Both Activision and Electronic Arts (EA) will still be at the event but will have meeting rooms not booths at E3, the annual event that brings industry people and consumers to Los Angeles to preview new gaming technology and upcoming titles. For EA, this is a return to E3 after not having any presence at the event for the past few years.
EA is skipping a press conference this year as well, putting its efforts behind EA Play instead. EA Play is a live-streamed event happening June 7 to 9 at the Hollywood Palladium– just days ahead of E3 2019, which is coming June 10 to 13 to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Two major games publishers forgoing a showfloor presence raise volume on the ongoing question of E3’s relevance, particularly as game maker Sony publicly opted to forgo E3 entirely this year. Even Nintendo will hold a Nintendo Direct, a video presentation, and not a live press conference– though Nintendo will still be on the show floor.
The decreasing interest from games publishers and developers means there’s more space on the show floor, which means empty space but also some perhaps less-expected exhibitors. A sizable booth (comparable to the size of SEGA’s) is labeled the “College Game Competition / Gaming Lifestyle Pavilion,” for example. Across from that, there’s a vaguely named “E3 Esports Zone,” suggesting that the ESA could be filling the space with more flash and frills than substance.
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The seemingly lackluster showfloor comes as questions arise about whether it makes sense for ESA to split its energies between lobbying on behalf of the video game industry and running a major trade show. And this isn’t the first time the question has been raised.
Currently, the ESA says it has a contract with the LA Convention Center through 2023 to hold E3 there, though the association has broken its contract with the LACC in the past.
E3 is an integral part of the ESA, not just because of the publicity that the show provides the game industry, but also the money it provides the ESA. According to the association’s 2016 non-profit 990 tax filing, the most recent filing with the IRS, the trade show made up about 48% of the ESA’s entire annual budget (which comes out to about $34.8 million) that year.
The other major part of ESA’s budget — about 37% — comes from the dues paid by ESA’s 42 member companies. Variety reached out to all 42 to ask what their thoughts are on the current state of the ESA and E3. Several of the nearly dozen companies that agreed to comment voiced concerns about the show and its organizers.
The ESA is also still recovering from the fallout after the departure of its past president, Mike Gallagher. EA and Activision’s backing out may be a sign the organization will need to find a new way to make its flagship event maintain its relevance when games companies are finding their own alternatives.