E3 Hype: Harmful or Helpful?

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 to its friends, started in 1995 as an industry trade show where developers, publishers and designers would showcase their products to entice retailer and investor buy-in to expand the reach and scope of their potential audience. It wasn’t the first trade show of this kind but it quickly became the most prominent for the video game industry.

E3’s rise in popularity was largely due to the press conferences held by major publishers such as Nintendo, Sony, Sega and SNK (remember, started in 1995) where they unveiled new hardware, software and their vision for the gaming future. Retailers were impressed, enjoyed the event and placed necessary orders but there was a different audience who was even more enthralled with the goings-on – gamers.

E3 provided a peek behind the curtain for the man on the street and quickly grew from just being a trade show to a multi-tiered event where Sony, Microsoft, Activision, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Nintendo and Square Enix tap directly into all spectrums of their consumer base. The robust amount of data released during the press conferences has grown to such extraordinary levels that large contributors in the industry pre-reveal portions in the weeks leading up to E3.

Does the constant stream of information entice eager fans to learn more and share the news or does it steal some of the thunder from the press conferences?



Anti-Leak Strategy

Helpful: Just like my dear old aunt Bertha was famous for saying, “Knowledge is power” (…what Google says it was Sir Francis Bacon? IDK…bacon sounds made up). NeoGaf, Reddit, 4chan and any user driven content site is able to sniff out datapoints, concealed documents and top secret memos before corporations can disseminate information to the public and/or these sites aren’t held to the same embargos as traditional outlets. By announcing new games, trailers and the E3 lineup weeks before the event, developers take back some of the power, plus they control how the audience discovers their messaging instead of a blurry cellphone pic.

Harmful: The pre-announcement ruins the surprise; earlier E3 conferences benefited from being the first time anyone heard of the games featured. It’s like having your presents sit under the tree unwrapped, yeah it sounds cool to know what you are going to get but you lose out on that moment of shock when what you thought was a box of socks turns out to be a cleverly concealed guitar. The momentum is lost during a press conference when the company basically re-announces their game is coming out which fans already heard about weeks before.

Getting it out of the Way

Helpful: A popular theory during the pre-E3 hype train is that companies are announcing the existence of games, certain features or creative shifts to save time during the conference for larger scale announcements. Each event does have a set deadline (typically 1 to 2 hours) and by removing some of the clutter from the line-up there is additional time to focus on the triple-A releases that will make headlines in non-gaming centric news outlets and score premium space on gaming sites.

Harmful: Sometimes the smaller announcements are repeated during the conference to reiterate their importance, but its just the same information coming up again which loses the impact. On the other hand, sometimes the time saved by announcing a mid-tier game isn’t used on anything that captures the interest of fans. Maybe the presentation would flow better if the developer discussed the expansion pack for a game instead of a new experimental tv show or the most realistic dog-physics captured for half an hour.

Repeat Messaging

Helpful: Showcasing what will be the core segment of the press conference can cause fans to rally their casual friends into a frenzy. Instead of having one or two viewers they will now have market penetration as the message is repeated over a longer period of time. This duplication from different sources is a vital key to the marketing strategy. A gamer is more likely to click on an E3 related headline when they remember hearing about it from a trusted source in the past. The click-through on the announcement means news outlets track the game as being more interesting, which means they will cover it more, which means more clicks and the strategy is a resounding success.

Harmful: The most hardcore of fans will have seen, heard or predicted the entire show lineup before it even has a chance to air. This means that the most plugged in segment of the audience is already aware of the announcement…which kind of has to make the developer wonder why they are having the press conference. The core mission of these events is to generate interest, but if people are already interested (or not) then the main punch of the event loses its effectiveness.


Helpful: The pre-information, talking points and release schedule before E3 serves as roadmap for fans to follow. The knowledgeable consumer will know what will be mentioned and already have an idea of what games won’t be covered. This sets defined boundaries and removes the need for wild assumptions such as Half-Life 3 will be revealed.

Harmful: Gamers are insatiable creatures who demand a constant stream of information. Many assume that if Ubisoft took the time to announce a new Assassin’s Creed before the conference it is because they have something even larger waiting in the wings to come out. Sometimes this is accurate, but usually it isn’t. Even if the conference is technically great and well planned, if there is a feeling of missed opportunities or unrealized forecasts than viewers will call it a failure because it didn’t live up to the impossibly high bar set in their minds.

One More Thing

It is imperative that the last message during the event isn’ known beforehand. This is the mic drop moment, the blitzkrieg offensive and the last thing that gamers will see before they go into their mental catalog of who won and lost E3. The closing game reveal must be a surprise for the conference to be a success; everything else can be a calculated maneuver and announced before the show but the “E3 victor” typically has the most sought after final moment (or lower price-point console reveal).

Regardless of who wins E3 from the developer side, fans are the ultimate victor. This conference might have started out as a trade show but it is has turned into a showcasing of the greatest portions of the industry, shining a national spotlight onto our electronic-hobby and is a megaton preview of the most anticipated experiences for years to come. E3 is an un-official gamer’s holiday and treated with the same collective excitement and energy as Christmas on the kindergarten playground.

What do you think about the pre-E3 announcement tactic? Do you think it detracts from the surprise of the event or do you find it a good strategy to build up momentum?

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