Many presumed givens have died over the extended and nebulous course of the COVID-19 pandemic: the prevalence of physical office spaces, the likelihood that your band could make a profit by touring, my willingness to put on “hard pants.” We can now add to this list E3, the longtime premier gaming trade event. IGN is reporting that the ESA—E3’s organizer—has canceled the conference for the second year in a row. The news comes almost one year to the day that the 2022 conference was canceled. Most people familiar with the industry are treating the news as the death knell of the once-mighty conference.
The first E3 was hosted in 1995, mostly as a place where developers, publishers, and other people in the gaming industry could mingle with each other and try to gain press attention. Although it’s been plagued with issues throughout its history, even after just its first year, E3 was celebrated as the biggest event in the ever-ascendent industry. As gaming has evolved into a medium farmed for mainstream prestige adaptations (as if video game storytelling hasn’t always been incredible), E3 has been there, hyping the medium.
E3 opened to the general public only as recently as 2017. But, of course, it canceled its 2020 convention because of the pandemic. 2021 was digital presentations only. E3 initially planned to come back in-person in 2022 but canceled the in-person aspect in January of that year. After months of noncommittal waffling, and lack of a “strong momentum” to figure out a digital alternative, E3 was once again canceled altogether. The ESA released a statement which now reads somewhat tragically: “We will devote all our energy and resources to delivering a revitalized physical and digital E3 experience next summer.”
Tracing E3’s decline
For two and a half decades, E3 is where we could expect the biggest announcements in gaming to occur. Hell, I distinctly remember watching Nintendo’s 2019 E3 presentation on my cell phone as my band was driving between shows on tour. (Ah, truly pre-pandemic memories!) I remember The Legend of Zelda: “Breath of the Wild 2” being announced at the end of that presentation and losing my goddamn mind.
But the pandemic helped developers realize they don’t need E3 anymore. They can just reach their audiences directly, and audiences and now used to this. Streaming presentation series like Nintendo Direct and Sony State of Plays have been wildly popular among fans, while opening the door for wider press and influencer coverage. Because these streams are easily accessible. You don’t need to dish out for a plane ticket to cuddle up on your couch with your cat-children and watch a delightful onslaught of trailers on YouTube or Twitch.
As a result, none of the major three console developers—Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft—planned to show up at E3 2023. Recently, Ubisoft, the studio behind series like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, also announced it wouldn’t be attending. While E3 2023 was set to be in person, most studios were opting for digital presentations so that they didn’t have to spend giant amounts of money on a presentation and displays.
As such, IGN quoted a source as saying the 2023 conference “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.” Which is a hell of a thing to say about a trade show that started with a bang 28 years ago. In other words: Even before this announcement, the hawks were circling around E3. The sense of death was palpable.
On its website, show organizer ReedPop and the ESA say they will “re-evaluate the future of E3.” Unlike 2022’s announcement, there’s no promise of a “next year.” A press release (via IGN) further states that ReedPop and the ESA will collaborate on “future E3 events.” “Events” could be a qualifier here—meaning, not the event, but something else. The hawks, sadly, seem to have taken their dive.
Generally speaking, this announcement has surprised no one. But that doesn’t mean that nobody’s sad. Quite the contrary. After all, it’s the end of an era. For my part, as a budding gaming writer, I aspired to snag a press pass to E3 one day. I’d always expected that that would be my signal that I Made It, that I had reached a certain echelon as a writer. I looked forward to stepping into the Nintendo booth and hobnobbing and geeking out. Stupid pandemic.
(via IGN, featured image: David McNew/Getty Images)
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