Guest editorial: there was one unacceptable thing about E3 this year

Security and safety were alarmingly lax at this year's consumer-friendly exhibition, Rami Ismail writes.

(Image: © Rami Ismail)

Rami Ismail is a co-founder of Vlambeer, the studio responsible for Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers and Super Crate Box, among others. This story originally appeared on Rami Ismail's blog. We are republishing it with the permission of the author.

This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, like every year, was a beacon, a celebration for games as an industry. The event's three days in the Staples Center conference building in Los Angeles are technically the heart of the event, and attracted over 70,000 professionals in 2016.

Since the introduction of livestreaming, the soul of E3 lives in the spectacle (and the coverage of the spectacle) surrounding the event. Large publishers and platforms throw press conferences that attract millions of viewers worldwide, who tune in to see what their favorite games company has for the upcoming year.

This left the showfloor in a precarious position: E3 used to be an industry-only event, but the value of the showfloor, and the value of exhibiting there, dropped rapidly as companies could get more attention outside of the event. In effect, the showfloor had become a meeting space and a place for developer interviews.

So for 2017, E3 has radically changed what the show is: the expo now allows for the general public to register and visit the show. It’s an important step that is presumably necessary to ensure the continued survival of E3, and has brought back some value to exhibiting at the event. E3 graciously ensured that general audience badges were a neon yellow, and thus clearly distinct from the industry badges. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm and excitement of the general audience was a huge energy boost for the floor.

E3 2017 was the first to allow entry to the general public.

Regardless, for developers and press, the general audience has made the event a lot more clunky. The influx of 15,000 new people – many of whom understandably approached the showfloor as if it was a swag-filled consumer show – led to repeated chaos in the hall. Between a brawl, some instances of people being pushed over during opening, enormous queues, and booths having to adjust for the audience mid-show, the chaos was palpable more than once.

Press can no longer quickly move between meetings due to the crowds moving with less of a purpose, a complaint that echoed frequently throughout the hall. Off-the-record conversations also had to be relocated due to the abundance of free-style vloggers documenting the showfloor with their mobile phones.

There were more structural issues related to the event clearly not being ready for public access. Examples include a lack of volunteers or enforcers outside of the booth-provided ones; an unclear distinction between accessible and private areas; poor funnelling at key locations, and an almost non-existent clear-out policy of the E3 hall after closing time.

Now, these are all transitional pains, and I understand that E3 is in a transitional year. It is important to recognize the effort and organisation steering the direction of an event in response to an ever-evolving industry. Many of these problems could easily be resolved by replicating other industry/consumer shows – gamescom in Cologne, Germany, for example, has a industry-only day and a separate business area, so that everyone can get their work done while the audience checks into the latest our industry has to offer.

All of this would make for an acceptable E3 if it wasn’t for one other issue. I’m not sure if my experiences with security at airports has made me more aware of security checks, but there was an almost complete lack of security at the show. Badges were poorly checked, bags were not checked, and there were no metal detectors. For every day of the event, I’ve tried to walk into the building and onto the showfloor without wearing my badge. I succeeded passing by the private security personnel, unobstructed, every single time, and every time I was carrying a backpack that was never checked for its contents. It would be trivial to bring any sort of weapon to the event, and in the case that someone did, security would not be able to react fast enough in the hall to prevent anything from happening.

Despite all my love for the event, this is unacceptable. With the recent weapons threat at Phoenix Comicon, the general prevalence of weapons in the United States, and the amount of anger and vitriol thrown around online about games, this is not a safe state for such a critical industry event. All of the press conferences – even the Devolver Digital booth in a parking lot across the street – had better security, whether it was metal detectors, bag checks, or bomb-sniffing dogs. These are, and should be, minimum regulations for any showfloor that handles over 70,000 people.

Overall, it was clear that the ESA is trying to transition E3 to a new paradigm, and I welcome their efforts to experiment. I understand that we can’t expect everything to be flawless. Despite the transitional pains, the event seems to have been extremely useful and fruitful for most attendees, and as such the ‘new E3’ can be considered a careful success for 2017. Security, however, is not a ‘you get to try again next year’ issue. If the ESA is going to treat E3 as a public convention-style show, it needs to have security that can handle that. I trust they’ll make improvements, and that the industry and the general public attending in 2018 can enjoy the spectacle and business of E3 on a floor that can be reasonably expected to be safe and secure from weapons.

This article was posted after several attempts at reaching out to the ESA. I held back on releasing the post until after the E3 showfloor closed, to not spread information about security at the show during the show. I’ll have a post discussing my thoughts about E3 content and shows later this week on my blog.