Why E3 Matters

E3 has been a staple of the gaming industry for as long as I can basically remember, back in the mid 90’s when I was just around 10 years old, I would remember seeing gaming magazines like Gamepro or EGM cover this industry wide event. Telling me about all the newest upcoming games for the next year. Some claim E3 as Gamer’s Christmas, and while I have even said that in the past, it’s more just marketing than anything else. Christmas is really the Gamer’s Christmas as that’s usually when the majority of those games actually come out. E3 is filled with tons of announcements to games that never see the light of day, or if they do, they are either years and years away from when they were announced or very different. And that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing either.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a large backlash to E3 due to a few contributing factors. One is that the gaming sites we have all loved and followed over the years have grown more grumpy and angry at the event over the years. I know whenever I listen to Giant Bomb, they will all groan and show disdain for the event anytime it gets brought up. Others will act as if it is just the biggest hassle in the world. And I get that, it kinda is, I don’t want to go to LA for a week, that is awful. LA sucks. But the event itself isn’t…. Or wasn’t anyways.

E3 had a real rough patch the last few years, and opening it up to the public was one way they tried to fix it, which exacerbated the issues. E3 was an industry only business convention, where people in the industry connected and started or renewed contracts and things like that. But the media outlets also made the announcements about upcoming events public and it generated so much interest that the conference now started to make it a media event as well. Over the years it became a platform for companies to showcase their new products and transformed into something totally different than what it originally was. I remember getting excited every summer for those announcements and in the last decade or so, it started gaining way more attention by being able to stream or show the press conferences into the spectacle it has become.

And now we have the E3 we know today. Which is basically an industry event turned into a media circus. Vendors who were only there to try and drum up some business now have turned into street carts selling energy drinks and shirts. It’s very commercialized. On top of the event going more and more “behind closed doors” requiring appointments and less and less hands on demos it’s gotten to the point that it’s like all the other gaming conventions, such as PAX. But somehow even worse since it’s overcrowded with people flocking to the event because they weren’t allowed to go for so long, lines that wrap around booths for hours just to play a game that already is out, and seeing the same stuff you can see for free at the comfort of your own home. 

I was blessed enough to be able to attend E3 in 2009 all the way to 2015, After 2015, I stopped going, not because I wasn’t allowed to, but because the event changed in a way that I couldn’t stand. Like I said, most games were behind closed doors, requiring advanced planning of appointments, and still required waiting in lines. When those appointments did happen, it was almost always someone else just controlling the demo and you just sat and watched a presentation, which mostly was the same stuff you saw at the press conference a day or two earlier with maybe a bit of extended play. Nearly all of the showfloor was converted into large gathering areas watching trailers, and gawking at the lavish sets designed for the conference. Other than that, it was largely more and more pointless. 

It’s sad. E3, in its heyday, was an event I’ll never forget. It was such a barrage of lights and sounds that it was sensory overload, where I’d get really bad sleep during that week because those sights and sounds were so loud and bright for so long throughout the day. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. But as the years went on, the ESA, the company putting on the event needed to make more money, and they did that by opening it up to the public in 2016. And that’s when I stopped going. Not only because it was more crowded, but because the games and announcements just weren’t there, and sadly that trend has continued. It’s just gotten to the point that more and more companies announce and bring less and less games. The show floor is less crowded than it was, because less companies show up. They started doing their own thing, outside of E3.

Sony just straight up stopped going. One of the big three console makers/publishers just up and quit. And it’s presence was felt. Same with EA… and soon more and more realized that because technology has evolved so much, that they really didn’t need to spend tons of money on a booth, when they could control everything and get all the news to pay attention to them and only them for a certain amount of time. And that’s where the real downfall started to happen.

With publishers and companies realizing they didn’t need E3, they started doing their own events, and this year, 2020 being so unbelievably insane with the virus, and all major events cancelled, we have those publishers and companies scrambling to do E3 on their own. So we get Digital press conferences, Pre-recorded videos, just like what Nintendo has been doing with their direct series for years. Yet, the planning and talent isn’t there for the most part. Microsoft and Sony are debuting new consoles this year, yet the messaging and info about these consoles that are out in the next few months are all over the place. There have been tons of different articles or even videos with semi-conflicting information, and trying to wrangle all these different pieces of information into a single place is near impossible. 

Same with all the other game announcements and companies. Every single company that attended E3 is now doing their own thing, some spreading a single announcement across multiple weeks with announcements of announcements (I’ll never understand that one. Just tell us what you want to tell us, don’t tell us “We are going to do something at some point later on!”). Every publisher now has an event and they are mostly overlapping with each other. Or just the insane amount of places you have to look at and follow just to get a drip feed of what games are announced or coming out. 

E3 provided that place. A single place to get all the information in a few days. Not spread out over the course of 5 months, and each one in a different place or site. YouTube can be a good place to find most of it, with websites talking over and reacting to the major announcement videos, or some doing a daily rundown. But that shouldn’t need to be, plus you get the same thing being covered by every single individual. E3 wasn’t in the best spot last year in 2019, and with 2020’’s event getting cancelled, no one knows what it’s going to look like next year. I believe there will be a E3 next year, and it’ll look a lot like what it was going to be this year. Up until the very last minute, E3 2020 was looking like a mess. Creative directors and host dropping like flies due to “Creative Differences”. Major publishers saying “We don’t need E3” and doing their own thing… It looked like a disaster waiting to happen, and it almost did, if not for the virus. 

When I hear people talk about how E3 is dead and how they are happy it’s dying, I realize that those people don’t care about video games. E3 was a special event that brought joy to a lot of people and something that we’ll never experience again the way it used to be. E3 being gone isn’t something to celebrate. It’s needed, as a single place that people who play games can get together and get excited about games as a whole. Yes, it is mainly marketing, yes it’s a lot of HUGE corporations trying to make money, and it needs to change. And it will change. 

E3 will mostly be digital, there will probably be a show floor, but very different and smaller than it used to be for quite a while. Hopefully it can change and progress into something that both markets new games, but also celebrates games and the industry and history with passion and sincerity. I can see E3 be more like PAX, but with an official ESA presence to corral publishers and keep them in line a bit. I don’t need announcements of announcements, or CGI teasers of a game that won’t be out for 5 years. Those parts of E3 suck. But when I think back to my time with E3, I think back to seeing Batman: Arkham Asylum before it came out and taking pictures next to the 1989 Batmobile, or talking with the artist at Double Fine that created the devil horn flowers in Brutal Legend. 

Letting the public know about new games, and getting people excited for E3 is exactly what the event should be, and making part of it digital for the press conferences, having fun with the videos like Nintendo’s puppets from 2015, or even Sony’s weird last E3 in 2018 with it’s violin player can be fun and enjoyable. Then taking the event to the public with builds of upcoming games in the form of tons of booths and for the people who can’t attend physically, make those demos available to everyone digitally. Use the internet, like websites and youtube videos to cover the largest and most popular demos daily, and it’s a win/win for everyone. Companies can market to the entire world at once, if it’s good enough it gets more eyes on it, and the consumer gets to see what is out there and pick and choose what seems interesting to them. E3 can be spectacular again, it’s just going to take work, and part of that work comes in the form of everyone not complaining about E3, but offering up ideas on how to make it better.