For most of its existence, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) had been privy to only those in the video game industry and the press. 2017 was the first year, in the long time, that it opened its doors to the general public. From the outset, this sounds like a great deal: Gaming fans can demo hundreds of the most anticipated titles, on the beefiest of upcoming platforms, with A-list industry experts filling in the discussion panels; all wrapped up in a glitzy, larger than life spectacle you just don’t get at the local Best Buy.

Unfortunately, for too many attendees, their days were spent like this:

  • Wait in line for 6 hours to try a 10 minute demo.

…and that’s about it!

With its long lines, crowd-jammed lanes, and roped-off-VIP-only areas, E3 is not for the casual completionist. You are probably better off going to PAX, instead.

I knew, going in, that E3 would probably be like this. I wanted to experience it for myself, anyway, simply because I enjoy sampling geeky conventions; trying each one at least once, as much as I can. And, also because this year PAX East happened to conflict with my own birthday party plans. That just seemed like a good excuse to try something different, at the time.

Waiting for Game Demos

For the first two days, I opted to stand only in the relatively short (by E3 standards) lines. I did have a good time trying out a few of the moderately interesting things the floor had to offer. But, here is how my day went on the last day, vying for two of the hotter offerings, both of which involved Virtual Reality:

On Thursday, June 15th, the floor opened about 10 minutes before its officially scheduled time of 10:00 AM. I rushed as quickly as I could to the Bethesda VR line. Here, you could demo either: Skyrim VR (for the PS VR), Fallout 4 VR (for HTC Vive), or Doom VR (also on the Vive). They had stations for up to four people to try any of those, at one time. However, by 10:01 AM the line was locked – for the day! Whoever was the last person to get on that line, even that quickly, wouldn’t be able to try any of those games until shortly before 5:00 PM, when the floor closes!

I was a little luckier. My original estimated wait time was “only” 2 and a half hours. Though, it actually took a lot longer than that: Every now and then some member of the press, or a fancy-dressed VIP, would be let right in without waiting on any lines! Sometimes they got to try all three games, taking over 30 minutes of time for themselves. We, the hoi polloi, had to choose only one. I was finally able to get my own demo a little before 3:00 PM. It was cool and all, don’t get me wrong! But, at that point what I really wanted was lunch.

There was one more thing I did that day: The Sony PlayStation VR. For that, you did NOT need to wait on any lines. They had a reservation system, through a specialized app, where one could choose timeslots for about a dozen games they had available… if you were lucky. For the first two days, I couldn’t get any of them. But, on Thursday morning, at 9:00 one could hear shouts of “Woo Hoo!”, “I got one!”, and “Yee-Haw!”, from the crowd as people managed to grab one. I happened to get a reservation for 12:45 PM. I didn’t know, yet, that would still be stuck waiting on the Bethesda line, when that time came up. But, I was able to explain that situation to the folks ahead of me and behind me on that line, before I left for the PlayStation demo. They were nice enough to let me back into my spot, when I returned.

The Coliseum

One of the better aspects of E3 was its “main stage”, called the E3 Coliseum, where various discussion panels, interviews, and big product previews would take place. Although there was often a line to get in (in the hot sun!), I don’t think they ever filled the room to capacity. I believe everyone was able to fit into any of the events they wanted to. (Unlike some conventions I could name!) Some of the events included, but were not limited to:

  • Microsoft revealing the details of their Xbox One X (formerly called “Project Scorpio”)
  • Neill Blomkamp, director of the movie District 9, talking about how he is opening up the assets from his current film projects, from Oats Studios, to the public; and how they might be used for interactive projects.
  • Comedic actor Jack Black talking about his voice role in Psychonauts 2
  • A reunion of Crash Bandicoot’s original developers
  • A preview of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, with voice actor Troy Baker

You can search YouTube for “E3 Coliseum”, to watch recordings of many of those. It looks like a lot of them are available on this channel: https://www.youtube.com/gameslice

There were some ways this could have been better for regular public attendees: The stand-by line was in the hot sun, and we were NOT allowed to take pictures or record anything, without proper press credentials.

Also, they ran sessions for only two days. This meant there was going to be even more crowding on the expo floor on the third day.

Lacking in Gamer Culture Interests of E-Sports and Cosplay

I did not pay much attention to e-sports at E3. I see they had two big stages for it: One indoors for Quake Champions; and one outdoor stage, sponsored by Twitch, featuring mostly brawlers, such as Street Fighter V. And, I don’t think there were ever more than a couple of dozen spectators in front of them, at any one time; leaving those areas feeling largely empty.

Also, I don’t think I saw very much fan-produced cosplay at E3. Maybe three characters from Overwatch, perhaps. But, there was plenty of corporate-sponsored promotional costumes from several of the vendors. If you saw a very-well-made costume for an upcoming game, it was sometimes hard to tell if it was from a fan or just from the company that made the game (chances are it was from the company). There were a couple of Beetlejuice costumes running around, but it turns out they were just there to promote LEGO Dimensions Wave 9, which (for some weird reason) includes that character.

The Penny Arcade Expo is BETTER for Fans!

Although I had a good time at E3, I don’t think I will ever go back. There is a BETTER convention out there, made FOR fans, by fans! It’s called the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX)! They have four locations: Seattle, Washington; San Antonio, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; and one in Melbourne, Australia.

There may be long lines for some games there, as well, but you won’t feel like a second-class citizen watching all the more important people cut ahead of you. There is also more opportunity to try independent games, more free giveaways, a bit more cosplay (though, still not as much as other cons), more panels (largely from bloggers, but they KNOW their stuff!), and a much more enthusiastic e-sports scene.

You might not get A-list panel members, nor as much access to upcoming releases, at PAX. But, those are sacrifices you gotta make, sometimes.

I had gone to PAX East (in Boston) twice so far, in 2015 and 2016. And, I intend to return in 2018.

E3 was NOT bad, it just wasn’t “all that great”, compared to other options. That’s all.