For the first time since its conception over 20 years ago, E3 will be entirely digital. Usually, the week-long event consists of a massive showcase convention, where attendees can visit a seemingly endless selection of booths by game companies big and small. Scattered throughout that week, folks can attend live presentations from major companies like Xbox and Devolver Digital. With no physical presence this year, both aspects are being converted into a digital format. The presentations are easy, each company simply broadcasts their intended performance via a livestream to sites like YouTube and Twitch. Its the former that gives me cause for concern.
To try and help emulate the convention experience, E3 organizers The Electronic Software Association (ESA) created an online web-portal and mobile app. Upon registering for access, users are prompted to create a visual avatar bitmoji-style. Once completed (or skipped), they will be able to visit virtual booths, view and create schedules, and converse with others using a friend and forum system. Itll also be completely free, allowing more folks to attend without worry of cost. It sounds nice on paper. Except that its actually kind of garbage.
Well, to be fair, thats not quite right. Calling it garbage implies that its full of bad components. Its not. It has some decent ideas and the potential to be worthwhile, but theres simply nothing there worth spending time on. Its more akin to getting something from Ikea, only to learn that theres only about 3 pieces in the box, two of which arent painted yet.
While E3s digital portal is not yet available to the public, I was granted access as early as Monday for what is known as media week. This gave the press a little under a week to get a feel for the platform, and reach out to studios, developers, publishers, and so on, for private meetings and interviews. Disclaimer: I didn't provide screenshots to any of this, because I'm not entirely sure what I'm allowed to share before public launch.
I confirmed my account and logged in on Monday. The first surprise was being met with what Im calling the E3sona maker. I was given a cartoon avatar creator, allowing me to put together a graphic that will be used for my profile. There was no option to use my own images, but I could skip the avatar maker process if I wanted. While it felt unnecessary, I wont criticize the opportunity to have some self-expression.
With that out of the way, I stepped forward into the great expanse that laid before me. To my display, it was essentially barren. I began on the home page, which listed which booths I followed, what's happening right now, what's next on my schedule, and some media clips it recommends I watch. Well, E3 is about the booths, right? I guess I should visit those first.
It was after about 15 minutes of this that the underwhelming dread was setting in. There was a notably small list of available booths. Many previously confirmed names, like Bethesda and Xbox, were not present. Ubisoft had a booth, I knew this because it recommended a video from their booth on the home page, but I couldnt find it in the list. This is fine, I suppose. They said that more booths would become available daily and its early. So I got to browsing.
Some booths were essentially what I expected. It contained very PR-esque paragraphs about the company, talking about how excited they are to talk about their current and upcoming games. It provided links to their official site, images and videos about their games, and a date and time for their event. There was nothing here that helped me as press, since it was all public info already. But I get it, theyre formatting these booths for the public, not for me. I had the option to drop a business card off, presumably a press/industry feature, but I honestly have no clue what it actually does.
Other booths were... Less interesting. Quite a few of them were completely barren. Others had the main page filled out with that standard info, while leaving their games, images/video, and other tabs empty. I could have opened up each respective company's personal sites from Google, and gotten a far more fulfilling experience. After seeing all there was to see, I moved on to the People tab. E3 is a great networking opportunity, right?
Well, it is if your name is Aaron, I guess. The entire People page was simply two parts. In the center was a list of all people. Thats it. It just listed all currently registered participants with a friend button below each. I couldnt filter the list or change how it was sorted, it was just done alphabetically by first name. So The top was nothing but people named Aaron, followed by Adams. My sympathies for anyone named Zack. Even better was on the right side of the page, where a Recommended People list was sitting. This list was ALSO just an alphabetical sort of people, but smaller and with a follow button beside each name. So it recommended a slew of Aarons once more.
And by the way, friending and following are two different things. Friending someone requires them to friend you back, and then you can private message each other. There is no messages page that I could find, I had to go to my friends list and select Message to see the list. I dont know what following a person does, I tried figuring it out, to no avail.
Onwards to the next, and probably most important aspect of E3: the events! Visiting this section brought me to an Events Trending Now page. When I first arrived, it was completely empty. Since then, two booth operators have put in their own events. One disappeared from the list later. This may have been due to me marking myself down for attendance, it may not have, I don't know.
Events I'm following were not listed. Instead, I had to visit the My Schedule tab on the left, which pulled up a large daily calendar of today. The only way to see what I had scheduled was to manually go to the date and time it was happening. Selecting the event would take me to another page, and display the header image of that event. Nothing more. Leaving brought me back to the schedule, which didnt save my place, either. On second thought, maybe Ill stick to my own personal calendar and not rely on the E3 one.
This is where the magic is. And thats pretty unfortunate, since by forum standards, this is a fairly underwhelming section as well. There are only seven categories available. Listed as such.
- Next-Gen Gaming
- Classic Games
- Esports and Competitive Games
- News and Announcements
- Health and Gaming
- Tabletop Gaming and Roleplaying
- The Future of VR and Gaming
But there was a glimmer of light with this half-made forum: there were people! This is the only humanizing way to find anyone. Sure, there was the people section, but now I could at least talk to others without going through a complicated process. With no general topic, most discussion took place in Next-Gen Gaming, since it sat on top of the list, with News and Announcements the next most popular. Discussion ranged from introductions, to complaints about the lack luster experience so far, to just general internet silliness.
The forums were the only saving grace so far. Without using them to interact with fellow journalists, Id have likely abandoned the platform. The entire platform is half-made and otherwise unengaging. Theres supposedly a gamification aspect tied to my profile, with badges I can earn. But none of it is functional at the time of writing. This entire experience so far makes me feel more like a beta tester than a media person.
This paints a grim image for the rest of E3. We are only days away from the public launch of the platform, and it looks like a good bit of work still needs to be done. Theres very little incentive to choose the E3 portal over simply tuning into the presentation events yourself. There are better options available for both engaging with developers and companies, and for keeping your timeline organized. The forums were fun, but I have little to no faith that they will remain enjoyable after the general public is given access. Weve all seen how bad a populated Twitch chat can be for major reveals.
The ESA had plenty of time to get this right. And they seem to have squandered that time. While Im excited for all of the reveals and presentation livestreams, I see little reason to attend them via the E3 portal at this time. Who knows. Maybe the platform will dramatically improve in the next few days. But there isn't much reason to think that it will, especially given the ESA's history. If you still want to attend (why not, its free), you can register at the E3 Event Portal page.
I will admit, this has been the best smelling E3 convention Ive seen, at least.