E3 2023? Why It’s Too Late To Save Gaming’s Biggest Event

E3 is back in 2023… or so we are told. The Entertainment Software Association, the gaming trade association and organizer of E3, canceled the show fully in 2020 and 2022 and held a digital-only release in 2021. The main reason for these cancellations was the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but now that everyone knows the cure just pretends it doesn’t exist, E3 is back. Supposedly.

As the ESA recently stated The Washington Post, an in-person E3 with an online component is in the works for 2023. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about it. First, the ESA made surprisingly similar announcements in 2021 and 2022, none of which were successful. But even if E3 returns in all its glory next year, we are left with another question:

Is that even a good thing?

E3 started in 1995 and for nearly 20 years, it was unquestionably the biggest gaming event of the year. If an earth-shattering video game announcement ever happened, it would probably be at E3. Console reveals, confirmation of massive games like Final Fantasy VII Remakeand stunning gameplay demos were all but guaranteed at E3.

The revelation of Final Fantasy VII Remake was a seismic event of E3 2019.

By the mid-2010s, however, that was changing. nintendo and EA pulled out of the show entirely to hold its own events and ESA took its first steps towards making E3 more of a fan convention than the industry showcase it started with. More recently, data leaks and contributions to right-wing politicians further tarnished ESA’s reputation. In the midst of this, competitors like Summer game party showed it can do the job of E3 and maybe even be a little less complicated about it.

Nintendo didn’t just deprive E3 of one of its biggest exhibitors when it stopped attending; He set an example for the entire industry with his Nintendo Direct Showcases. By combining pre-recorded host segments with gameplay footage, the Nintendo Direct model reaches the developer’s fans directly and controls messaging more than it ever could during a chaotic, exclusive live event.

Now everyone from Sony at Devolver has its own showcase, each with a distinct personality and no risk of company announcements being overshadowed by a competitor at the same event. And while E3 now allows everyone to watch from home, it’s still easy to feel FOMO if you’re not at the show. With online events, we’re all seeing the same thing, and not cramming into a stuffy convention center with thousands of strangers.

Cramming in with thousands of sweaty gamers is even less appealing after 2020.Christian Petersen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Perhaps the best thing about E3 was its ubiquity. If your game got a big announcement at E3, you knew it was going to grab headlines and attract the attention of gamers around the world. The obvious downside is that only a select few developers have the money and influence to really make a splash at the show.

Online events did not solve this problem. Log on to Summer Game Fest and you’ll see pretty much the same games that would have been at E3. But with the proliferation of smaller shows, there’s a lot more room for indie games to shine. Not only are there events like Guerrilla Collective and Day of the Devs specifically designed to showcase the indiesbut even console makers have more room to include relatively unknown games alongside their first-party blockbusters.

New shows leave more room for games that E3 would likely overlook, like Venbapresented at the Tribeca Games Showcase.Visa Games

Likewise, having a handful of events instead of a monolith gives presenters room to experiment. E3 thrived on high profile, you had to be there world premieresoften accompanied by concerts and celebrity cameos. Game development is still a secret business, but it’s much harder to keep those secrets these days than it used to be, and megaton announcements don’t carry the same weight when they come after years of rumors. Rather than trying to replicate that excitement, E3 replacements are better when they’re doing something else entirely, especially when that means deep dives into the games and the ideas of the people making them.

This does not mean that E3 is no longer useful. For ESA, E3 is a source of income and a way to cement its reputation as more than just a glorified lobbying committee. For developers, it’s an opportunity to meet colleagues and make deals that might not have materialized otherwise. For journalists, it is an invitation to presentations behind closed doors for dozens of games. And for non-professional attendees, it’s a social event and a way to play exclusive demos.

Between the Summer Game Fest and other promising events, E3 has little need.

Bad luck for the ESA, but all these other functions are already fulfilled (sometimes better) in other places. Events like GDC and PAX offer the benefits only in-person gatherings can, while digital demos and showcases reach wider audiences than a convention booth ever could.

It may be too early to put E3 to rest. Maybe the ESA can reshape E3 into something truly unique (and not the way it tried in 2020 with its failed pitch for an influencer-centric brand extravaganza). Maybe the ESA will learn from the upstarts rising from the ashes of E3 and find a niche they still aren’t filling. Whatever the future of E3 may be, it can’t look much like its past if it’s going to survive.

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