E3 was founded on the principle of celebrating games. An event in which gamers could take pride in the art, development, and enjoyment that video games brought to players around the world. Currently, it remains as the largest video game convention in the world drawing in over 65,000 attendants worldwide and millions more through livestreams and various other media coverage of the event. Despite the attention that it receives, key players such as Sony and EA are choosing to not attend or are choosing to host separate events outside of E3. Just recently, Geoff Keighley announced he would not be attending for the first time in 25 years. High costs, a change in direction, and at the forefront of it all, massive E3 leaks have left gamers uncertain as to what the future will hold for the trade show.
The Origins of E3
Despite its massive growth and success, many industry veterans will remember the days in which E3 did not have its own event. Instead of taking an entire convention center of its own, the entirety of E3 could be held in a tent during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega America recalls, “The CES organizers used to put the video game industry way, way in the back. In 1991, they put us in a tent, and you had to walk past all the porn vendors to find us. That particular year it was pouring rain, and the rain leaked right over our new Genesis system. I was just furious with the way CES treated the video game industry, and I felt we were a more important industry than they were giving us credit for.” Sega, along with many other developers, chose not to return the following year.
As gaming grew so did the need for the industry to host their own trade show. In 1995 the first trade show opened with a massive influx of participants. With over 40,000 attendees, it immediately became the biggest video game event in the industry. Throughout the years, E3 would go through its own hardships. In 2007 to 2008 the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) who hosts E3, made the show exclusive to press only. Industry analysts such as Michael Pachter called this out stating that,“E3 would become extinct.”
This year at E3, the ESA is allowing for over 25,000 guest passes (an increase of 10,000 passes since last year) in conjunction with members of the gaming press to attend. Conversely, major industry leaders including Sony and EA are choosing not to attend and there are several reasons this may be the smarter decision. Among them include a high cost of entry, change in direction, and massive leaks of information.
Leaks Ruin Big Announcments
Leaks during E3 may likely be one of the biggest deterrents that faces publishers attending. The months leading up to the event are notorious for being slow when it comes to any gaming news. This is likely because most developers are working to make sure everything will be ready and planned for the event to go off smoothly. Although we know this very often isn’t the case. Preparation of trailers, scripts, the order of announcements, scheduling interviews, and of course, rehearsals dominate a studios time leading up to E3. Not to mention that very often developers have to prepare segments of the game that are created exclusively to showcase during E3 only to scrap it immediately after. Imagine spending months worth of time working to surprise fans and truly make a memorable showcase only to have your announcement leaked by retailers a month prior to the show.
Among the most notorious E3 leaks came in 2018 from a Wal-Mart listing of Rage 2 before its reveal. ID software’s fantastic handling of the leak was able to turn it into positive PR for the game, but no doubt it could have better served to take fans completely by surprise.
Not Just Games Are Being Leaked
Video game announcements proved to not be the only susceptible source for E3 leaks. The most notorious among them came last year, when an employee for the ESA leaked the names of attending influencers along with personal details such as phone numbers, emails, and addresses. The file was originally discovered by YouTuber Sophia Narowitz as available for direct download. The ESA responded to this breach of privacy by stating that the “ESA was made aware of a website vulnerability that led to the contact list of registered journalists attending E3 being made public,” the trade body said in a statement. “Once notified, we immediately took steps to protect that data and shut down the site, which is no longer available. We regret this occurrence and have put measures in place to ensure it will not occur again.”
Ironically, more E3 leaks have revealed that this year’s event will be centered around becoming a “fan, media and influencer festival” in 2020. It is reported that the ESA wants to create “exclusive/appointment only activations for select attendees who will create buzz and FOMO.” Those that do choose to line up, however, will be given “queuetainment” in which fans may be able to see statues of celebrities and take photos with them. The leaked deck mentioned fans being able to see the LA Lakers playing a basketball video game or see celebrities compete with one another while waiting in lines.
E3 Is Restructuring For 2020
This focus on influencers is a direct response to last year’s data breach in an attempt to incentivize popular content creators to return to E3. These changes, however, may be the reason why Geoff Keighley recently announced he will not be attending E3 for the first time in 25 years. As an insider himself, he does know more about the specific plans that the ESA likely has for E3, but he remained tight-lipped about the specific nature of his decision. Keighley himself had mentioned “like everyone else online,” he read the leaked deck refused to comment as to how that impacted his decision. What is known is that he is “uncomfortable” with E3’s 2020 plans.
Keighley has put a major emphasis on making his own event, The Game Awards, available to people around the world. He strongly believes that a person’s involvement in events such as E3 should not be limited by a person’s inability to afford a flight to LA.
The Cost Of Attending E3
The second barrier to entry is the high costs that are needed. In an interview between Joytiq and Semi-Formal Studios, it was mentioned, “If we hadn’t second-guessed everything, worked really hard, and gotten clever it would have been about $300,000 – $500,000,” for a 600 square foot space. It goes without saying that a AAA developer will purchase a much larger space than 600 square feet. In 2016 it was reported that major AAA publishers were spending between $5 and $10 million dollars to host their shows. This does not include the opportunity costs of time and preparation ahead of the event. For EA to host EA Play outside of the LA Convention center can still draw in as many fans through streaming the event while mitigating the cost and the possibility of leaks as a result of not having to share details with the ESA.
Sony, similarly, is rumored to be revealing the PlayStation 5 this month and in this way can manage the cost and save money while still drawing the attention from the news. The decision to reveal their 2020 plans ahead of E3 also may be beneficial in that any information they release will not be overshadowed by an onslaught of information that arises from E3 every year. Instead, they can top headlines and discussions by announcing when news is much more scarce. In Sony’s case, however, it has not stopped the bounty of leaks and rumors that have arisen, although much of it revolves around the PlayStation 5 and its awaited full reveal.
In the end, the need and relevance of E3 is called into question. Between E3 leaks, the widespread availability of streaming services, and the quick dissemination of information through social media channels the need to attend high budget conferences is not the same as it once was. The same effect and audience can be reached through hosting a livestream of a much smaller, contained private event. Of course, E3 still remains a celebration for gamers and a monument to how large gaming has become over the past several years but perhaps that sentiment will be migrated to The Game Awards.