Trimmed-Down E3 Gaming Event May Be Better for Advertisers, or Not

With mixed reaction from the industry, the Electronic Software Association (ESA) put a lid on the annual videogame preview extravaganza known as Electronic Entertainment Expo, usually called E3. As the July 11 date of the event approaches, show veterans anticipate a calmer environment to conduct business.

Each May for the past few years, the Los Angeles Convention Center has pulsed with the sound of gunfire, explosions, techno music, and even military helicopters with marines repelling from ropes. In addition to computers, consoles and supporting equipment, the building spilled over with cars and armored vehicles, lines of video game fans waiting for autographs, booth babes, hordes of journalists and hundreds of retailers. Advertising agency executives and representatives from brands also began attending the show to preview titles for possible product placement or dynamic advertising.

This year the excess is gone. E3, now known as the E3 Media & Business Summit, will move down the road from downtown Los Angeles to a string of hotels lining the beaches of nearby Santa Monica, and a software showcase in Barker Hangar. The attendee list is strictly invite-only and substantially smaller than in recent years. The ESA did not respond to ClickZ’s request to learn the number of attendees for the 2007 summit.

The attendee roster is an exclusive list hand-picked by game publishers and the ESA. Advertising industry representatives made the cut, and some say the cutbacks might be the break the business side of E3 needs to support deal-making.

“I expect this to be more productive — less noise around, less traffic,” OMD group director and gaming leader Dario Raciti told ClickZ News.

Since the show is spread across several area hotels, instead of a single location, along with the larger Barker Hangar where exhibitors can display showcase titles, some of the logistics may not facilitate multiple meetings.

Exhibitor requirements to occupy hotel suites, and a number of the same hotel’s rooms caused a shortage of accommodations for general attendees. One source said “I tried to book two months ago. All the hotel rooms [in Santa Monica] were booked. The closest I could get was Hollywood. You would think this year [since] there are less people, it would be less difficult.”

Despite mixed opinions on the show’s new direction, it is expected to support a better atmosphere for advertisers and other business attendees. Thom Kozik, U.S. president of gaming search engine Wazap.com, which recently opened to the U.S. market, will attend the show more as an observer this year. He said the opportunity lends itself to more business conversation, and he expects executives to be able to get more business done.

On the flipside, “Are the decision makers going to be there? That’s the risk,” Kozik said.

For advertisers and agency reps, there might be more exposure to publishers in the more structured atmosphere. OMD’s Raciti said he received invites to attend all press conferences, and to meet with publishers he’s not talked to previously. “I got more invitations this year than in the past. I guess they have less people, so they want to meet with as many as possible.”

The exposure may be greater in the Santa Monica setting, but the mid-July timing breaks the pattern established since the early days of in-game advertising. “July may be too late for early 2008 games,” said Raciti. “We’re nearing the timeline where things are wrapped up.”

“I am hoping to get a first look at some new demos for upcoming titles, early versions or levels for titles coming out in [late] 2007 and 2008,” Raciti said.

What’s also lost is the chance meetings in the hallways of the LA Convention Center recalled by Kozik. Overall, he said, “The jury is still out” on whether E3 will succeed in its new format.

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