E3 2017 primer: What you need to know about the world’s most important video game trade show

The Electronic Entertainment Expo – known more commonly as E3 – is set to descend once again upon the Los Angeles Convention Center June 13 through the 15. And it’s going to look a little different this year.

Presented by the Electronic Software Association, North America’s biggest annual video game conference is typically open only to those within the industry and the media that covers it. But this year’s show marks the first time the general public will be allowed into the conference halls. Some 15,000 fans have paid between US$150 and $250 each to be able to wander the show floor – adding to the 50,000 industry attendees that already crowd the convention centre each year – to see new and upcoming wares from the likes of Sony Interactive Entertainment, LLC, Microsoft Corp., and Nintendo Co. Ltd.

E3 joins the likes of Gamescon in Cologne, Germany and the Tokyo Game Show in Japan in providing the public access to exhibits and hands-on demonstrations of games not yet released.

However, the show’s focus remains focused squarely on the business of games. E3 may be best known for massive product unveilings – including both hardware and new games in blockbuster franchises – but it’s also where the companies behind these products make deals, taking the opportunity to network with associates from other parts of the globe while striking software publishing and licensing agreements behind closed doors. It presents the rare possibility of chance meetings between aspiring game makers and industry luminaries like Nintendo godfather Shigeru Miyamoto and action game auteur Hideo Kojima.

But it might be getting harder for casual deals to spring up, given the show’s splintering in recent years.

2017 marks the second straight year that publishing giant Electronic Arts Inc. is eschewing the exhibition for a simultaneous event of its own called EA Play, affording the American game maker a bigger space in which to conduct promotional activities on their own terms. A second major third-party software maker, Activision Publishing Inc., also opted out of the show last year, though it plans to return to the conference floor this year.

Another continuing trend at E3 is that more headline-making announcements are coming well before the show. Electronic Arts is unofficially kicking off this year’s pre-show activities with a press conference on June 10, three days before the exhibition begins. Microsoft and Bethesda Softworks LLC will follow with pressers on June 11, Sony and Ubisoft Entertainment SA are holding their pre-show conferences on June 12, and Nintendo is presenting a direct live stream video just before the show on June 13. All of these events will be viewable online by a global audience of fans, pundits, and observers, so E3’s biggest secrets will likely be revealed to the world and judgments rendered on which companies fared best and worst before the doors even open. (Keep an eye on Post Arcade for live streams and live blogs of these conferences.)

That said, those who take the time to travel to Los Angeles and attend E3 in person will be the only ones with an opportunity to lay hands on many of the products announced at the press events.

Among the most anticipated of these products is a Microsoft console currently code-named Project Scorpio. Unveiled last year and due to launch this fall, Project Scorpio is the latest iteration of the American tech giant’s current console, Xbox One, which has been trailing Sony’s rival PlayStation 4 since both launched. Project Scorpio will be Microsoft’s third Xbox One model, following the 2013 original and last year’s Xbox One S, and is set to increase the console’s processing, memory, and output capacities, potentially making it the most powerful living room console on the market.

Having already launched its mid-generation console update in the PlayStation 4 Pro last fall, Sony is unlikely to make any major hardware announcements at E3 2017, though it could undercut some the buzz generated by Project Scorpio via price drops for its consoles and accessories, including PlayStation VR. In lieu of new hardware, the Japanese company is likely to focus on software, with more details revealed concerning major upcoming games like God of War and Days Gone and announcements of new platform exclusives.

2017 will mark the first year that Nintendo’s recently launched Switch will be on display at the show, which means crowds will have a chance to play upcoming games like Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2. Nintendo’s handheld business continues to diminish, so don’t expect too much attention paid to the aging 3DS. However, its mobile strategy has been shifting into high gear over the last year, so we might anticipate the announcement of new games for iOS and Android devices.

Barring any presentation gaffes or demonstration kerfuffles – and assuming the chaos caused by allowing thousands of fans into the show’s already crowded conference halls doesn’t prove too distracting – E3 2017 should end up a pretty standard event, if you can call the gathering of enough people to populate a small city inside a single building standard.

Even with the emergence of comprehensive video coverage, the ESA’s annual game show continues to draw massive crowds, and remains a stanchion of the industry, providing business opportunities and massive marketing potential.