The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been a hallmark of the games industry for decades. It was the summer event that would bring together game publishers and developers from across the industry for a comprehensive showcase of new announcements. Simply put, it was Christmas for gamers.
On the other hand, E3 was an expensive venture for the game companies willing to take part. On top of that, the shift toward a more public-focused experience was also creating new problems in recent years. It’s not hard to understand why various game companies no longer wanted to be a part of it. The COVID-19 pandemic only gave publishers even more reasons to host their own digital events throughout the year instead. But, is this new approach genuinely better for fans and game companies alike? It has issues of its own, which leads us to believe that there could still be a place for E3 in the games industry.
E3 isn’t great for game publishers and developers
From the perspective of publishers and developers, E3 is no longer a necessary part of the games industry. It used to be the de facto method for marketing a new game since all eyes in the industry were tuned in during this one magical week. Yet, the digital age has made that less relevant than in the past. The ease with which companies can put together a digital showcase and get attention online from gamers across the world is extremely convenient. Some companies can even forgo that in favor of just posting a brand new game announcement on Twitter or another social media platform. Digital marketing for games has become easier than ever; it lets these companies plan when to hold these events under their own schedule, rather than being forced to create a demo or trailer with the strict deadline of E3 week looming over.
Beyond the marketing potential, the Entertainment Software Association (E3’s governing body) was charging large sums for publishers to enter E3 and to have designated floor space available for providing demos. Both of these are non-issues in an age where game publishers can showcase their content online for far cheaper and provide digital demos directly to game marketplaces if they choose to. Game publishers that were E3 regulars, such as Sony and Electronic Arts, were E3 even before the pandemic began leaving. From the perspective of game developers and publishers, there are a few reasons to go back to an E3-style model for marketing games once per summer.
But E3 is better for games media and fans
There are always multiple sides to consider, and in the case of E3, those are the games press and the fans themselves. Having a singular event like E3 that brings the industry together for a condensed week of gaming news puts less pressure on games outlets by reducing the total time that these events need to be covered. What this results in is a chance for outlets to provide fans with more in-depth previews of exciting new AAA games. At the same time, it allows the press to get hands-on time with unexpected new games that no one is talking about, which can shine a spotlight on promising new titles for the benefit of everyone watching at home.
There are positives for fans too. Condensing everything into a single week means that there is less to keep track of throughout a summer full of spread-out events. It’s unlikely that the average gaming fan will be able to tune in to every single showcase throughout the year. With that in mind, putting as many announcements as possible into an E3 week would reduce the chances of someone missing out on potentially cool news they might have been interested in.
E3 has been associated with megaton reveals in the past. And its name, therefore, carries some level of hype and excitement among gaming audiences. When the industry condenses its biggest announcements into a single E3 week, those fans are more likely to get the big moments they were hoping for. Fans who are lucky enough to be able to attend an in-person E3 will even have chances to play demos of new games, and perhaps briefly speak with game developers.
The future of E3 needs to be inclusive
Whether game publishers like it or not, there is some truth to the fact that E3 likely attracts some extra viewership when compared to numerous individual events. This was still the case even before digital events were a thing. Other games-focused trade shows have existed alongside E3 for years, but E3 always felt like the one big moment when the spotlight turned to the games industry. So, how can it return to its glory days?
E3 can still be relevant, but it needs to resolve the identity crisis it’s been having in recent years. It can no longer be a completely business-focused show for the games press to preview games, yet it can’t fully aim at being a public-facing show either. That’s because many game demos will still be behind-closed-doors affairs. Gamescom has successfully proven that a gaming trade show can work for the press and the public at the same time. This is the model that the ESA, E3’s parent company, can learn from. The ESA needs to build back the trust of game publishers, the media, and the fans by proving that it can host an event that feels inclusive towards everyone involved in the games industry.
E3 is set to return next year, in partnership with ReedPop, and this gives us some hope. ReedPop is an events company that has helped to organize Comic-Con, PAX, and EGX. It is also the parent company of websites like GamesIndustry.biz and Eurogamer. That track record could prove to be exactly the kind of expertise that E3 needs to reinvent itself, but only time will tell whether it’s enough to entice publishers to return to the Los Angeles Convention Center next summer.
E3 has been a staple of the games industry for a long time, and we hope that it can return in a form that is beneficial to game publishers and fans alike.