On March 11th, 2020, the news broke that for the first time, E3 had been cancelled. The reason cited is COVID-19's rapid spread as a global pandemic. But the news leaked a few hours earlier, without this reasoning behind the cancellation. In that small, few hour window, many of us wondered whether it was the Corona virus, or if E3 finally broke over the lack of interested parties. Nintendo stopped holding conferences in favor of an E3 Nintendo Direct years ago, Sony didn't show at all last year or planned to show this year, and Microsoft joined Nintendo decided to not hold a conference this year. Both Ninty and Mike planned to have a booth and show floor presence, but the Press Conferences are the huge draw of E3. The hours and hours of videos dumped onto youtube of hands on demonstrations, the many announcements from the press conferences and videos that get lost in the shuffle, the EA representatives that made us laugh when they try to convey what they read on a wiki makes games fun. I'm going to miss it this year. E3 is back on schedule for 2021, but will it matter by then? Is this the turning point where E3 is showing physical signs of terminal illness?
I don't think so. E3 is evolving from a physical show to a gaming holiday. A time of year where gamers call off work, and make their schedule around the conferences. Regardless of the origins, early June will be a time for game announcements and trailers, wearing the E3 brand or not. It's so ingrained into video game culture that it will come regardless if the ESA is even a thing. It'll be like Christmas: regardless of religion, the majority of people celebrate the holiday. Japan, for example, is about 1% Christian, yet nearly everyone buys presents, decorates the town, and buys KFC. E3 might physically die, but its name brings such heavy connotations that I think it'll haunt gaming forever. Any early June trailer might as well be called "an E3 Trailer" as is, so it's not too far of a leap to say E3 doesn't need to happen for E3 shows to exist.
But even then, I don't think we'll be cutting that middle man any time soon. E3 is probably going to evolve, but that was going to happen regardless. I think a way for the Entertainment Software Association to solve their problem of E3 losing relevance is to move into streaming themselves. For a third party game to get major press about their game, they usually sign their reveals to one of the console E3 shows. Lately that's been Microsoft's bread and butter, covering their lack of first party titles but why not make it an E3 thing as a whole? Call it the "E3 Showcase Stream" and show off a bunch of the games that will be featured at the show. Certainly would condense all of the information. Of course, many of these announcements could go to the other former press conference holders in their live streams, but the name E3 has enough weight that I think the ESA could sign a solid chunk of exclusive announcements. It'll be a series of live streams rather than show floor conferences, with the official E3 on right alongside them. Which isn't a radically different idea than what we have anyway.
Of course, many of the people who are questioning E3's worth in this day and age aren't chanting that the same things will happen to PAX or GDC or TGS. I think it's important to remind everyone that E3 is, at its heart, a convention. It's the Electronic Entertainment Expo, after all. There simply isn't a viable way to give hands on time to games this early and unstable unless it's in an expo lik3 this. Uploading E3 demos online comes with a whole host of issues, from hackers datamining the unfinished games, to crashing computers, to finding server space for all of these limited run demos. No, a controlled, personal environment is the best way to showcase these early games to the press. Having people on hand to answer questions they may ask is far more efficient in the E3 expo setting as well. Perhaps companies could do this from their own offices, but what sounds better to a company? Flying the media to their offices to play a bit of what they are working on, or travelling a bit to an expo where they can do the same thing with people that will be there anyway, not just for the games, but for the opportunity to network with different companies?
E3 is the biggest gaming expo in the world. Larger than GDC, TGS, PAX, or Gamescom. Any of those would go under before E3 would. So yes, I think E3 has just as much of a future as GDC does, or March Madness, or any of the other cancelled public events amid the pandemic. E3 will survive COVID-19. Perhaps it'll live on in other forms, but E3 is gonna be around for a long time still. But tell me: what do you think? Please, leave a comment and share your thoughts. Let's discuss this.
(Nick Miller is a video game historian and collector based in Cincinnati. You can reach him at [email protected])