The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or at least the central concept of it, is never going to die. Let’s just get that out of the way; E3 is an important fixture of the industry and it’s going to remain so.
It’s just not going to be the central event that it has been in past years and we’ve actually seen its diminished role in the current generation of consoles.
E3 has its roots in a pre-Internet market, when the only way enthusiasts within the gaming industry could get hard information was if the various media outlets had a place they could go. A location where all the major players assembled to get in depth information about what next years’ worth of market activity was going to entail. E3 was that event. Now there are multiple events scattered throughout the year, with gatherings like the Game Developers Conference and even the San Diego Comic Con hosting game related announcements, but the biggest game changer is still the Internet itself. Now gamers don’t have to wait for a journalist to attend an event, make notes, write up an article, send it off to the layout artists and have it put in the issue for next month in order to be consumed weeks after E3 has come and gone. The Internet now makes it possible to tweet, blog, or take video and put out information within moments, allowing engaged, in-the-know gamers to be kept up to date within minutes of a reveal or announcement.
There’s also the growing belief among publishers—most notably Nintendo, with its announcement of no major press conference—that being merely one voice among many at E3 can lead to the message being lost. It’s one of the reasons why Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4 back in February, when it wouldn’t have to worry about keeping its head up in a flood of other game related information. In much the same way, it’s obviously the reason that Microsoft bought time on MTV to debut the Xbox 360, and the reason it is announcing on May 21
its plans for their next generation console. To have its own show at its own choosing, free from other rivals, means the publisher can control attention. E3, for better or for worse, has turned into a battle of hardware manufacturers to win the hearts of the media, and one of the regular traditions amongst journalists is to discuss who “won” E3 with the best press conference, a contest, incidentally, that Nintendo has “lost” for the last two years. By having a separate conference or event outside the confines of E3, it’s an automatic “win” for the company involved.
So if all this is true, then what is E3 still good for?
At its root, E3 is important because it’s still all about bringing the industry together for one mega event. Even if the hardware publishers choose to control their flow of information with outside events under their control, E3 is a known quantity where smaller developers and publishers—like Harmonix or Atlus—can safely allocate funds to inform the media about their plans. It is a place where business executives, developers and programmers can come together in one place to talk, deal or simply network and it is from this ability to talk to one another in a real place, with real faces, that the industry continues to advance.
E3 may no longer be the only venue where those with big budgets make their announcements about games. But it’s still the one time and place when everyone in the industry can gather to do business. Whether that’s reporting, negotiating deals, or addressing the concerns of the retailer, this is still an industry-centric event concentrating on the health of the industry itself, rather than the creators (which is what GDC is for) or the fans (a need addressed by PAX).
In this regard, it’s naïve to think that E3 will vanish; it just might simply not get the coverage from the mainstream media it once enjoyed. For the business of gaming, it’s still a crucial event with singular importance. Most people don’t care what happens behind the closed doors of a business boardroom, but those decisions still have an impact, whether the media reports on it or not.