E3 has officially made the announcement that most of us in the space have known was coming for a while. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this year will be digital-only and free to consume. There really was no other option, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, even without a raging plague, this was the logical conclusion.
This is not likely to be the last we’ve seen of in-person E3 events, but I believe it’s the beginning of the end. Let’s take a look at how we got here, what it means for 2021, and what it means for E3 going forward.
It was bound to happen eventually
No matter how you look at it, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has had a major problem on its hands. Namely, why would companies shell out vast sums of money to share the stage with their competitors when they could just run their own showcase events? And indeed, last year saw many companies begin doing exactly that.
2019 saw Sony pull out of E3 altogether, although they claimed it was because they didn’t have anything worth having press conferences over. With the ubiquity of streaming services, and the massive audiences that platforms like Twitch and Youtube pull in, why wouldn’t game publishers just run their own event?
The Game Awards have been able to skirt this trend of developers and publishers just doing it themselves. That’s because they have a niche. They’re an awards show, and frankly, a pretty well-run one. While I have a lot of disagreement with how games are chosen and the level of groupthink that goes into the final decisions, I can’t argue that they have cemented a place for themselves in the gaming consciousness.
E3 2020 Was A Telling Sign
E3 was canceled wholesale in 2020, which was our opportunity to miss it. It was our opportunity to take a step back and think “wow! I really can’t wait for 2021.” Did anyone else NOT feel that at all?
We still got our game announcements. We still got the trailers and previews. And we still got to play demos.
The only things that were conspicuously absent were the long lines, con-plague, lack of hotel rooms, and overly priced snacks. While it’ll be nice to have everything condensed down into 4 days (June 12, June 13, June 14, and June 15), a few easy-to-consume preview nights are not the selling point they once were.
At least for an in-person event. When it comes to a digital show, where I don’t have to travel or deal with lodging, this could still be a home run. E3 always was and will continue to be a month’s worth of gaming journalism crammed into a week.
Preview trailers, game demos, developer interviews, it’s all still going to be happening. The difference is it will be far more accessible and cheaper than ever before.
And It’s A Good Thing
There are going to be people out there who lament the loss of the in-person E3 event. And believe me, I understand why. But it’s the biggest game event of the year! But it’s the most storied games expo in history!
I know. And believe me, there’s a part of me that feels that sense of loss for an event that I dreamt about going to in my childhood.
But believe me when I tell you, that event you have built up in your mind doesn’t exist anymore, and it probably never did. E3 had reached a level of ‘up its own ass’ rivaled only the actual game companies delivering their keynote addresses. But restriction breeds creativity and innovation.
A year with the doors closed has lead E3 to truly innovate in a way that might keep it relevant, at least for a few more years. I do believe the winds of change are still pushing the industry in the direction of each game developer hosting their own annual event. But the E3 name does still carry weight, and making it easy to access for both developers and fans alike will keep it afloat for now.
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