E3 (i.e. Electronic Entertainment Expo) is upon us once again this next week, where gamers, journalists, developers, publishers and their “booth babes” come together to show off the latest, greatest video games people will enjoy later in the year for home consoles and PC – all minus arcade games. The event is described by the show organizers as “the world’s premier trade show for computer and video games and related products” and arcades fit into that category, yet it is quite rare for a coin-op game to make an appearance at the show. Here I want to share my thoughts about E3 and share my opinion as to why I think the arcade industry should be featuring content at this event as opposed to ignoring it completely in favor of our own trade shows that receive a mere fraction of media attention that E3 does. Here’s why:
As far as I am aware, there has been very little arcade support for E3 since it began in the 90’s. There are no rules against arcades showing up at the event as far as I am aware – arcades are still video games, just in a different format if you will. And on rare occasion the rule has been broken, such as last year when Namco America took their Pac-Man Battle Royale machine to an after-E3 party. For many of those who went to that event, PMBR quickly jumped to the top of their list for Game of the Show, even though it wasn’t on the show floor. That gave the game a big boost in attention in gaming circles that it otherwise would have not had.
E3 is a great opportunity to show new arcade products to our “base”. In politics, the politician first has to get their base voters excited (people who usually pay attention to the political game and what is going on, they eat the stuff up in a manner of speaking) and then they go for everyone else who isn’t automatically on their side. If the base is fired up, that energy spills over to other people who might not otherwise care and it can get that politician elected. If the base isn’t enthusiastic about the candidate, they have a harder time pulling out a win and they either loose or cut it very close. Obviously there are more variables involved in elections than that but the basic idea is that you ignore your base at your own peril. E3 attracts the base of the video gaming industry and It is true that the arcade industry typically attracts people who are labeled as “casual gamers”, people who play for fun now and then but it’s not imperative that they spend 8 hours a day playing a particular game. Casual gamers are not “the base” in video games but they do represent a large portion of consumers who spend some of their hard-earned cash on interactive entertainment. The base we are looking at happens to the hardcore gamer, someone who really pays attention to what is going on in the world of games, they spend a lot of money on purchasing games, consoles, accessories, etc. to build the perfect experience that suits their tastes. They accept hype very easily and don’t mind spreading that to others they know who happen to be casual gamers, who will then take that positive hype with them as they keep a look out for the game(s) they heard about. Excitement behind a video game product always begins with the hardcore base and spreads from there(likewise disappointment and criticism). This base does have subdivisions too, of dedicated fans of the products of a particular company. Not to mention that in 2010 45,600 people attended the event in 2010, which is nearly twice that attend IAAPA on average.
So back to E3. It’s an event that plays to the base, it tosses them bone after bone giving them what they want for the future of gaming. Numerous websites of varied kinds cover the event and for several days it’s the only thing reported on in gaming circles. Companies hold lavish press conferences which are often self-indulging and ridiculous but throngs of people hang on to every word a company executive says. The big announcements come out of these events and that quickly spreads out to everyone else who may not be paying particular attention to the event but when a hot new game console or AAA video game is shown off for the first time at these events, it’s not long before everyone with media access hears about it. Perhaps its all a bit too hedonistic but one thing is undeniable – it’s a perfect marketing operation as the base will evangelize the products they are interested in. Word-of-mouth has always been effective in spreading arcade interest but it needs a spark to get started and a big media event E3 is an excellent environment for fostering that method of marketing.
If you don’t believe me that we’re missing an opportunity with this show, just take a look at the current E3 website. Each game is given some attention from trailers to press releases and journalist outlets ready to report the latest game announcement at the drop of a hat. All of this is tied into social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter where thousands of gamers receive constant updates about what is taking place.
One argument against arcades appearing at E3 could be that they would get lost in the hype that the the studios expend on their console products. It also won’t be as effective if the company makes little effort to promote beyond bringing the game to the venue. Everyone is competing for attention and this presents a challenge. My take on the situation is that it’s not difficult for arcade games to stand out in an expo setting. The games have been designed from the ground up to grab a customer’s attention in the middle of a cacophony of sights and sound in an entertainment venue. At recent events like the Penny Arcade Expo, several console developers actually made their own arcade cabinets for showing off their products, the perfect kiosk. Show attendees flocked to see the games being presented in a unique way from the typical boring kiosks that have a TV and gamepad attached to pole. These arcade cabinets didn’t even have the same level of polish that a professional arcade company brings to their design and they still turned heads. One of the highlights for a big expo like Comic-Con was Disney’s recreation of Flynn’s Arcade or for PAX East the addition of a classic arcade to the event by the American Classic Arcade Museum. Many people we find in the gamer base still have fond memories of classic arcade machines but they may have an impression that the only coin-op entertainment found these days is redemption, not realizing that there are still many great coin-op video games to play that have been created in modern times. But on top of all that, some pre-show announcements of which games will be found at the event would be very helpful, so that show attendees will already know to be on the look for coin-op games.
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT suggesting that we cancel Amusement Expo/IAAPA/EAG/AAMA Distributors Expo/etc. in favor of exclusively focusing on E3. The expos we hold annually are great and necessary for showing off products for operators and those operators are not very likely to show up at E3 and fight through the huge crowds of fanboys and journalists to see the products they are specifically interested in. I also completely understand that an expo of any kind is far from free – you have to pay for floor space, extra pay for employees who attend the show, shipping the products and setting them up, there are costs involved for printing materials, etc. One criticism of E3 in recent years is that it was becoming too big and expensive for each company to have to go through.
But in the case of several companies who already are at the show, why not take some of the company’s latest arcade titles to show off? Sega, Namco and Konami attend each E3 and have everything in place to make their booth work with those games. I understand that the difference between the home consumer and coin-op divisions within the same company are often stark, as they are almost completely different companies that share the same name. But it is still under the same parent wing and it should be fully possible to integrate arcade titles into the other content the company has to offer.
It can of course be more of a problem for companies who aren’t already set up for such an event, who don’t have a console arm of the enterprise working on swaying the masses towards their products. I would suggest to possibly have a combined booth put together by a representative organization that shows off the latest games from several coin-op companies (I would gladly put together an Arcade Heroes booth if I had the resources). I think this would be very effective in presenting our side of video game to people who don’t often hear or think about it and it’s a great opportunity to fire them up about it and spread that excitement to others who will then in turn seek out arcade entertainment near them (or perhaps be inspired to start up their own coin-op venue).