E3 2017 shifts focus to more consumer-friendly spectacles

E3's yearslong transition from trade show to massive marketing blitz reached a turning point this year, as a crop of public tickets brought in record crowds that led to long lines for some events.

The Entertainment Software Association, which manages the event, made 15,000 tickets available to the public for the first time ever. More than 68,400 people attended E3's three-day run on June 13-15, breaking earlier attendance records and prompting officials to start a bit earlier than expected to head off potential hazards caused by the massive lines winding outside the Los Angeles Convention Center.

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A scene from the showroom floor at E3 2017.
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Gaming giant Electronic Arts decided to skip the expo altogether for a second year in a row in favor of its own three-day event, EA Play. The EA festivities kicked off June 10 in Hollywood with a media briefing highlighting upcoming games and demo stations for fans eager to try out the new offerings. Several popular personalities that either stream on Inc.'s Twitch or create video content for sites such as Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube were featured prominently at the EA activities.

Bethesda Softworks and Ubisoft were the only other third-party publishers to hold E3 briefings. While Ubisoft's briefing on June 12 at the Orpheum Theater was a standard affair with back-to-back trailers and gameplay videos, Bethesda's efforts were more elaborate. The company's briefing took place at an event called "Bethesdaland," a massive themed party featuring various areas based on its games, such as a "Fallout" based post-apocalyptic amusement park, complete with a real Ferris wheel, and a "Doom" inspired lounge, featuring a bar serving flaming shots in skull-shaped shot glasses.

Unlike EA, both Ubisoft and Bethesda also had a presence on the E3 show floor itself, with massive booths featuring stages, giant cinema screens and custom-designed areas where attendees could try out their upcoming games. Bethesda had a separate area set up especially for the virtual reality version of its games, giving attendees the chance to don an HTC Vive VR headset and delve into the worlds of "Fallout 4" and "Doom."

Other major publishers with elaborate setups on the E3 show floor included Activision, which drew massive crowds due to the playable demos of two eagerly anticipated shooter titles, "Destiny 2" and "Call of Duty: WWII;" Square Enix, which continued its gaming expo tradition of heavily featuring its "Final Fantasy" games; and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros Games, which had an intricate booth set up for its upcoming "Middle-earth: Shadow of War" game with actors wandering around wearing Orc costumes from "The Lord of the Rings" franchise.

Among the big three console makers, Nintendo Co., Ltd. once again drew the largest crowds on all three E3 days. The Japanese gaming giant did not have a traditional press briefing but brought a booth modeled after the upcoming "Super Mario Odyssey" game, which drew many fans.

Both Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp. managed to draw steady crowds to their respective booths as well, despite lacking playable demos of titles with the anticipation levels of the new Mario game. The longest lines were undoubtedly for upcoming racing games "Forza Motorsport 7" for the Xbox One consoles and "Gran Turismo Sport" for the PlayStation 4.

One thing seemed clear: whether the ESA decides to open 2018's show floors up to the public again or not, the expo is unlikely to revert back into a traditional trade show anytime soon.