The game’s biggest showcase, the legendary E3 conference, will return in 2021. After being canceled in 2020 during the initial spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Entertainment Software Association has return to the artboard to re-visualize the show as a digital event.
ESA will do its best with the program, partnering with some of the biggest names in the video game industry. Giants like Nintendo and Microsoft will be present, although not everyone plays football. Sony and EA are among the big names missing from the current list of partners. Those are reopened questions about the overall health of a gaming landmark that appears to be in its final stages.
E3 may be an outdated ritual in the digital media age, but it still plays an important role in the gaming landscape. The past year has consistently introduced highlights exactly why it, or something similar, should exist.
For starters, E3 is the equivalent of the Super Bowl game, except for the game itself. It’s essentially a streak of ads for upcoming video games that has built its history on major revelations. Although its main function is a physical event where attendees can practice new games, it is more known for its digital composition. Live press conferences are a “must-miss” event for game fans who yearn for unexpected revelations.
The E3 2020 cancellation left a huge void in the game news cycle of 2020. Publishers who have archived their big announcements ahead of the summer were left without a pitch. Spectacular stage to reveal them. The results were not chaotic after that.
Many broadcast plans popped up in its absence. Game website IGN held its own Summer Games festival to showcase a bunch of random games. Publishers like Ubisoft have hosted their own one-day streams in place of a traditional press conference. Most overwhelming was the Summer Games Fest, Geoff Keighley’s E3 replacement that lasted for four months.
Trying to keep up with things is difficult, though that’s been expected with so many game announcements needing a new home. However, the streak of digital programming doesn’t stop at the end of the summer. Feels like there’s a new “must-see” referral every week. State of Play by Sony, Ubisoft Forward, Square Enix Presents,… the list continues.
In a way, this future is inevitable. Nintendo has molded the pivot to digital shows with its Directs, which always attracts enthusiasm (and disappointment) from fans without fail. It was only a matter of time until other publishers followed suit and E3’s disappearance became a catalyst for many.
Now, it’s E3 all year round and it’s tiring.
Filter out noise
With so many digital programming going on all the time, their power diluted. Knowing what is worth watching and a general marketing event is becoming difficult. Capcom’s first Resident Evil showcase got fans excited to hear some big news about the franchise, but its big reveal was a free short demo of Resident Evil village.
Events like the Nintendo Direct have enabled players to expect an exciting world to launch whenever a publisher announces the stream, but not always. Grab something like Microsoft’s roundtable when they acquired Bethesda. Fans immediately started posting theories that the YouTube stream would contain news about long-awaited games like The Elder Scrolls VI, forcing Microsoft to ask people to return to Earth and reset expectations.
What we took for granted with the E3 was that the show carried an important atmosphere. In previous iterations, this was the only time players could tune in to get the worthwhile hype of a year on a compact weekend. There’s no question as to whether an E3 press conference is worth a look. Game fans already know exactly when to make the adjustments to getting the major updates of a year.
In a tweet about the return of E3, the director of Xbox Phil Spencer Highlighting exactly what makes the conference so special. “Glad to see the game industry reunite in June for a digital E3,” he wrote. “This and other summer events are proof that our industry thrives when we work together.”
Glad to see the game industry reunite in June for a digital E3. This and other summer events are proof that our industry thrives when we work together. Looking forward to sharing what we have in store this summer.
– Phil Spencer (@ XboxP3) April 6, 2021
Spencer hit the nail in the head. E3 works because it brings publishers together under one roof to create a separate track honoring the game in general, not a publisher. That is the energy that these one-off, radioactive events are lacking. They separate from any broader context of the video game landscape. Only when all the works come together do we get a better picture, like the different instruments that make up an orchestra.
Undoubtedly, E3 was one of the huge marketing events. That is where gamers gather to consume advertisements for games. It is quite fair to have more skepticism about its importance. It’s just that the current alternative isn’t better. If we’re going to be bombarded with must-see game performances, at least put all of them on a weekend so we can spend more time playing real.
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