The end times are officially upon us. E3 has been canceled due to COVID-19. The Electronic Software Association has put a statement saying the event is off but also indicating that they’re exploring ways to stream parts of E3. Nevertheless, cancel your travel plans to LA. The big news shook the gaming industry this week and has left many questions in its wake. To me, the most pertinent are:
- What will fill the void left by E3 not happening?
- What does this mean for the future of E3?
- Is this actually a stroke of luck for E3? (I know it’s a hot take, but bear with me.)
What will fill the void left by E3 not happening?
First and foremost, we need to address the current state of things. With E3 canceled, there is a legion of companies looking for a platform to showcase their games. Any company that is currently in the business of hosting announcement streams should have a buyer’s market to choose from. Looking at you Sony and Nintendo. I would expect to see a few more Sony State of Play and Nintendo Directs announced over the next month. Microsoft should also take this as an opportunity to get in on the act.
The E3 team is devastated to share this news. This decision was not reached lightly, but it is the right one for the health and safety of all involved. Read our statement here: https://t.co/1uOWxTerN9 pic.twitter.com/gD2IxNACLX
— E3 (@E3) March 11, 2020
It’s no secret that the largest companies don’t need E3 anymore. Sony proved that definitively last year when they skipped out on most major gaming conferences and lost out on precisely nothing. Nintendo walked back its participation in E3 years ago, Blizzard sits out most years, the list goes on. Truly, the ones we should be feeling for are the cottage industries that surround these major events and conventions. Artists, restaurants, bars, and venues all depend on major things like E3 for business. They’re going to feel the pinch of this more than most. If you’re able to, make sure you’re supporting your local venues and artists.
What does this mean for the future of E3?
Let me get this out of the way right now: there will be an E3 2021. I know there are some doomsayers out there predicting there’ll never be another E3, but I just don’t believe that to be the case. That said, I’m not sure it’ll ever truly recover from this. Even before E3 was canceled, the event faced a litany of problems. Let’s set aside the fact that Sony clearly hasn’t felt the pinch of not attending last year, everything seems to have gone wrong. Jeff Keighley departed from his long time role with developing E3, and the creative team that replaced him also left.
E3 has been in need of a shift to a new model for many years. The event will return in 2021, but what shape will it take? Will they try to come back as the expo they currently are? Will they embrace convention culture? While 2020 wont be the end of them, a flop in 2021 would certainly be. They need to come back strong next year, which leads me to my hot take question…
Is this actually a stroke of luck for E3?
Hear me out. As we just outlined, E3 desperately needs to evolve. The ongoing law of gaming is evolve or perish, and E3 is drastically out of date. In an era of online streaming and anyone with a healthy twitch channel being able to be considered gaming media, what is the point of an event like E3? Why should I go to E3 when I can tune into my favorite Youtuber and let them tell the story? Demos are released online, gameplay trailers are at your fingertips. Why would you spend thousands of dollars on a trip to LA to do the same things in a crowded convention center?
However, a legacy event like E3 is going to have a difficult time transitioning to a more modern convention event. People have expectations of E3. And that’s where COVID-19 might actually be a lucky break. A year away from E3 not only gives people time to miss it, which we desperately need. It also allows the ESA to take a longer look at what changes need to be made to save it. It gives E3 a real chance to re-brand and come back in a new form. If they’re smart, they’ll take it. Evolve or perish.
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