Sandbox Strategies’ PR team on the changing nature of gaming’s biggest show and how to get the most out of it
One of the first things the team here at Sandbox did after leaving E3 this year was sit down and talk about the show. Less about the biggest reveals or finest details of our individual projects, and more about the convention as a whole — how did it feel, how did it stand up to competing trade shows, how much value did our clients get for their time and resources spent?
E3 is fascinating to discuss in part because it has a history of making sweeping changes (and continues to do so). But it’s also increasingly expensive. And crowded. And so we spend a great deal of time in the months leading up to E3 working out how best to use clients’ resources, including asking whether those resources can be better spent on other opportunities.
This year’s E3 was different, to be sure. Walking the show floor, it was hard not to notice a weird vibe in the air, as if something was missing, especially with the empty spaces left by publishers who outright skipped the show (Sony) or set up shop in a venue next door with their own separate access rules (Microsoft, EA, Twitch). And that’s a feeling we found reflected by a number of journalists on social media.
Some of this is due to 2019 being a transition year for the industry as we wait for the new hardware we know is in development. But the ease and efficiency of digital communication has opened other competitive opportunities for the biggest publishers outside of E3 at a time when the costs of a physical presence at trade shows continue to rise every year.
E3 is clearly trying to diversify in the face of these changes, with greater space for influencers and esports, as well as paid access for public attendees, but it hasn’t figured out the best way to integrate these additions yet, contributing to a sense of identity crisis for the show. With decreased presence from the top publishers, long lines and split venues for those companies still there, and a general lack of programming catering to the public, it’s difficult to see what value fans get from paying to attend the show. If and when the novelty of ‘finally going to E3’ fades, this feels like a problem that will have to be resolved moving forward.
But as far as PR efforts are concerned, the vibe of the show floor is largely irrelevant: even if E3 feels diminished, the overwhelming concentration of press and public eyeballs still makes it tremendously valuable for game companies attending. At the end of the day, a good game will still get love at E3, and the biggest publishers holding back from the show only creates a better playing field for mid-tier publishers and indies with a slick demo and good media appointment management to get noticed.
Making the Most of Your E3 Presence
But while E3 is absolutely still worth it in the abstract, what has gotten harder is the threshold for what makes a game ‘worth’ taking to E3. Much of our E3 work begins months in advance with clients to decide whether it makes sense to attend the show for the game(s) at hand.
E3 can be a challenging show, and changes to the industry only make it tougher. With tighter resources and the increasing ease of watching and reporting from home, fewer media organizations are physically going to E3. With media less centralized in cities like New York and San Francisco, E3 is still a huge opportunity to get your game in front of a lot of press all at once. But with everyone seeking to get previews (increasingly harder to secure throughout the year) out of the show, it’s harder for any individual game to break through. Finding creative ways — like leveraging partnerships with other game companies — to elevate your game(s) above the noise is more important than ever.
If you’re considering bringing your game to E3, there are a number of questions you should be asking yourself far in advance. What are my goals and benchmarks for success? What is my budget? How many resources can I commit? How much hype and momentum is my game coming to E3 with? What is the quality of my demo build? My trailer? My booth? Who on my team is best trained to speak to this game in front of media? Does my company have multiple games that can be presented back-to-back in meetings with journalists to distribute expenses? What partners can I find to defray costs or raise my game’s profile? If I don’t go to E3, what other opportunities are available to me? Be honest with yourself during this process, because the media and fans won’t hesitate to do the same once you show your game.
If you’re a smaller developer with only one game and come to the conclusion it doesn’t make sense to make a big spend on E3, that’s okay! Other shows like PAX offer ways to gets fan and press to your booth with less expense. And today there are more ways than ever to ‘do’ E3 without spending tens of thousands on an expensive booth. Live productions like the PC Gaming Show and Kinda Funny Games Showcase offer ways to be seen without being on the show floor.
And ‘presenting’ is just one way to get value from E3. Register for an E3 industry pass and member and make contacts and meetings — the presence of so many publishers in one place can be an asset for indies trying to find partnerships, for example. Judging your reception and ROI on a show like E3 can be difficult, but ultimately, as with any venture, you can make the process easier by drilling down to what your objectives really are and deciding ahead of time how best to go after them.