Is E3 Dying?

Video Version can be found here.

The short answer is no. There, I saved you some time.

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Discussion about the Electronic Entertainment Expo’s, a.k.a. E3’s, inevitable demise is nothing new. People have been saying for years that the show is either not relevant or will die off any day now. The show has been around for 25 years and faces new challenges every year. Although it has, in my mind, diminished in relevance recently, I still believe it has something to offer modern audiences.

Sony sent shockwaves throughout the gaming world last year when it announced that it was skipping E3 for the first time ever. This announcement renewed the E3 haters’ arguments that the show just wasn’t important anymore. E3 defenders responded that Sony probably only skipped the show since the PS4 was entering the final stretch of its lifecycle and thus Sony didn’t have anything new to talk about. Although E3 2019 was smaller and quieter than most were used to, the event still had plenty of hype and provided some good entertainment. The fact that Sony decided not to attend that year didn’t really worry anybody.

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Which brings us to 2020. Sony once again rocked the proverbial gaming boat by announcing that they would not be attending E3 for the second year in a row. Although a valid argument was made as to why Sony didn’t attend in 2019, the same could not be said for 2020. Why? Because Sony (presumably) has a brand-new console, the PS5, coming out later this year. Which means that the company should have plenty to talk about and show off at trade shows. Instead of using E3 as the vehicle to unveil its new projects, Sony has decided to show its products off elsewhere. This is a big problem for E3.

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Sony isn’t the only problem for E3 in 2020. Geoff Keighley, who has basically become the leading ambassador for video games over the past few years, also announced that he would not be attending E3 for the first time since its inception. Like Sony, Geoff didn’t fully elaborate on his decision not to go to the show. All he said was that he “doesn’t feel comfortable” participating in the show. I don’t know what that means but it sure sounds ominous.

Geoff Keighley

The decisions by both Sony and Geoff Keighley not to attend E3 may have something to do with the changes the ESA, the group responsible for planning E3, are instituting for 2020. While there have only been rumors as to what they plan, there have leaks that point to the show becoming celebrity and social media influencer heavy (which sounds awful by the way). The ESA may have been influenced by the wild reception that Keanu Reeves received at Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference. If this is the case, and is the reason for Sony and Geoff’s absence, then I hope the ESA reconsiders its decisions.

The reason I’m telling you all of this bad news about E3 2020 in an essay about why I think E3 isn’t dying is to illustrate some of the challenges the show faces. And let’s be clear here, these are daunting challenges. It’s not a good look having one of the Big Three console manufacturers skipping your show entirely. Despite these issues, I still think E3 has a lot going for it.

For starters, even though a few companies aren’t attending the show, they still like to drop video game related news (i.e. release date announcements, trailers, etc.) around the time E3 takes place. Sony itself did this last year when it released a Death Stranding trailer a week or two ahead of the show. What this tells me is that companies know that there is a lot of hype surrounding the event and they want to take advantage of it. The ESA, if it wants to make E3 great again, needs to convince the companies who do that to instead make those announcements at the show itself or, at the very least, under the E3 branding. Since I don’t know the exact reason why Sony is skipping the show, this may be a difficult task but this will go a long way towards revitalizing E3’s image.

Another reason why I know that E3 can still be viable is because there are about a bazillion other gaming shows in existence. There’s Gamescom, the Tokyo Game Show, all the PAX events (PAX East, West, South), GDC (the Game Developer’s Conference), and even company specific events like Blizzard’s BlizzCon, Sony’s PlayStation Experience, and Microsoft’s XO events. How can people think these events are successful and necessary while believing E3 somehow isn’t at the same time? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Is it because these events allow fans to participate and E3 does not? Well, the ESA may have learned its lesson because, starting in 2017, E3 became open to the public for the first time ever. This will surely allow E3 to keep its relevance going forward as it will not only be a place for new games to be shown off (since games can be unveiled at any time nowadays using a magical thing called the internet) but will allow the public to actively participate. Instead of passively absorbing information and news, average people will now be able to be there and experience games for themselves.

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Nintendo, of all companies, may have the solution to E3’s problems. Every year since 2011, Nintendo has done a livestream, officially called a Nintendo Direct, unveiling upcoming projects before E3 starts and then having a booth on the show floor where fans can get their hands on the games. In addition, Nintendo holds what is called Treehouse Live where it goes more in-depth with the games. This could be a template that the ESA could adopt to bring Sony back into the mix.

One other idea being floated around that explains Sony’s absence from E3 in 2020 is the fact that the company has started a Nintendo Direct-like streaming show called State of Play for its own games. Many people and commentators believe Sony is trying to make its State of Play streams as popular as Nintendo’s Directs and thus has decided to unveil many of its PS5 games there instead of at E3. If I was a member of the ESA, I would be trying to convince Sony to include one of its State of Plays in the E3 event programming. This would surely be a convenient way to bring Sony back into the fold. Just like Nintendo does with its Directs every year. Sony could be successful as well should it choose to rejoin the E3 lineup. I believe it would be in its best interest since E3 still generates tons of buzz every year.

I know I have spent a lot of time talking about Sony here today but I feel I should share my thoughts about it since Sony is a big part of the games industry. It’s important to note that many major companies are still participating in E3: EA, Bethesda, Square Enix, Nintendo, and Microsoft will all be at the show in some fashion even though Sony won’t be. The fact of the matter is then that E3 2020 will still be a force to be reckoned with and should be full of surprises and announcements. This is why I don’t think E3 will fade away anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean that the ESA should be complacent and not make changes. On the contrary, it definitely should and it seems to be doing so since it is allowing fans to once again gain entry to the event. I do think it should take a page out of Nintendo’s book and make it easier for companies to reach their respective audiences with livestreams. This would hopefully make it easier for Sony to rejoin E3 since the company already has an online-centric show in State of Play.

E3 has always been a central part of the gaming calendar for me. It has always been full of surprises, announcements, and excitement. I will admit that it has diminished in recent years due to companies choosing not to be involved with the pivotal event. Despite this, E3 still generates a lot of buzz since it is one of the oldest video game conventions in existence today. As such, I don’t think it is going away anytime soon but it does face a few challenges. The ESA has been making changes but it needs to ensure that all companies actively participate in order to keep the show alive and relevant well into the future.

 

Thanks for reading! What do you all think of E3? Do you believe it is still relevant and necessary in 2020? Will you be watching? Or even attending? What do you think needs to be changed? Let me know!

p.s. E3 2020 may end up being cancelled due to the coronavirus so we’ll see if it even happens this year.

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