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A World Without E3

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Once again, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is going fully digital due to COVID-19 and its variant, Omicron. Previously, the event featured eager gamers and press alike, previewing games and attending conferences hosted by the industry’s biggest companies. It was a fun gathering that steamrolled all the major gaming announcements into a three-day event, but since the pandemic, E3 has found footing online, much like the rest of the world. 

It seems that E3 has been hanging on to life by a thread for the past two years. While the loss of E3 may seem like a huge blow to the gaming industry, it won’t have much of a practical impact since companies are already moving away from the historic, three-day convention. In other words, the gaming world has already transitioned into a post E3 world. The impact won’t come from a functionality standpoint but from an emotional one. However, before we dive into a world without E3, let’s take a look at the nails driving its coffin. The quick history of E3 should help us see everything the infamous event has done for games and give us a better grasp of what an E3-less world may look like. 

The Downfall of E3

Once a year, I watched Spike TV’s coverage of E3, enthralled by the cinematic trailers and enticed by the live gameplay demos. Spike eventually stopped covering E3, so I had to watch the event via YouTube Livestream, but E3 was still memorable for its awkward moments and out-of-left-field game announcements. Keanu Reeves could call a fan breathtaking, Xbox could have an excruciatingly long demonstration of kids playing the Kinect, or Sony’s PlayStation could undercut the Sega Saturn with a $100 price difference. I never knew what was going to happen at E3, and I always wanted to go in person. At the time, I thought gaming’s biggest event would last forever. 

Ever since E3’s first event in 1995, games have had a massive show all to themselves. Video games were the focus, not a medium subjected to tents in the parking lot, as they used to be at the 1990’s Consumer Electronics Show. Despite all the good E3 did for the industry, cracks started to form as the world moved into a digital age. In 2006, companies became increasingly concerned with their return on investment when participating in E3. It costs the studio a lot of money to maintain a booth on the show floor and pay for E3 antics like celebrity appearances. In the wake of studios finding out they could reach the same audience through their own events, E3 became less relevant, especially for the biggest companies in the gaming industry. 

Additionally, there are reports that the pressure to present a playable demo in time for E3 has rushed development or created a substantial crunch for workers. Sometimes, studios will focus on creating an impressive cinematic trailer, specifically for E3, and halt other areas of game development. One example comes from a Bloomberg report, regarding the rocky development of Cyberpunk 2077 and its E3 2018 demo. Developers told Bloomberg that “they felt like the demo was a waste of months that should have gone toward making the game.”

With these troubles brewing, we started to see significant companies drop out of E3, severely hurting the convention’s appeal. In 2013, Nintendo opted for a digital, pre-recorded show, instead of a physical presence at E3. The transition, known as the Nintendo Direct, has proved successful for the company and is still thriving to this day. Since then, other companies have pulled out, including Sony, Activision, Electronic Arts, and Blizzard, making Microsoft one of the last big players.

Most of these companies like Sony and Ubisoft hosted their own live stream event, and the former also saw successful console launches without E3’s marketing prowess. Others decided to market their games with Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest and other similar outlets.

That was a speedrun of history, and we’re all caught up to the present. There are reports that there was more going on than a simple transition to digital E3. Mike Futter, a business analyst, posted on Twitter to say that the Entertainment Software Association, the organizers of E3, had no set dates for the Los Angeles Convention Center, the traditional host of the E3 physical event, long before the Omnicron virus took hold. Gaming journalist Jason Schreier also backed up Futter’s claim on Twitter.

“I 100% believe @Futterish’s reporting that the ESA gave up on E3 months ago (there would otherwise have been dates on their website) over the PR fluff piece that hit today. No way this was a knee-jerk reaction to Omicron. It’s E3 throwing in the towel”

E3 may, very well, be one step out the door. 

The Impact 

So, what’s the outcome? We’ve been living in it. Developers do whatever they want, marketing their games throughout the summer on their own or with the aid of the desired platform. 

The new practice is positive in many ways.

Developers won’t be forced into an E3 grind where they focus all their attention on a singular gameplay demo or trailer, tarnishing other aspects of development. They also won’t be subjected to the financial pressures of the ESA and are free to advertise when and how they want. In this vein, developers don’t have to worry about hype or competing against their competitors within a three-day window – they can make big or small announcements on their own schedule. 

Lastly, I have to take the compressed nature of E3 into consideration. By spreading announcements across the entire summer instead of three days, each announcement has time to breathe and resonate with fans. At E3, announcements are constantly overshadowed by the next, creating a compulsory nature to crown the winner. E3, whether it’s PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo, always has a winner. Gamers seem to have a posture toward competition, and E3 feeds that nature. That’s, arguably, one of the most fun parts of the event, but it always minimizes the value of each announcement and, instead, puts them on a bracket. The practice inherently favors the “richest” companies with the most reach, minimizing small announcements that may have been of equal value. 

The summer-long nature of announcements also eases stress for reporters and consumers. Journalists don’t have to rush through stories as they are bombarded with news from left to right. They can take their time instead of frantically writing 100-word stories in a packed Los Angeles bar or as they run through the crowd to the next event. 

There are definitely pros to E3’s potential exit, but I’m jealous. I’m jealous that I may never get to go in person. For all the downfalls of E3, it’s also had a positive influence on the gaming community. 

The biggest downside of losing E3 is the most obvious, the lack of in-person interaction. For the people who attend E3, especially the smaller outlets and developers, the event is just as much of a crowdsourcing opportunity as a showcase. Indie developers can meet Triple-A developers and bounce ideas off of each other. Small media sights can get the exclusive interview by running into Phil Spencer in the bathroom. Online friends from the gaming industry can finally meet face to face. These opportunities are lost when everyone is watching conferences from the comfort of their home. This in-person aspect also plays into one of the best parts of E3, the show floor. 

The community could get hands-on gameplay access to unreleased games, and developers could get valuable instant feedback. Now, these demos are still possible through private online sessions and hands-off gameplay demos. Despite, being a worthy substitution, it’s just that, a substitution. It doesn’t compare to playing a game shoulder to shoulder with a developer or friends. 

For all the missteps the ESA took along the way, they do quarantine all the major gaming news under one E3 umbrella. If a gamer wanted the majority of gaming news, they could watch or attend E3, but, now, with multiple streams and coverage, gaming news is a minefield. We never know when Nintendo is going to announce the Switch Pro or when Sony is going to drop the next State of Play. Every day, we live on the edge, waiting for the next big thing. In addition, we never know how much expectation to place on an announcement. With E3, we can expect something big, and we have a right to do so. With the random, Microsoft stream, we don’t know if we should expect the next console generation or a documentary about trebuchets. 

Unfounded expectations can lead to disappointment, leading companies to be more specific when announcing events. Some even say a particular game won’t make an appearance, but the expectations set by the organizer don’t usually correspond to the actual event. Definitions seem to be differentiated among certain groups like when Xbox promised next-generation gameplay, but the showcase was mostly full of trailers. Suffice it to say, E3 kept game announcements organized and anticipation status balanced. At E3, gamers should expect the next big gaming innovation, and companies should try to live up to that. Outside of E3 though, there are no expectations, leading to unforeseen levels of hype. 

What Will the Future Hold? 

First and foremost, I don’t know if E3 is going to return next year. The ESA may exceed expectations and host the best video game conventions in years, but, realistically, the chances or low. The more likely outcome is that E3 will have another digital event where only a few game companies adhere to the ESA’s expensive demands. It also wouldn’t be too surprising if 2022 was the last E3.

My prediction is that Geoff Keighley, being the video game dad he is, will wrangle most game companies under his Summer Game Fest umbrella and make that the new conference to look forward to. Summer Game Fest won’t be a three-day conference, but a summer-long mix of live and streamed events from different game companies. It will resemble the current state of game announcements, but it will be more organized with specific months or weeks for each company. 

If this is true, and I have no confirmation that it is, then it will still miss that E3 magic. E3 used to be a special occasion once a year for both physical attendees and online viewers where anything could happen, I mean anything. There are other gaming events spread throughout the year, but none of them are as popularized or far-reaching. Even my non-gaming friends know what E3 is, probably because it’s a breeding ground for memes.

 You never know what stupid thing an announcer will say or what technical mishap will ruin a gameplay demo. It was also a place of fandom; it’s like the Super Bowl where fans come repping their favorite team whether that be Sony or Microsoft. I spoke about why this could be a negative aspect of E3 earlier, and I still think it is, but it has always been a cultural aspect of the conference that bred fun debates between friends. E3 was a profound event that helped give video games some credibility, and it’s sad to see it go. The end of E3 is a two-sided coin, but one can’t argue that E3’s era deserves a spot in the history books. 

Stay tuned at Gaming Instincts via TwitterYouTube and Facebook for more gaming news.

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