So, E3 2020 is no more. With most world governments either advising against or outright banning large gatherings of people as COVID-19 makes its way across the globe, it was inevitable that the show wouldn’t go ahead. After much speculation, the ESA confirmed as much on March 11th. But now, fresh speculation is rife regarding the future of the show.
Has the once great expo finally met its end at the very unsanitary hands of the viral sensation that’s sweeping the nations?
Often described as ‘gamer Christmas’ by people who were presumably gifted adverts and awkward public speaking as children, E3 has long been the most ubiquitous and important event on the gaming calendar. While many attempts have been made in recent years to revitalise the industry staple, such as the decision to admit entry to the public in 2017, E3 has arguably continued to decline in relevance in our very online age. With major publishers pulling out, the ESA’s accidental doxxing of over two thousand games journalists at last years event, and now the cancellation of E3 2020 due to the ongoing Corona virus pandemic, it seems time might finally be up for the once great gaming showcase.
Nintendo, perennial trendsetters that they are, ditched the conference way back in 2011 under the stewardship of the late, great Satoru Iwata, and adopted a livestream model via their YouTube channel. This was hailed by many an armchair pundit as a bad move (and one of approximately 47 reasons Nintendo was ‘doomed’ that year) but has since proven to be a great success. #NintendoDirect skyrockets to the top of social media trends as soon as there’s even a hint of a possibility, of a chance, of a rumour, that Nintendo may be planning to air a presentation soon. If anything, more eyes are on upcoming Nintendo releases than they ever were before.
Early last year Sony launched their own livestream, State of Play, and announced their decision to not participate in E3. With Nintendo’s success, it’s not hard to see why. Of course, I’m not privy to the costing details of hosting an E3 conference, but I’m confident in my educated guess of it being somewhere between ‘expensive’ and ‘really expensive’. With the vast majority of game-likers being Extremely Online these days, most are peeping at it from the comfort of their own homes, via livestreams. Lovely, expedient, cost-effective livestreams. If publishers can still get their message to the masses for a fraction of the cost (not to mention all but eliminating the risk of embarrassing technical hitches), why wouldn’t they?
Even Microsoft, who until the cancellation still had plans to appear, chose to reveal their new Series X line of consoles at last year’s Game Awards instead. Speaking of which, Mr Game Awards himself – Geoff Keighley – released a statement prior to the show’s cancellation revealing that he planned on skipping the show for the first time in its 25-year history. A prominent industry figure, Keighley has long been an E3 staple, and his decision to skip out on the show is surely indicative of the way the wind is blowing. Or maybe he just wants all those sweet, sweet exclusive reveals for his own show. Who knows?
Should the show return next year (assuming the world hasn’t ended and we’re not all scrabbling around trying to stave each other’s heads in to secure the last of the drinking water) I think it’s unlikely that publishers and developers will keep their annual appointment to come together and collectively post cringe. But, ultimately, what have we lost? A Jason Derulo performance, disingenuous celebrity endorsements and the dramatic lowering of an actual sports car from the ceiling, to the bemusement of all present? The games themselves are still coming. The misleading trailers and overpromising are all still coming. Even a public health crisis can’t derail the triple A hype train. The odds are these livestreams will air around the same time as the conferences would have originally taken place, too. I’m no expert, but I imagine all these companies are eager to stick to their original internal schedules and time frames as much as possible. In fact, the stream format will probably (hopefully) mean a much quicker showcase, omitting the extraneous waffle E3 is known for and getting to the things you want to see much faster. You probably won’t even need to pencil in a toilet break for when they start showing the sports games!
Realistically, it’s game’s journalism and media that will see the most immediate and obvious changes. Given that most news outlets, content creators and YouTube pundits structure their whole working years around the event, often able to generate a large amount of content (and therefore revenue) after each conference, its sudden excision from the calendar has to have come as a bit of a blow. Plus, given that the major gaming news outlets already lost Game of Thrones as a major source of drip-fed content, and this pandemic is likely to continue affecting the production of comic book movies for the foreseeable future, they’ll be in a bit of a tight spot over the next few months. Spare a thought, eh?
So was E3 2019, unbeknownst to attendees, viewers and participants alike, the final bow? Quite possibly. Quite probably, even. Even if there’s a world left come 2021, there’s little incentive for the industry to chain itself to this archaic mode of marketing any longer. The world being an apocalyptical hellscape aside, this is the perfect invitation to revitalise and modernise at least this aspect of the industry. E3 is dead, my friends, and we should not mourn it.