Is E3 Dead, and Should We Care?
Readers of GamePro magazine, leafing through the “ProNews” section of the edition of March, 1994, were given early word of something big. Nestled in between items about Nintendo’s Gateway System (“the interactive entertainment, shopping, and information service that’s found on select airlines”) and the swelling subscriber numbers to The Sega Channel (an interactive cable TV service, “supplying Genesis games on demand 24 hours a day, previews of upcoming titles, tips, news, contests, and promotions”), was the following headline: “Atlanta Chosen as Site for New Trade Show.” The show in question was the Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3, as it would come to be known. Just how big it would get was tough to tell, in 1994. To tell how big it is now, in 2023, is tougher still.
The news this week is that E3 2023 has been cancelled. How sad you find that news will come down to a matter of ritual. Should you like to stay up well into the early hours, with friends, girding yourself with energy drinks and guessing at the night’s reveals, then the note struck by the announcement will be one of crashing disappointment. If, however, you prefer to skip the hype, slumber through, and browse the morning recaps as you breathe your coffee, then a light shrug is more in order. The cancellation will doubtless cause many to declare the show dead – not an unreasonable position, given the threats to its health in recent years.
In 2020, amid the fug of COVID-19, E3 was shut down. In 2021, under continuing lockdowns, it was held online and rebranded as the “Electronic Entertainment Experience,” which amounts to much the same thing. An online E3 is practically an oxymoron. The showcases from major publishers feel incomplete unless they are held in a baying auditorium, with the air of a Roman holiday, and their pretensions can be booed with a thumbs-down thirst by the mob. Likewise, the show’s catalogue of triumphs are only conceivable when backed by the approving roar of a throng: think of Reggie Fils-Aimé pulling a Nintendo DS from the pocket of his blazer, dissing Sony and Microsoft and declaring, “He with the best games wins.”
Last year, as if admitting its earlier folly, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which organises E3, called it off completely. And so to the news this week. The reason given for the cancellation, in a statement from the ESA, was that E3 2023 “simply did not garner the sustained interest necessary to execute it in a way that would showcase the size, strength, and impact of our industry.” Could this be it? Have we reached the end of the Electronic Entertainment Experience? In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis proffered three reasons for the cancellation this year. One, that the aftershocks of the pandemic have lengthened development time on games, meaning they simply aren’t ready to be shown. Two, money is tight. Or, to use Pierre-Louis’s phrase, “economic headwinds” are blowing, and companies are staring into the gale and battening down the financial hatches. And three, “companies are starting to experiment with how to find the right balance between in-person events and digital marketing opportunities.”
It’s that last point that seems the most telling. The balance between in-person events and digital marketing opportunities has always swung wildly, and the truth is that companies are not starting to experiment with it. They have always experimented with it. Go back to that issue of GamePro and gaze at those other stories; Sega wanted to beam into your television and Nintendo wanted to colonise the sky, allowing you to make unclouded buying decisions at thirty-thousand feet, high above the economic headwinds. Long before the internet, and the advent of the digital showcase, publishers have itched to break free of sharing space with their rivals.
The founding of E3, in fact, was an act of breaking away. In an interview with MCV, from 2013, Tom Kalinske, the CEO of Sega America in the 1990s, recounts the shabby treatment that video games received at the Consumer Electronics Show. “In 1991 they put us in a tent, and you had to walk past all the porn vendors to find us, to find Nintendo and ourselves and the third party licensees. That particular year it was pouring rain, and the rain leaked right over our new Genesis system.” Dissatisfaction was in the air. Pat Ferrell, the creator of GamePro Magazine, hit upon the notion of a focussed industry trade show, and in 1995 – not in Atlanta but in Los Angeles – the first E3 took place. It is worth pointing out, however, that only the next year, in 1996, Sony pulled out of the event in favour of its own PlayStation Expo. Leap forward to 2013, and you find Nintendo opting to withdraw from delivering E3 showcases, preferring its own Nintendo Direct addresses.
On that decision, Satoru Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo, said, "We feel that we will be able to deliver our messages more appropriately based on the various needs of different groups of people." Compare the words of Pierre-Louis, when asked whether E3 will return in 2024: "We want to make sure we find that right balance that meets the needs of the industry. We’re certainly going to be listening and ensuring whatever we want to offer meets those needs." All of which leaves us with a question: What are the needs?
As far as the need for respect, video games are a long way from the porn and the pouring rain. When it comes to our need for information, the twenty-four-hour news deluge afforded to us by the internet has extinguished the dedicated cable channels, the in-flight information services, and most of the magazines. The future may be fragmentation: a series of scattered broadcasts at random times, with companies drumming up hype and hogging the news cycles to themselves. Summer Game Fest, The Game Awards, Nintendo Direct, PlayStation Experience, and perhaps the return of X0, last held in 2019, before the pandemic struck. We will always be sold to, and the demise of E3 – if, indeed, that is what this year’s cancellation points to – will do little to curb our impulse for excitement at the games to come, our need to look ahead. There may be hope for E3 if there still remains in us a need for grand ceremony: a craving for the key players to assemble and slug it out, to abide by the law, as laid down by Reggie, of He With the Best Games Wins. All eyes on 2024.
Saturday, April 01, 2023 @ 11:45 AM
Saturday, April 01, 2023 @ 05:08 PM
Saturday, April 01, 2023 @ 05:46 PM
Saturday, April 01, 2023 @ 07:52 PM
I'll always have those fun nostalgic memories of waiting to see game launches when I was a kid, but like rental stories, it is a thing of the past
Saturday, April 01, 2023 @ 08:34 PM
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Sunday, April 02, 2023 @ 12:01 AM
Sunday, April 02, 2023 @ 01:47 AM
So for that reason, watching back a stream archive where you can just skip ahead or watching individual trailers after the conferences were over was much better. It's the difference between watching live tv vs on demand. The latter is such much better to me. I still remember the old days when E3 was broadcast on tv. Those were the dark times before DVRs existed. You had to watch so many boring commercials and couldn't pause when you needed the bathroom. Terrible times. lol
Sunday, April 02, 2023 @ 06:15 AM
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Monday, April 03, 2023 @ 12:04 AM