E3 has given video game enthusiasts something to look forward to in the summer sever since its debut in 1995. However, the future of the show is now in serious doubt. The initial COVID outbreak led to E3 being canceled in 2020, and the following year it was converted to an online-only event. Two weeks ago, we learned that there will not be a physical event for E3 2022, and at this point, an online event is not confirmed either. If the ESA is shutting it down altogether, will it ever recover? And more importantly… should it?
Is this the death of E3?
The truth is, E3 has been in a strange place for years. Nintendo ditched their usual in-person E3 press conference in 2013 (in favor of a Nintendo Direct) and never looked back. In the years since then, the Direct-style format has become increasingly popular with devs of all shapes and sizes. Shelling out millions to rent an auditorium for a few thousand people just doesn’t make any sense in the internet age.
Of course, there’s still the show floor component of E3, but it’s been on shaky ground for years as well. Microsoft and EA both left the E3 show floor proper to host their own competing events just blocks away. Bethesda, too, exited the show floor, and Sony eventually left E3 altogether. And of course, longtime E3 Coliseum host Geoff Keighly broke away to start his own series of events. Frankly, it was kind of depressing to walk the show floor and see so much empty space that had been filled by booths in years past.
Although the official word is that E3 2022’s physical event was shut down because of COVID, there may be more to the story. According to multiple sources who spoke to IGN, the ESA privately canceled E3 last fall. If true, it suggests E3 2022 simply wasn’t coming together as an event, and the Omicron variant became a convenient scapegoat.
Video game showcases don’t need the ESA
E3 began as an industry trade show where publishers could show off their products behind closed doors. It was set in June primarily so that retailers could have time to stock the revealed items for the holidays. As video game marketing and retail pipelines evolved, so did the show. E3 evolved into a more public-facing event that was all about generating hype for the public, and the ESA stayed relevant by facilitating it all. But they’ve outgrown their usefulness.
Before the physical event disappeared, the show floor provided a means for journalists to go hands-on with games for review purposes. As exciting as that was, it wasn’t practical at all. Playing a game for 10 minutes while surrounded by tens of thousands of people in a loud environment on little sleep is not particularly conducive to writing good impression pieces. And last year’s “virtual show floor” amounted to little more than a buggy messageboard.
On top of that, the ESA has completely lost the trust of the media in providing a safe place for those hands-on impressions. Due to embarrassingly poor cybersecurity, the ESA has leaked the personal information of thousands of journalists on multiple occasions. When this information came to light, they were dishonest about the severity of the situation, and never took any meaningful steps to apologize or assure the public that it wouldn’t happen again. If publishers want to put previews in the hands of the media they can do so in much safer and more effective ways than putting the ESA in charge of it.
The summer games hype doesn’t have to end
The death of E3 doesn’t have to be the end of exciting summer showcases. And no, I’m not talking about the Summer Game Fest, although that’s back too. Brand it whatever you want, but video game publishers are perfectly capable of putting on a show without the ESA. As the Direct-style format becomes more and more popular, there’s simply no incentive to go through an expensive and incompetent middleman.
The fan experience portion of E3 can continue to evolve and improve as well. The ESA’s decision to open the show floor up to the general public was met with mixed results, as many attendees were surprised by how little time they got with games for the price. The existence of downloadable demos really negates the need for expensive travel plans, though that solution lacks some of the excitement of attending an event. Microsoft and EA have each switched to holding their own fan events instead of trusting it to the ESA. Meanwhile, Nintendo has toyed with other possible alternatives in the past, including teaming up with retailers like Best Buy and GameStop to hold demo events at stores across the country. This method brings the excitement of playing a game early to a much wider audience without all the hassle and expense.
E3 has brought a lot of joy to video game fans over the years. I think it’s fair to say that June would feel empty without some kind of video game extravaganza. However, as the industry evolves, so must its events. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and other leaders can and should look for exciting new ways to deliver video game news in the summer, and having it all in one week is a real treat. If cutting the ESA out of those plans means dropping the E3 name, so be it.