ESA looking to 'shake things up' for E3 2020, but will media care?

The organization has still not apologized for last year's data breach, but that's not stopping it from attempting to revitalize the once-preeminent event.

In September, plans leaked from the Electronic Software Association pointed to an imminent rebranding of the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Now, the ESA is publicly elaborating on those plans in an effort to “shake things up” for this year’s event. According to a statement, the new E3 will “have surprise guests, amazing stage experiences, access to insiders and experiential zones that delight the senses.”

The rebranding comes in the wake of declining expo attendance, which many attribute to a perceived lack of relevance; with many exhibitors opting out of E3 in favor of their own press events in recent years, the once-preeminent celebration of the world’s most popular form of entertainment has been relegated to a shadow of its former self

Beyond debates surrounding E3’s purpose and its relevance to an increasingly digital industry, many have not forgotten the enormous data breach that exposed the private data of thousands of media professionals who were in attendance at E3 2019. The resulting fallout has been justifiably harsh and vocal. It’s also been marked by a veritable silence on the part of the ESA, who has all but refused to publicly speak on the mass doxxing, aside from assuring “enhanced and layered security measures developed by an outside cybersecurity firm” for the redesigned E3 website.

“You should also know that we’ve upgraded our media registration process, which received a lot of attention this past summer. Earning back your trust and support is our top priority,” the release reads.

Among those whose data was leaked is Patrick Klepek, senior reporter at Vice Games. He told GameDaily that any security efforts made by the ESA are too little, too late at this point.

“What doesn’t change today is a simple fact: my personal information was leaked onto the Internet and placed into the hands of malicious actors,” Klepek said. “Whatever security precautions have been taken for 2020 won't erase how sloppy and irresponsible they were in the past, and does not begin to explain how little genuine contrition they showed for the consequences of their inaction. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. Can you let me know when I’m going to get reimbursed for paying for a P.O. box?”

Despite media outcry, the ESA has yet to publicly address the breach. Instead, it has chosen to focus its attention on rebranding E3 as an fan- and influencer-facing event in an attempt to reinvigorate attendance numbers. While no specifics have been announced, September’s leak suggests that it will lean into celebrity appearances and leverage the popularity of content creators, a strategy in which Klepek does not have faith.

“Separated from my personal animus, I’m skeptical E3 has a healthy future,” Klepek said. “A company launching a major new piece of hardware won’t even be at the show. Last year was a ghost town, and I felt bad for anyone who purchased a ticket.”

In 2017, the ESA opened up ticket sales to the general public, which could be seen as an early attempt at mitigating reduced attendance on the part of media. The following two years, according to Klepek, have been characterized by an unremarkable show floor and a lack of interesting exhibits.

“I’ve been to plenty of fan-centric events in the past, where conventions are geared around the notion of people coming in from out of town to hang out with friends and celebrate a collective interest,” he explained. “E3 is not th[at] kind of show. It’s boring! The show floor seemed to have more bars than companies, and once you’d got tired of waiting in lines, there was precious little else to do. Maybe the presence of a next-generation Xbox will be enough for some, but these days, there are a billion different conventions catering to a billion different niches, and E3 has not proven they know how to produce an interesting show in 2020.”

As an organization, the ESA has seen quite a bit of turmoil in recent years, according to a 2019 report from Variety. Accusations of fostering a toxic work environment and favoritism on the part of ex head Mike Gallagher culminated in the appointment of a new president last May

In addition, only around 66,100 people attended E3 2019, which is a drop of nearly 3,000 compared to 2018’s numbers. On Twitter back in September, Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad pointed out that these numbers fall well below other industry events such as Gamescom, which was attended by 373,000 people, and the Tokyo Games Show which hosted 262,000 people in 2019.

E3 has been the perennial video game expo since its inception in 1995, but recent years have called into question its continued relevance as a showcase for the medium. Steady decline in publisher and developer presence, public disinterest, and, most importantly, irresponsible security practices have combined to create a perfect storm for the ESA. According to Variety’s report, the ESA currently has a contract to hold E3 at the LA Convention Center through the year 2023, but with sentiment surrounding the event hitting a low point, it may only be a matter of time before it’s disbanded entirely.

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Editor-in-Chief

Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at sam.desatoff@gamedaily.biz or follow him on Twitter.