Does E3 Have A Future?

June 18, 2019 - The image shows E3 2015 in full swing where a Street Fighter photo event allowed fans to participate. E3 is short for the Electronic Entertainment Expo and has revealed some of the most exciting and memorable gaming announcements EVER since the show first opened its doors in 1995. That said, it's become blindingly obvious that its relevance is quickly fading away.

E3 was once the most prominent gaming show on the planet featuring major surprise announcements and high-profile insider parties every year. It was THE place to be for everyone, even drawing in those with only a modest interest in interactive entertainment. However, in the past few years, the world of games and entertainment has shifted and dispersed dramatically. How, where, and when games are played and enjoyed has changed considerably — in parallel to an ever-expanding games industry.

Initially, E3 was a trade show that allowed journalists to find out about the latest and upcoming trends and were publishers made sales of their upcoming games to major retailers in the US and Europe. It would almost always garner every game company that exhibited, regardless of size, a decent amount of media attention. It also revealed to the world the future of games and electronic entertainment. Since then, E3 has transformed into more of a fan convention, and sadly, it appears to have lost much of its way.

No show, Sony?

Last year, Sony announced that PlayStation wouldn’t be attending E3 2019, which caused developers and fans alike to doubt the importance of the show. If one of the biggest sharks in the red gaming ocean couldn’t even be bothered to turn up, what was the point of the event, its raison d’être?

PlayStation did have their reasons though, and one of their representatives publicly commented;

“…we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019.”

The statement appears to be a less-than-subtle hint that E3 hasn’t kept up with the times and that its lack of innovation is apparent to the majority of the games industry. The truth is that the once original trade show has remained virtually unchanged for many years, and hasn’t been able to offer gamers nor developers anything particularly exclusive or compelling to ensure their return. Perhaps they should focus a lot more on new, innovative and rising game companies, and much less on loud and bombastic exhibitors, as well as physical retail which is quickly evaporating (aside from select merchandise which remains quite popular.)

There’s Much Success Without E3

A lot of game developers, including many smaller “indies” and more than few of the larger A+ houses, have come to realize they can make announcements in their own time over a magical thing we call… the Internet! As these companies grow their followings, it becomes unnecessary for them to waste time and money on E3 when there are no apparent nor guaranteed upsides of exhibiting at the event.

Rockstar is a rarity amongst big-budget publicly traded AAA developers since they consistently deliver innovative, high-quality games that often become the most dominant mainstream titles in the world. Their portfolio includes major franchises such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. And guess what? They never ever attend E3, and I have to say they seem to be doing quite well despite their absence.

Devolver Digital is a quirky “mini-major” focused on publishing small and independent developers. They’re hugely successful and has some brilliant games lined up. That said, they aren’t too impressed by E3, recently describing the event as;

“a special form of torture…”

They’ve also commented on the cost of renting display spaces at E3;

“…would be our marketing spend in 10 years”.

It’s clear that for a lot of game companies, E3 has become over-priced and not worth its asking price. Meanwhile, many other game industry services and events have come down in price in the past decade, which from a tight budgetary perspective makes E3 look alarmingly antiquated.

Boosted by Xbox, how did E3 2019 fare with gamers?

To most gamers, E3 this year has been… insufficient. Microsoft, facing no direct competition from Nintendo nor PlayStation, pulled off a reasonably successful event while showing lots of love for independent “indie” developers. Their live-streamed, game-focused Xbox E3 press event was made even more enjoyable by a large number of games coming out of their popular ID@Xbox initiative, a program that allows qualified game developers of all sizes to unleash their creativity by self-publishing digital games on Xbox One.

Exclusive Xbox One titles included the breathtakingly beautiful platform-adventure Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the stylish and highly coveted million-seller spin-off Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course, and the shoulder-shooter turned FPS Gears 5, all of which looked incredible. Add to that the surprise-reveal of Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox hardware, presently known as “Scarlett”, which immediately kick-started demand for its Master Chief launch title Halo 5, scheduled to release alongside the new Microsoft console around Christmas 2020. And last but not least, Microsoft’s streaming service xCloud appears to be a reliable and competent contender to Google’s forthcoming Stadia gaming service.

The fact that PlayStation was a no-show clearly damaged the event as a whole. Especially Sony could potentially have brought a few much-anticipated exclusives to the show including Death Stranding, the MediEvil reboot, and perhaps even a new Street Fighter project (the popular Capcom fighting game franchise remain exclusive to PlayStation, much to the chagrin of Xbox One owners.) These titles alone would have saved this year’s show to some extent. And although many have had strong opinions on Sony pulling out of this year’s E3, its super-successful pre-show announcement of Hideo Kojima’s upcoming game “Death Stranding”, which also stars Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame, makes it clear that the Japanese gaming giant knows full well what it’s doing.

Did Nintendo save E3 2019?

Nintendo was the only company at this year’s E3 that had a good number of compelling games to show its avid fans. With the first gameplay trailer of Animal Crossing: New Horizons dropping, gamers would have been satisfied with that alone. But Nintendo just kept giving, as they teased The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild II and many more titles.

But can one company single-handedly save an event of the magnitude E3 is meant to have? Of course not. We have to keep in mind not everyone owns a Nintendo Switch or even likes the Mario-company much. That aside, I am convinced Nintendo made E3 2019 slightly less terrible for everyone.

E3 for the fans

It appears even the host and organizer of E3 is aware its corner-stone event is quickly running out of steam, which is why they opened up E3 to the public for the first time in 2017. This move has dramatically altered the perception of what E3 is. It is somewhat contradictory that as gaming companies vacate the event, the show draws an increasing number of visitors who are first and foremost fans and gamers. To them, E3 has essentially become a mass convention.

What then is the main draw for these gamers pilgrimaging to Los Angeles every year? The potential of exclusively playing upcoming games for the first time, and watch interviews and perhaps even ask questions to various high-profile game developers. But if game companies keep dropping out of E3 at the current rate, what reasons do gamers have to attend an E3 convention? Not many, to put it bluntly.

Just a bad year?

It’s easy to brush this year’s E3 off as a one-time failure, claiming it just had a bad year, and that it’ll carry a lot more weight and success next time. But the fact remains: the game’s industry’s flagship event has been struggling for quite some time now. As the Internet grows and connection speeds improve, immediate access to high-quality live streaming becomes available to more gamers around the world, while also allowing game developers to make announcements at times more suitable to their often hectic and tight development schedules.

I think it’s unlikely Sony will return to E3 as they’ve already proven there really is no need for them to attend nor exhibit at the event. PlayStation demonstrated they are doing just fine without E3 by dropping the phenomenal Death Stranding release-date trailer before the show. And by the looks of it, Sony’s “Über-trailer tactic” paid off in spades as the impact on the gaming world resonated for many days on an unprecedented level. I can’t help but wonder whether an exclusive E3 reveal would have had nearly the same effect.

To wrap this up, and if we look at all this logically, what E3 offers most gaming companies could be replicated through a YouTube live stream. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony builds a fancy-looking broadcasting studio from which they can live stream everything about their upcoming PlayStation 5 console, thus creating their own event — entirely without E3 and perhaps somewhat inspired by Apple.

Unless E3 quickly adapts to the ever-changing and fickle games industry and reinvents itself, it is hard to see where the relevance of the event comes into play in the future.

Kaspar Ravn
Team Manager at Pitchkid. Organizes PR and Social Media for Legendo Entertainment. If I see a 90s arcade machine, I just have to play it! Always. That aside, I'm what you'd call an occasional gamer. Fled the beautiful fields of southern Sweden for the stunning fjords of northern Norway. To get in touch, hit me up on Twitter.



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