Something was missing at last year's E3.
While there were the usual big announcements and spectacle, the absence of Zynga – which was already one of the largest publishers in the industry – was a shadow hard to ignore. This year, though, the social games maker has reversed course – and will join the industry's annual circus.
"It was an easy decision," says Rob Dyer, vice president of partner publishing at Zynga. "We have a number of potential partners who will be there. … We did this very purposefully. We knew when we signed up for the space we would have launched Zynga Partners and would have Zynga.com up and running."
Despite some early speculation to the contrary, don't expect Zynga to go hog-wild at E3. The company opted to bypass the show's expensive booths and won't be sending a contingent of employees. Instead, Dyer and about five other staffers will be huddled in a meeting room at the show to meet with prospective content partners
. The company's even turning down media appointments, so it can focus on finding new games.
While E3 is still very much a retail-oriented show (and, given the large media presence, a consumer facing event), the industry at large is changing. And Zynga is betting that evolution will extend to the show.
"E3 is in a bit of transition," says Dyer. "It's no longer just about consoles. It's about games and having an opportunity to talk to the people making those games, whether on the web or mobile. It is where we need to be, so we will have a presence."
Social games in general will have a larger presence at this year's show. EA and Disney will both prominently showcase those divisions of their companies, despite having major console games on display. And as both vie for Zynga's king-of-the-hill status, it could help with their recruiting – another reason Zynga decided to make the trip to Los Angeles this year.
It was, in fact, the growing presence of mobile/social games at industry trade shows that convinced Dyer to leave his position as senior vice president of publisher relations for Sony Computer Entertainment America nine months ago.
"The thing that struck me last year and influenced my decision to leave Sony was the Tokyo Game Show," he says. "In the past, it was a very big deal about what was coming out on consoles. Last year, there were maybe three or four games outside of Sony's booth that were console games. Everything else was social or mobile -- and that was the canary in the coalmine for me. … I believe that over time, you're going to see the same thing occur at E3. You're going to see more free to play games on the show floor."
Zynga's stop at E3 is the white whale the ESA has been chasing for the past year (last year CEO Mike Gallagher said "We believe there's a home for them at E3 and would very much like to see them at the show"), but the company is hardly the first socially focused developer/publisher to attend.
Kabam used last year's E3 to showcase its core-focused social games and meet with developers – and accurately predicted the influx of other social gaming companies.
"It's a great show for meeting partners and every major gaming company is here," said Kevin Chou, CEO of Kabam, at the time. "There are a lot of major things going on in the industry and I think you're going to see this disruption of the traditional gaming space and digital really converge in an interesting way in the next couple of years."
Dyer acknowledges the competition – and even notes the irony of a company so focused on casual titles attending a show that caters more to the core gamer. Ultimately, he says, Zynga hopes its presence at E3 – and the partnerships it makes there – could convert those core gaming doubters into customers.
"I'm very cognizant we are not the only ones doing this," he says. "The reason we're there is to find games we can use to court the core gamer. We really want those kinds of games on the Zynga platform. You go hunting where the ducks are."