diversion for any party-crashers that attempted to show up. Finding your way around some of the huge hotels was also pain because there were rarely any good maps or signage to point you where you needed to go.

I hope E3 does happen again next year. I think it still serves a purpose for publishers and the media, plus the year just wouldn't feel the same without it. I'm not going to cry over the loss of the huge shows of years past; they were unmanageable and annoying, for the most part. The new format is great, and hopefully the ESA will iron out the kinks to come back next year with an even better show.

Brad Shoemaker | Senior Editor

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Barker Hangar: E3 without the fat.
Barker Hangar: E3 without the fat.

The ESA had one goal for E3 this year, which I'd paraphrase as: Make the show more accessible for the people who need to work and do business there. Cutting the number of attendees was certainly a necessary step especially because the vast majority of people at E3 weren't there strictly for business. This year, for the first time ever, I waited no more than five minutes to play any game, even some of the biggest games at the conference. Seeing and playing games efficiently is crucial when you have six or seven appointments to cover in a single day of the show. I'm one of the few editors at GameSpot who never made it to Barker Hangar, but it sounds like it was even easier to get a grip on the scene over there.

While E3 may have taken two steps forward in terms of attendance, it took at least a good step back with regard to its physical layout. I never realized how convenient it was for every relevant piece of E3 to be located underneath the roof of the LA Convention Center. At least, not until they spread E3 out among a relatively remote airplane hangar, a high school, some studios in Culver City, and half-a-dozen hotels scattered along the Santa Monica shoreline. There were simply too many press conferences, meetings, and interviews going on for things to be spread out so far apart. If they moved all these shenanigans into one medium-sized convention space--oh, I don't know, let's say San Francisco's Moscone Center just for the sake of argument--and retained this year's new format, we might actually have a winner on our hands.

Actually, my biggest question isn't how E3 should work, it's whether we need E3 at all. Publishers now routinely hold their own events to showcase their individual lineups, which works better for them because they don't compete with other publishers for headline space. Those events also work better for the media because there are fewer games to worry about at one time, allowing for more in-depth coverage. And with both the Leipzig event and Tokyo Game Show looming in just a few weeks, E3 is in an awkward position. This year's show was successful enough for me to think there will be an E3 next year, but the ESA needs to apply a couple of more coats of polish before E3 is ideal.

Jeff Gerstmann | Editorial Director

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Burnout's car crashes are one of many reasons why this year's E3 was one of the best yet.
Burnout's car crashes are one of many reasons why this year's E3 was one of the best yet.

It's a real shame that the big thing most people will remember about this year's E3 is that it was different than the previous shows. Sure, it was pretty weird in a few spots, and it definitely seemed extremely unorganized in more than a few spots, but the real stand-outs at this year's show were the games themselves. I've been to every E3 they've had so far, and I'm having trouble thinking of a past year that had so many high-quality games. Of course, my memory's shot, so maybe that has something to do with it.

But for real, we saw stuff like Burnout Paradise, Mercenaries 2, Ratchet & Clank Future, Call of Duty 4, Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band, BioShock, Mass Effect, and Killzone 2 at the show this year. And those, along with plenty of others, all look like games I'll absolutely have to purchase the minute they're made available. It felt like every time I turned my head, or every time we went from one stage demo to the next, I was staring down another great-looking game that I knew I'd want to play.

The press conferences, by comparison, were really weak. Microsoft leaned heavily on a lot of the third-party games we'd be seeing over the next couple of days while bringing out an executive that sounded like he had just stepped off the set of an infomercial. Is the green Xbox 360 going to come with a set of steak knives? Nintendo focused on Wii Fit and that goofy-looking Zapper thing, when all anyone watching live from home wanted to see was Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Sony brought out Chewbacca, which just felt embarrassing. At least Sony had the Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer and the PSP redesign announcement. The PSP announcement seemed totally crazy at the time--looking at pictures of it, or seeing some guy standing up on a stage holding it, it doesn't look any different. I thought maybe someone had passed him the wrong unit or something. But actually holding one makes it all make sense. Against my better judgment, I'll probably pick one up.

As for the show structure, I don't really have many complaints. The changes definitely threw a lot of game publishers off balance, and many of them tried to compensate by having more private events to show games off to the press ahead of time. I think the two things that will need to change next year--and yes, there should most definitely be a next year--is that the show needs to move back to May to help separate it from the other big events, and that everything needs to all be under one roof, not spread across a ton of hotels. You know, I hear San Francisco's Moscone Center is a nice place to hold an event...

What did you think of E3 2007? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

James Yu | Senior Hardware Editor

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It doesn't matter if 5,000 people attend the show instead of 60,000 people. Our coverage is the same to everyone watching and reading at home.
It doesn't matter if 5,000 people attend the show instead of 60,000 people. Our coverage is the same to everyone watching and reading at home.
E3 will always be E3 as long as Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony keep on giving press conferences. It will also be E3 as long as all the publishers keep on bringing out their best games to the show. From a content perspective, this year's show wasn't a whole lot different from last year's show. Our visitors could watch all three press conferences live, as well as check out hands-on previews, screenshots, and videos for all the biggest games at the show. This year's games were even better than last year's games. BioShock, GameSpot's E3 Game of Show from 2006, looked great once again but ran into some serious competition with LittleBigPlanet, Halo 3, Rock Band, Call of Duty 4, Fallout 3, Super Mario Galaxy, and Crysis, which all made very impressive showings.

My favorite part of E3 was being able to glance over at what was happening on our own live stage show while sitting in the upstairs editorial area. I stood up and walked to the railing several times to get a better view of games while they were doing live stage demos. Did you see those nukes in World in Conflict? The E3 Live team did a fantastic job of bringing the entire show to the set. I bet that anyone who watched all three days of our live coverage from home saw more great games than any single GameSpot editor was able to see at the event.

I'm sure a few of us will miss the spectacle of the old show, but I loved how much easier it was to move around at the reconfigured E3. It was refreshing to walk down the street from hotel to hotel instead of wading through a throng of sweaty exhibition-goers to get to meetings. Media lines were short, meetings weren't rushed, and you could actually find a quiet place to talk if you wanted to do a quick interview.

People on the business side were also adjusting to the smaller attendance number, but I didn't hear any grumblings about it when I interviewed Steve Nix, id software's director of business development. When I asked him about how the id Tech 5 engine meetings were going, he told me that "We've more than accomplished our goals for this E3," despite the fact that there were a lot fewer developers attending this year's event.

Kevin VanOrd | Community Coordinator

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Everyday Shooter: A diamond in the rough.
Everyday Shooter: A diamond in the rough.

I didn't get to see a lot of big games in person at this year's E3. I focused on smaller games and cult games, which is the stuff that usually got overlooked in past E3s. Sure, that often meant seeing some less than impressive games. But it also meant I got a chance to see the diamonds in the rough that I often missed in the past. This was either because it was hard to talk to developers and reps on a noisy show floor or because they were shoved away in the back of Kentia Hall.

From the selfish perspective of someone who wanted a chance to play Crysis or see Mass Effect up close and personal, I was disappointed. Because venues were spread out, I spent time between appointments walking from hotel to hotel rather than tooling around with games I wasn't covering on a central show floor. From the working perspective, on the other hand, I was thrilled. The less-noisy venue meant that I could hear what developers and publishers really had to say about their products. It also meant I could hear something that was often missing in years past: true passion. When you hear the sincere excitement in developers' voices, it makes it easier to respect their drive and vision--even when the vision is a spelling game for the PSP or a coloring-book simulator on the DS.

That isn't to say I didn't hear rumblings from companies that missed the carnival sideshow that culminated with E3 2006. Some folks actually felt that smaller developers got the short end of the stick this year. This was either because they didn't get as much exposure or because there was a greater financial burden involved. I understand that, but the defeatist attitude I heard in some quarters was disheartening. We went to the event knowing it would be whatever we made out of it. If everyone had done the same, E3 2007 would have been an unbridled success. As it is, the whining of some made me less than excited to play their games. The games that stood out to me were represented by folks that didn't let the smaller crowds and fewer neon lights diminish their enthusiasm for the show.

In the end, E3 2007 should have been a win-win for everyone. Bringing our readers a closer look at the games they care about was easier than ever. The only thing that really held E3 back was the contingent of folks that chose to complain rather than celebrate gaming on a different scale. After all, if you aren't excited about showing us your game at E3, why should we be excited about playing it?

Randolph Ramsay | Editor, GameSpot AU

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E3 07: Not much of an international party.
E3 07: Not much of an international party.

E3 still has plenty of games and plenty of announcements to wade through, but for an international games journo like little ol' me (hailing all the way from Sydney, Australia), there was definitely a strong vibe that this new E3 is a North America-only show. Of course, E3 has always been a US-focused show, but previous E3s have had more of a multinational vibe, with developers big and small from all around the world making some sort of appearance. For example, Australia was often well-represented (despite our smallish industry size compared to the US and the UK), with several of our leading developers making the trek as a show of force. In recent years, the Game Developers Association of Australia (GDAA) then usually banded the smaller ones together into one Australia-themed booth. This year, Australian attendees could be counted on one hand. (For example, Krome was around with the new Viva Piñata game.)

But while the international focus may be sadly lacking from recent years, that hasn't diluted the sheer amount of games being shown off by the major players. Sure, there weren't as many new announcements as in previous years, but E3 is still the place to come if you want to get your hands on the biggest upcoming games. The vast reduction in attendee numbers this year--from 60,000 in 2006 to about 5,000 in 2007--also meant that, more often than not, game journalists got easier access to and spent more time with the games they needed to cover. Having only a handful of journos in a hotel suite looking at a game certainly beat having to line up for hours to get time with a game (as happened with Nintendo's massively popular booth at last year's E3).

Publishers also seemed a little more relaxed about the whole thing. Journos were being herded into their sessions in much more manageable numbers, meaning they were able to plug whatever features they wanted to plug and know they weren't wasting their time. However, one publisher complaint was that the segmented nature of the new E3 meant it was a lot more difficult to check out (or in other words, spy on) what their competitors' games were looking like.

Aaron Thomas | Associate Editor

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Rock Band had Joe and I pondering if we should quit our day jobs to go out on the road.
Rock Band had Joe and I pondering if we should quit our day jobs to go out on the road.

You've certainly heard the complaints about E3 2007, but I'm comfortable saying that I really liked it. Sure, it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. I was one of the few people that went to Barker Hangar all three days, and I personally found it refreshing to be able to play the games I needed to play without waiting in some huge line. Not having to yell or scream over some company's ridiculously loud trailer loop was also refreshing.

The quantity of games might have been somewhat lacking, but there were some great games at the show. And really, wouldn't you rather have our coverage focused on a few-dozen great games than get watered-down coverage of an extra hundred or two so-so games? I can't remember the last show that had this many top-notch games: Rock Band, BioShock, Mass Effect, Burnout Paradise, Call of Duty 4, LittleBigPlanet, Mario Galaxy, Mercenaries 2...the list goes on and on. It's rare for a game to get us editors all giddy with anticipation, but Rock Band got us all psyched up and left us wanting more when it was all over. I've never sung in front of anyone in my entire life, but not only did Rock Band get me up on stage with a mic in my hand, but the experience was so much fun that I shared it in my blog. LittleBigPlanet looked hot too. I can't believe we have to wait another year for it. Grrrr.

But as good as the show was, I got the sense that this was a "last hurrah" of sorts. I overheard a lot of people--publishers, PR reps, writers for other sites--who disliked the new format. I agree that the hangar was too far away, and yes, it was tough trying to nail down where specific games were, but if you iron out those few problems, the show did just what it was supposed to do: Show people in the industry the year's upcoming games in a (relatively) central location with as little aggravation as possible. The problem is some people liked E3 the way it was, some people liked it in this year's format, and some people hate both. I don't know how you solve that problem.

What will next year's show be like? Will there be a show next year? I really don't know, but I hope so.

What did you think of E3 2007? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

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