We’re worse off without E3

A recent topic of discussion in the offices of PC Gamer reflected a more general sense of confusion among the crowd and the gaming industry: what do we call that summer time of “game showing” when there’s no ‘E3? We mostly went with Not-E3, although social media offered their own Keigh-3 replacement. The common element being the number, which of course comes from the three words themselves: Electronic Entertainment Expo.

E3 has always been the centerpiece of gaming, starting in 1995 and held at the Los Angeles Convention Center for decades. But this is not a pot story of the event, which was abruptly cut short in 2020 by the Covid pandemic and hasn’t been held in person since, so much as what replaced it – and what is missing.

Can’t say we didn’t get a lot of games during Not-E3 2022, including megatons like the first look at Starfield (opens in a new tab)and the full list is absolutely dizzying (opens in a new tab). The number of events organized over the period from June 2 to June 13 is also quite staggering (opens in a new tab), although obviously some are bigger than others: Sony State of Play; Summer Game Festival; Devolver Digital Showcase; Netflix Geek Week; Showcase of epic games; Tribeca Games Spotlight; Guerrilla Collective; sound live; Future Games Fair; Xbox and Bethesda; Capcom; and, of course, our very own PC Gaming Show.

The industry is bigger than ever and that means there are more games than ever (although, in the post-Covid era, many of the biggest titles in particular are experiencing delays). All of the shows above had dozens of them, many of which were exclusive. There’s an absolute glut of gaming riches to be had, but the reaction didn’t seem there: for lack of a better catch-all term, at no time during this “E3” period did we have the felt like the hype train was about to take off the tracks.

crowd scene

These days it’s trendy for companies to pretend they get along, but honestly, I want them at each other’s throats.

Personally, I found the announcement blizzard overwhelming, and the sustained nature of this period kind of took a lot of the excitement out of it. E3 was a three-day event that brought together a whole bunch of people from the gaming industry and a bunch of media (public tickets first went on sale in 2017). Usually I was working during E3 (whether it was there or not) but, when in the rare years I wasn’t there, I was at watch parties with my friends or at the very least on Discord, we all chatted excitedly about what we had just seen and what was to come next.

It was important and exciting. During this short time, you would essentially see the major platform holders and publishers compete to have the “best” presentation on stage, what we could call an E3 moment. These days it’s trendy for companies to pretend they get along (at least on social media, the ugly portmanteau of “branter” is on the horizon) but honestly, I want them at each other’s throats. I want to see nervous executives on stage, over-excited developers, demos that go wrong, and absolutely wild encores (like Sony’s “How to Share Games on PS4”).

To me, that’s why E3 has always been absolute catnip, because it was forcing these giant entities to congregate in a convention center and telling them to show us what you got. Disasters might be more memorable, but there’s also something you get from a live crowd that streams could never replicate: the sheer euphoria of reaction to something like Final Fantasy VII Remake; watching Don Mattrick struggle to sell the original Xbox One to an unimpressed and cold crowd; even something as simple as Ghostwire Tokyo announced by Ikumi Nakamra saying “we’re making a new type of action-adventure game…it’s scary!”

Giant Enemy Crabs

Of course, these stage presentations were always planned down to the smallest detail. But they were still live and performing within hours and meters of each other. Instead, we now have shows pre-assembled and assembled with the host’s best takes long before anyone sees them, spread over a much longer period of time and taking no cues from each other. There’s nothing reactive here anymore, not even really a sense of competition.

It’s boring. Summer Game Fest has been discussed as the event that will eat E3’s lunch, but in reality it’s just a big event in its own right rather than some sort of replacement for E3: SGF doesn’t doesn’t feel like a focal point for the industry in the way E3 once did. There were satellite events around E3 – Devolver would infamously rent a parking lot across from the convention center and stick bands there – but it was definitely The Games Event, the place where all the stuff really happened important, as well as all the unimportant but funny stuff.

I think I miss the human side. I’m not talking about being there myself, but that’s where people would see Shigeru Miyamoto playing a PlayStation game or a journalist would freak out playing a VR game and take off the helmet to see Hideo Kojima. Obviously, we live in a post-Covid world and that has implications for huge in-person events like this, but, while you should respect people’s individual choices in this matter, it would be in the interest of the industry to have a smaller and more intense summer showcase: one where things can go wrong, where the show floor is its own story, where the industry meets again.

(Image credit: Bloomberg via Getty)

E3 2023?

“The problem being that the ESA is a shitshow.”

The lack of excitement around this year’s Not-E3 boils down, to me, to the disparate spread of shows over a longer period of time, the lack of focus on everyone at once, and the personality-driven nature of the most obvious replacement for the E3. I have no problem with Geoff Keighley, but I also think the industry is too big to tie into this sort of complacency talk show format.

The problem being that the ESA is a shitshow. The Entertainment Software Association runs E3, and while every major event company has been through a commercial crisis in recent years, E3 has been particularly mismanaged: I would particularly point out how the ESA said that E3 would return this year and last year, and the well-founded uncertainty that created. You can’t blame Keighley and others for stepping in, or the industry wanting a global showcase, when it seems the organizers of E3 don’t know what they’re doing.

Games are now one of the biggest creative industries in the world, a space where so many exciting things are happening at the same time that it’s hard to keep track of the best moments. The industry shouldn’t shy away from having its moment in the sun, but an 11-day broadcast can only feel incomplete and diffuse. We’re worse off without E3, and the industry will seem like a more exciting place if it can somehow pull off its promised 2023 comeback.

About Dorie Castro

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