By Mike McLaughlin, Managing Director, Digital, Mindshare North America
Here comes E3. This year, at the gaming industry’s largest and most important platform for global announcements — and an undisputed battleground for endemic and non-endemic marketers alike — attendance is projected to exceed 50,000. Pundits have been covering the big announcements from Nintendo, Sony and anyone with a virtual-reality play.
But there’s an added level of public involvement this year that all marketers should be tracking. Between 4,000 and 5,000 fans or "prosumers" have been granted invite-only access. Those passes were provided to select Entertainment Software Association (ESA) exhibitors based on their size and presence at E3. Microsoft already held a ticket giveaway to 500 lucky fans that included special access to the Xbox E3 briefing, parties and developer meet-'n'-greets.
So what’s the big deal about opening the E3 doors to fans? Aren’t those just the same people who already found their way in through industry connections and media channels? Perhaps to some extent. But the move is indicative of the way brands market in today’s landscape — putting consumers and cultural connection ahead of pure brand objectives. The implications mean that now, more than ever, companies need to be at the top of their game. Because it’s not just their peer groups watching: these "prosumers" have loyal scores of followers and clout that outweighs industry pundits'.
In simple terms, the influx of fans means a likely 10% increase in overall attendance. But the real headline here is that E3 and its largest exhibitors have opened their arms to fans, following in the footsteps of San Diego Comic Con. With this change, E3 has instantly been transformed from a B2B event with a consumer halo effect to one with a more direct B2C purpose as well. It’s a recognition of the power of influencers, and a reflection of the evolution of gaming: from hardcore console and PC focus to a much more egalitarian medium with the growth of mobile gaming.
Mike Gallagher, CEO at the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has said, "Now video games are built and distributed year-round on every device with a screen and an Internet connection. … The market has shifted. Now you have the consumers as a part of the enterprise." E3’s move will affect marketers, tech companies, developers — anyone who is attempting to get the word out about their product or service.
The speed at which news travels is exponentially greater with fans or foes as part of the experience. This year’s event brings an opportunity to not only affect the consumer market directly through this influencer group, but to do so in real-time and raise the stakes across the board.
Exhibitors will need to respond by fashioning their communication channels, data collection and product experiences — both on the ground and externally — for agility, speed and real-time response. It’s a new opportunity to drive pre-orders and sales directly. Product needs to be ready to go and fully functional. Demos need to be tighter. Outdoor advertising, publicity stunts and marketing collateral will all need to speak with more urgency and a pronounced nod to social media. Press is still vitally important — but now there’s a new reason for the E3 experience to be at its absolute best.
Mike McLaughlin oversees digital operations for Mindshare Los Angeles.