The Death Rattle of Large Scale Tech/Gaming Events?

A few weeks ago I attended CES for the first time. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show. It is the largest annual consumer technology trade show in North America and one of the largest annual tech shows in the world. The first CES was held in 1967, 52 years ago. I’m glad I was able to attend this year. Not only because it was an amazing experience that I’ve always wanted to have, but also because I don’t know how much longer CES will be around.

I have been noticing a trend in recent years with big corporate tech and gaming events. They’re dying. Not all at once. It’s not fairly obvious. It’s a slow death brought on more by the winds of change coupled with rampant, unsustainable profiteering rather than some singular obvious occurrence. I’ve attended and continue to attend a number of these events for work throughout the years. The ones I have the most experience with personally are Computex and Taipei Game Show, both held in Taiwan, where I live, but my company is involved at some level with larger and smaller tech/gaming events all over the world. This gives me a level of insight that most members of the public simply don’t have access to. And it’s because of this coupled with other obvious clues that I must conclude that the current large scale events model is dying and if it doesn’t change fairly soon will be gone for good.

computex

I first started to notice this with E3 back in, I believe, 2016 when Nintendo first decided to stop attending the show in person. And I want to be clear that this trend is happening to many if not all larger events around the world and not just specific ones. Nintendo opted simply not to present at the show. They made their in house presentation and released it digitally on their own site. While we can’t know for sure, I’m fairly certain Nintendo didn’t pay E3 a single dollar to have them show the video on their screens during the show. They simply did it because they knew people would rather tune in to Nintendo’s presentation as opposed to anything else that would be shown at E3 during that time. And no other company was dumb enough to try to directly compete with Nintendo’s presentation release time slot. This Nintendo Direct concept seemed like madness when first announced but ultimately was a huge success and has continued every year at E3 since that first experiment and has since then expanded to multiple presentations a year from Nintendo not tied to any specific corporate events outside of their own calendar. Now in 2019, SONY has announced that they too will not be attending E3 this year in favor of their own currently undisclosed means of conveying information to the public and media.

It’s fairly safe to assume that E3 is going to suck this year. Microsoft/XBOX in its current form can’t carry E3 alone. EA, Blizzard, and Activision are all dumpster fires at this point. Bethesda has a lot of bad blood right now and The Elder Scrolls VI is still years away, leaving us pretty much Doom Eternal and maybe another Wolfenstein game from them? And the rest of the bit players just aren’t important enough to make E3 worth your time. The rest of these companies aren’t worth much more than a couple hours of watching trailers on YouTube and a few tweets. So if this trend continues and nothing about the model drastically changes in the near future, E3 is essentially on its way out. And that should be fairly obvious to everyone.

Sony and E3 BreakUp

In similar fashion to E3, I noticed something odd about CES. Many larger companies, including my own, aren’t actually attending CES anymore. What many companies, big and small, are now doing is showing up to Vegas, renting a suite in a random hotel, and just inviting media, customers, and other industry contacts to just come see their stuff in private by invitation. This is exactly what my company and many others did at CES this year. Some examples of companies that did this exact thing at the show this year include Patriot/Viper Gaming, Cooler Master, and Alphacool. These are all fairly well known companies in the PC DIY industry. Several smaller companies you’ve never heard of did this same thing and have for some years now. I even found this forum post from back in 2010 where some companies got caught doing this at the actual hotel CES was held at and got kicked out. So this is by no means a new practice. And I see the same thing done by a number of companies during Computex in Taipei every year as well. This practice is now the norm. The sad thing is the companies that run these events know this but aren’t doing anything to address the reasons that it’s happening. Like EA and microtransactions, they’re just pretending nothing is wrong and doing business as usual with no consideration of what this means for the future of their event and events in general.

the rent is too damn high

Let’s talk about why this is happening. There are a number of specific and easily identified causes of this trend. Not so surprisingly, all of them come down to money. The biggest issue I have identified is cost of booth space/attendance. The cost for companies to attend these events has grown to unrealistic proportions. Even companies that can afford it aren’t happy to just throw money away unnecessarily. Let me use my own company’s CES 2019 experience as an example. We rented a penthouse house suite in the top floor of a Vegas hotel for five nights to attend and present during, but not officially at, CES. This penthouse suite had two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, and a connected entertainment space added onto the living room. It also came with three private bathrooms, multiple balconies, and a hot tub, which sadly we didn’t use. As this was a private suite, we had security, control of who entered our suite, were able to insure the safety of the products we were presenting, and we could control our own hours for presenting regardless of what the official CES booth times were. We got all of this for under $20,000 USD a night including those bullshit resort fees and taxes. At five nights, this totaled just under $100,000 USD. Now that’s a lot of money. But to get a space on the CES show floor at a smaller size than what we had but large enough to meet our minimum requirements, we would have had to pay $200,000 USD. Without the private security, control of our traffic, safety of our products, three private bathrooms, the same amount of space, and of course the hot tub, we would have had to pay more than double what we paid for that suite. That’s preposterous. And that’s just the space. It doesn’t take into account the many other costs of attending CES. You have to pay to get your staff there and their hotel rooms and their food. You have to pay the cost of shipping your products there. You have to pay contractors to set up your booth. You have to pay media to show up and make videos about your products, because they don’t give two shits about journalistic ethics or conflicts of interest. The total cost of doing an event like CES even when you save on the space is astronomical. And remember that in the case of CES, the booths aren’t even all located in the same building or location on the Vegas Strip so the idea that having a suite is inconvenient do to location doesn’t even really apply as long as your suite is in the general area of at least one of the four buildings the show is held in.

ces 2019 map
CES 2019 Map

You also have to consider the value of attending the event. These events are usually not public. Though it’s called the Consumer Electronics Show, CES is not open to the public. It is a private trade show that’s reserved for industry members and media. Of course many members of the public sneak in, but really the bulk of consumers see what’s being shown at CES, and most events like it, via media through YouTube videos, live streams, tweets, and so on. Even if the event was totally open to the public, the bulk of consumers would still rely on media platforms because the event is located in a physical location. Most people can’t afford to travel just to see the new overpriced computers coming out in the next year. One of the largest markets in the world is China. Most people can’t even get out of China. How do you think the majority of consumers will find out about the next iPhone? It won’t be because they went to some event held in Las Vegas. So you have an event that’s becoming more and more expensive to attend while the value of attending that event is forever declining as markets shift, grow, and change. This was one of the main reasons Nintendo gave when asked about the change from traditional E3 presentations to the Nintendo Direct model. Their largest market is Japan. Why would it make sense for them to spend boatloads of money to present at a show where most of the people attending/watching would prefer to see another COD or loot shooter in a language that most of their largest market doesn’t even speak? It simply doesn’t make sense from any sensible money management standpoint. It’s also considerably cheaper and more effective to produce videos in house and distribute them through in house corporate channels and free social media platforms than it is to pay media to make content based on your products and hope the content presents said products in a positive way. Remember that even though media charge companies to come check out their booths/suites and make videos about their products, there are no guarantees about what the content produced will say. They can and often do take payment, show up to the booth, and then make videos where they shit on the company’s products. Personally I think this level of honesty is a good thing and hope it continues, but media charging to create content when they rely on that content for their channels to survive is and always has been odd to me.

nintendo direct e3 2018

Finally, the need to attend events from the user standpoint is dying as well. Just last week, PlayStation had a concert by Utada Hikaru for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III. PSVR owners could attend the concert in VR and have front row seats. PSVR is expensive for sure. But it’s much less expensive than flying to Las Vegas, getting a hotel room for multiple nights, and dealing with the various other costs of traveling. The CES badge on its own was $300 USD if you bought it at the door. At the time of writing this, I can buy a PSVR bundle with two games, one of which I tried for the first time at CES this year, for under $280 USD not including taxes and shipping. Even less if I’m willing to buy it used. Why would anyone ever pay to go to an event again if you can attend them from the comfort of your home in a high definition, possibly interactive VR experience? It simply doesn’t make any sense. It’s not exactly the same as attending the event in person, but for the average person’s needs, it’s close enough.  You charge people $20 plus the cost of the hardware to attend any event they want and don’t ask them to leave their home or even wear clothes while attending the event and most people will forgo the need to actually touch and smell the products in person. That’s the entire model of Pay-Per-View fights, minus the VR, and it’s still a profitable business model.

psvr amazon

I can go into more specific details about why events are dying, but pretty much it comes down to the companies that organize them continue to raise costs beyond the realm of practicality, companies are actively seeking out and finding cheaper alternatives to attend or circumvent the need to be directly involved in these events because of the rising costs, and the public can’t really attend the events for the most part so the value of said events is limited to begin with. Now let’s be clear, these events weren’t originally established for the public. CES, Computex, E3, and most of the other well-known ones are industry exclusive trade shows that have allowed media to get involved as a way to include the public in later years. But that was never their original intention. These shows exist for the sake of conducting business. Distributors and buyers meet with producers to try to make deals. That’s the point. And that can now all be done digitally as well, so the value of these shows even at their core is dwindling while the added burden of paid media has increased the cost of attending the shows with no concrete guarantees about the returns on those investments.

Now in a way, I think it’s sad. These events are fun. I like attending them. I find value in attending them both personally and professionally. And regardless of how little value they actually have, the public tends to like them as well. Gamers look forward to E3. It’s a waste of time and money that usually disappoints in the long run because of misleading marketing and over promising from developers, but it’s still fun. It’s an enjoyable part of the industry that brings people from all over the world together to discuss their like-minded interests. That’s a good thing. Especially in 2019 when people are so divided on everything else, including gaming itself. So I don’t want to see these events die. But make no mistake they are dying. Pretty much all of them are dying. And if something doesn’t change very soon, I do believe we won’t see CES make it to 60 years. At least not in its current form, size, and popularity.

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The End of E3?

Sony recently announced that there would not be a PlayStation presence at E3 in 2019. The reason hasn’t really been expressed yet other than some bullshit PR speak about looking for new options to connect with their fans, but many theories are of course swirling around the internets. Now I’ve been very critical of E3 for many years now, as has been shown on this very blog. I’m a 100% in support of Nintendo’s choice to do pre-recorded Directs. I love the fact that they do multiple a year because they produce them in advance for less money than the price of doing a single E3 presentation, which gives the public even more information about games (and pricing) in advance of release. I have many complaints about the E3 format, specifically the fact that it’s not open to the public. They did allow for some public passes to be sold at this year’s E3 and I did commend them for that in my E3 2018 post. But in general it’s still too little.

My main problem with E3 is that in 2018 it’s still a media focused shill operation. We don’t actually need established gaming media events in 2018. We have the technology for studios and publishers to convey information and demos directly to the public. The media no longer serves as the gateway between consumers and studios. I can directly tweet a studio a question or complaint about a game and get a response, and I have. In fact I tweeted and got a response from Ubisoft last month. Now in this specific case it wasn’t about the experience of playing a game but I did have a question about a game and got an answer directly from the publisher in a matter of hours. What do I need IGN for when I can talk to the developers or their direct representatives directly? We can have playable demos. Sadly these have become less common as technology has progressed, which makes no sense, but the point is I don’t need to watch some asshole I don’t like play a game I’m curious about to decide whether or not I want to buy it if the developer can let me try it myself from the comfort of my home, which they have been able to do since technically the PS2. Or before if we count demo discs. I don’t need to read some crappy paid review/long form ad to figure out if I should buy a game if I can just try it myself before buying it. That’s why betas are referred to as stealth demos now.

Tweet Ubisoft Big

The point is that we don’t actually need media focused gaming events anymore. The media are little more than shills for the gaming industry or political activists pretending to actually know anything about what gamers are really thinking. It makes way more sense to either have only gaming events that are open to the public to see and try new games or do away with such events altogether and have all publishers make their own Nintendo Direct style videos and release playable demos for download. I’m not saying E3 should be ended permanently. I’m saying what E3 currently is should be ended permanently. It’s an outdated concept. So if it’s for the right reasons, I’m all for Sony pulling out of E3 indefinitely.

At the same time, we don’t actually know if Sony pulled out of E3 for the right reasons. There are a number of theories floating around. Some of them, if correct, are completely valid and acceptable reasons for Sony to not attend E3 2019. Others, not so much.

 

nintendo direct e3 2018

If Sony has decided to quit E3 in order to revolutionize the way they present games to the public by making their own direct to consumer presentations, events, and demos, then I am all for it. I would love to see a PlayStation Direct. Even better if, like Nintendo, they do multiple a year. I would love it if PlayStation made prerecorded videos about upcoming titles and released demos to go with them. If that’s the future of PlayStation presenting information to consumers, bring it on. Even if it’s the same presentations they already do at E3 but as their own PlayStation focused event/stream, I’m fine with that. They have PlayStation Experience already, and that’s better than E3. It is open to the public to buy tickets. It does have playable demos for the public to try. If this is the future, cool. But I don’t necessarily believe either of these reasons are why PlayStation pulled out of E3. Let’s also not forget that they cancelled PSX 2018 as well.

Another theory going around, and I do believe this is the correct one, is that Sony doesn’t have any new big projects for the PS4 that haven’t already been announced so they didn’t want to spend the money, time, and effort to attend E3. This is a bullshit reason that is completely unacceptable. Let’s be clear about a few things. Assuming there are no other PS4 projects in the works that we haven’t already heard about, that in no way means that we don’t want/need more information, gameplay footage, and demos of projects we do already know about. I still don’t know what the hell Death Stranding is about. Or even what the gameplay actually is. I want more information about The Last of Us 2. I would quite literally consider masturbating to more footage of Ghost of Tsushima. And where’s gameplay footage of Nioh 2 while we’re at it? I don’t need them to announce a single new game.

ghost of tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima

There are plenty of games I already know about that I just want to see more information and footage of. That’s enough of a reason to go to E3. If that’s the reason they’re not going, it’s bullshit. I pay too much money for games, DLC, paid online subscriptions, and such for them to be pinching pennies. I overpay for the privilege to see E3 footage. That’s part of the deal. If they want to save money, I better damn well start seeing those savings translated to me, the consumer. If their cost of operation goes down, prices need to go down. Because profits sure as hell aren’t. And prices sure as hell haven’t. The excuse of “we don’t want to put the effort in to show you games we know you’re going to buy already” isn’t a valid one.

Even more worrisome is the theory that the PS5 will be announced soon and that all the aforementioned games and any other projects currently unannounced will be released for that console. Personally I don’t need a PS5 any time soon. I’m very happy with my PS4 hardware wise and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro. It plays my games fine and they look beautiful. If it still runs games smoothly, it’s all I need. So delaying everything to the PS5 doesn’t help me. Rushing out the PS5 doesn’t help me. Because I don’t want to buy a new machine to replace a machine that still works just fine. Now hopefully the PS4 will be like the PS2 where even though the next console is out, they continue to release games on the predecessor for like another decade because they still run acceptably. And let’s be honest, PS5 games will run way better on the PS4 than PS3 games ran on the PS2. So there’s not really any reason to force me to buy a new console. But even if we assume, all the new games will be on the PS5 and PS4, that’s no excuse to skip E3. They don’t get to slack off for a year and just ride the high while waiting for what their analysts believe is the best time to announce/release the next console. I’m a consumer today. I just bought multiple PS4 games in the last month. They haven’t stopped taking my money so they don’t get to stop doing their jobs. One of their jobs is relaying information about upcoming games to the consumers. So even if all the aforementioned games are being released for the PS5, if they’re going to be released on the PS4 as well, and they should be, then they need to be talking about them now. Not after they decide to announce the PS5. Especially if we’re talking about games that have already been announced to the public.

no ps5

Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope this isn’t a PS5 delay ploy. I hope we’re about to enter the age of PlayStation Directs. I’m fine with E3 ending altogether, because we know XBOX can’t carry that event on its own. And I have no love for some middle man company that makes its money by charging companies that actually make products for the “privilege” of showing those products off in a physical venue while selling tickets for profit in an age where a kid in Malaysia can download 4K HD porn on his phone. That doesn’t make any sense. And if all those hack journalists have to work just a little bit harder to write think pieces about how the world is being destroyed because edgelords are beating up feminists in Skyrim Cowboy Edition, I’m fine with that too. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great. An age of gaming transparency where consumers have direct access to publishers and developers, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most likely it’s not.

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