Over the years, however, the true value of E3 became clear: E3 serves as a big "katamari" for the game industry, attracting all kinds of people and stuff that would not otherwise have a chance to connect.
With each successive year, this katamari-like action becomes more evident, as I participate less and less in the primary role of the expo and see more of the activities happening on the periphery.
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While the conference program is an official part of the E3 schedule, a scant 3% of attendees bother to register for it. The topics are generally business-oriented and don't offer the same rigor as the Game Developers Conference's more robust program. Still, the lineup of speakers is often top notch, and the freeform panel format allows for some heated debate and sparks of insight.
(Hint, hint, nudge, nudge to the 97% who missed out: Gamasutra has done a particularly good job this year of covering the conference content.)
Interestingly, the demographics of the conference attendees are quite diverse. There are very few - via my anecdotal estimates - actual mainstream industry folks in attendance (as noted above, they are all working their booth). Instead, you get a mishmash of folks trying to learn more about the game business - from academics to amateurs, from Wall Street bankers to Madison Avenue marketers, all the way to the mayor of Los Angeles.
It is no surprise that googling "videogame conference" or "videogame expo" brings up E3. (Sadly, doing the same in Google Images now brings up a picture of Paris Hilton promoting her Jewel Jam mobile phone game. Ugh.) So, can it be assumed that anyone sitting at their computer and thinking, "You know, I really need to go to some game event to learn more about this business" will first come across E3?
Others have leveraged the magnetism of E3 to host related events and conferences. For example, this year the Serious Game Initiative hosted a games-for-health conference up the street at the USC campus on Tuesday. Along the same lines, Henry Jenkins and his MIT crew hosted the Education Arcade parallel to the E3 conference program in past years.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the mother organization of E3 itself, often embeds its own special activities. Doug Lowenstein's annual "state of the industry" speech runs Wednesday morning, and does well to fill an auditorium that fits 500 people (Doug's speech was full to the point of overcrowding this year. - Ed.). The ESA's intellectual property rights division held a special panel to discuss issues surrounding the global economics of game sales and implications with the World Trade Organization. And the ESA's government relations group holds an annual lunch for various organizations that support game anti-censorship efforts (e.g., IGDA, IEAM, AIAS, ESRB, VSDA, MPAA, RIAA). Alphabet soup is not on the menu.
There was a Global Game Summit preview panel on Thursday evening. Wired magazine hosted a special "screening" of Spore at LA Center Studios (special guest Robin Williams was quite a hoot). The Game Audio Network Guild hosted a session and mixer on the Friday evening for game music and audio folks.
No doubt, there was a ton of other conference and presentation oriented action going on. It is hard to keep track of it all ...
E3 is crawling with government officials from all over the world.
During the week, I met with government officials and representatives from various U.S. states, Canada, the U.K., France, Sweden, Denmark, Korea, China, Portugal, Australia, Singapore - among other quick in-the-hallway encounters that I'm probably forgetting.
The majority of these folks are from the IT or economic development arms of government. Others might be from the culture or publishing/arts side of things, but those individuals are more rare. Many countries have government game industry promotion agencies with a mandate to promote and grow their local game sector (the Korea Game Development and Promotion Institute wields an approx U.S.$16 million annual budget to do just that).