Over the past few weeks, only terrible news has surrounded E3 2023 with several publishers – once staples of the E3 lineup like Ubisoft, Nintendo and Xbox – all dropping out of the show this year. Since the pandemic began, this meant that the ESA had to halt its E3 plans for the foreseeable future, leading gaming companies to create dedicated digital presentations of their own to make up for the expo’s absence. With its return, E3 now finds itself in a very tricky spot as the industry has seemingly moved on.
E3 used to be the biggest gaming event of the year for me (and all of my friends). Even though we were miles away from Los Angeles, we still stayed up until the early hours of the morning to tune into presentations from PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and other companies all making big and exciting new game reveals as well as updates on games we already played and loved. E3 used to be a celebration of the gaming industry where, each year, creatives would come together to pave the road for the future of gaming.
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E3’s excitement began to fade as the years went on. It was arguably at its strongest in the mid-2010s when we had knockout conferences like PlayStation’s bomb-shell reveal for Final Fantasy VII Remake at E3 2015, the bait-and-switch drop of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard at Sony’s E3 2016 conference or Bethesda’s incredible deep dives of 2016’s DOOM and Fallout 4. Just hearing the crowd reactions to these announcements filled me with joy and it felt like I was expressing my excitement with like-minded fans.
In 2020, the world was changed by the COVID-19 pandemic as all work and industries ground to a screeching halt. The gaming industry was hit pretty hard as well. Developers had to adopt a new work-from-home ethic while games that were in development had to be delayed as a result. This impacted all gaming events too as in-person shows were put on hold including E3, Gamescom and numerous annual expos across the entertainment industry.
Developers and publishers quickly resorted to hosting their own digital presentations to fill in the gaps left by E3’s absence, from the likes of Sony, Nintendo, Ubisoft, Capcom and many more delivering exciting, contained online showcases that packed just as much excitement as E3 reveals but without the crowd energy. It’s been three years and we’re still seeing companies resort to hosting their own online events, even with E3 back in full swing.
There are some valid reasons why this is still the case, though. Firstly, it’s a more cost-effective solution to buying out space and venues at E3. Without the hassle and headaches that come with planning, budget allocations and bookings, gaming companies can now simply cut those expenses by side-stepping E3 altogether. Secondly, this allows publishers to curate their own online experiences and shows, determine the pacing without time constraints and still manage to reach audiences around the globe through this strategy.
PlayStation might’ve realised this sooner than most companies as it dropped out of E3 2019, even before the pandemic, in favour of hosting its own showcases and has since never shown interest in returning to E3 again. Who could blame Sony? The online shows it puts out now still generate plenty of buzz and serve a similar purpose marketing-wise. I think it was around the PS5’s announcement that Sony noticed it doesn’t need a grand stage like E3 to make a big splash. The internet already provided that stage. It’s probably been the real stage all along.
Other companies quickly took notice of how successful this was and began crafting their own online showcases, often to great success as well. In an age where the most effective marketing comes from the digital space, gaming was already tailored to slip into that strategy and routine. I think most publishers are more than comfortable having the power to have the final say in their own marketing strategies at this point, which paints a giant red cross over something like E3.
From what I understand, the process of companies gearing up for E3 every year was already a resource-intensive task on its own. Not to say this is a bad thing but in the end, it does take a lot of time, money and effort to make things happen. If the purpose is putting on a flashy conference or revealing something, there are now so many options to do that – and I’m not just talking about a dedicated online showcase.
Geoff Keighley runs Summer Game Fest and The Game Awards annually and with those events gaining momentum and raking in millions of viewers each year, it’s more beneficial for publishers to simply approach those events with trailers. No insane costs, no resources used and no added stress but it more or less achieves the same result. That’s not even taking into account other events like PAX, Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show which have all adapted to the changing tides.
This brings us to what’s happening with E3 in the present. Industry professionals are already spelling potential doom for the show this year as more and more companies pull out of the event. According to a recently published piece by IGN, most publishers would’ve already confirmed plans and allocated budgets by this time in March each year to give them a few months of preparation before the June kick-off. That simply isn’t happening right now.
It’s hard to stay optimistic when there’s so much working against E3 at this point. It used to be the gaming event I championed every year but we now have so many options, so many showcases spread throughout the year, so many events other than E3 to look forward to – the sad reality is the industry might have moved on from ever needing something like E3 again. I don’t envy ReedPop which was tasked with bringing E3 back to relevancy because that uphill is starting to get worryingly steep.