E3 Was A Meeting That Could Have Been An Email
For twenty years, E3 was the closest thing to untouchable in the industry. It was the undisputed king of summer when it came to video games. But now, on a weekend in which Xbox Bethesda was the only showcase really worthy of E3, the event itself feels unnecessary.
I take no pleasure in typing this article. Going to E3 was a lifelong dream of mine, and I count my first trip to E3 in 2017 among the highlights of my life. However, it’s time to face facts. E3 is now a meeting that could, and probably should, have been an email.
Xbox Bethesda Showed Up
I can’t write this article without saying this. I’ve spent the last few years being very mean, and rightfully so, to Microsoft. For the last few years, their events have been a haze of “WORLD PREMIERE” announcements that don’t sell me on anything. But as is always my policy, when you do good, I say nice things. Xbox Bethesda knocked it out of the park this year.
I’ve been wondering if maybe they were just the best of a bunch of terrible shows. And while they may be that, I think their showing this year would hold up even on a strong year. Starfield, Redfall, STALKER 2, Age of Empires 4, Outer Worlds 2, Forza, and let’s not forget the Murder Rooster (TM) of Far Cry 6.
More important than that is Microsoft has finally heard what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for years. Stop tagging each of the trailers as world premieres and say something that matters. Well, they listened. Instead, they tagged almost every trailer with “Available day one on Xbox Game Pass.” Hot Damn.
I have not been shy in my praise of Game Pass, which I believe is the best value in gaming right now. I said in the lead-up to E3 that Microsoft’s win condition was making Game Pass front and center, and they accomplished that in spades. If I were Microsoft, I’d be on the phone with Geoff Keighley right now trying to secure a 6-hour Xbox-only presentation for Summer 2022.
I actually think Ubisoft put on a decent show. And Devolver Digital did what Devolver Digital does. Square Enix laid an egg, and Capcom was disappointing as well. Where was the EA play? Did Bandai NAMCO sleep through their showcase? I say every year that the PC gaming show is my least favorite presentation, and this year was no different.
And I started to wonder: did the game showcases not live up? Or did E3 not provide the platform that they usually do? Let me explain.
Part of E3’s mystical aura is making the mundane seem extraordinary. You take an announcement that in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t mean much, and because it’s at E3, it means more. C announcements become B’s. B’s become A’s, and A’s become legendary. That is the power of E3 at its best.
Well, we are far from E3’s best. In fact, we may be at its worst. And so Square-Enix’s showcase, which was a C- in my book, remains a C-.
This Format Doesn’t Work
Let it be known that a digital-only E3 doesn’t work. Because if it’s a digital-only event, why wouldn’t the developers just run their own events where they get to be the stars? Xbox/Bethesda could have run their own 6-hour event, spending 90 minutes showing off their games and then seven 30 minute presentations going behind the scenes and in-depth on their biggest titles. Call it Xbox Around the Clock for all I care.
Square-Enix could wait until they have updates on all their major releases and easily hold their own 4-hour event in the middle of July. Ubisoft and EA could do the same. The only ones who couldn’t do so are the smaller and mid-tier developers, and the problem is, they don’t carry the weight of E3. That’s exactly what we’re seeing right now.
Rumor has it, E3 is intent on going to a hybrid event next year, which is what they should do. E3 needs the physical event to be its excuse for the ridiculousness that it is. You can justify a series of over-the-top press conferences when you’ve got convention centers packed with a hundred thousand people.
E3 has room to be relevant, but this should be a stark wake-up call. Every decision they made this year short of Goldenboy was the wrong one. So go back to the drawing board, and in the words of a producer I once had critiquing the show: Do it better. Hopefully, I’ll see you in person next year.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images