When I was a young, videogame obsessed boy; there was no more important time of the year than the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (or E3 as it came to be known).
In those halcyon, pre-internet days of the late 90s and early 2000s, it was always the most exciting time—we would rush to our local library to see all the latest gaming magazines covering the event, and all the amazing news games that would be coming out.
I’ve long been at odds with E3, primarily since I stopped simply enjoying video games, and started covering them. When I began to see the more insidious side of the games industry, it wasn’t hard to see the more cynical aspects of the event itself. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that, as of recently, the event has lost much of its lustre which, and with the recent announcement that E3 2022’s in-person event will be cancelled—the second year in-a-row that this has happened—it’s left this writer wondering: is there even a reason for E3 to exist at all?
The first reason, is the most obvious. The pandemic has thrown the largest of wrenches into every possible social event; and the failures of leaders and ignorance of a large enough subset of the population has only prolonged, and exacerbated the problem. However, from every problem comes opportunity, by which the pandemic has also caused us to rethink and reshape the way we can gather virtually—without having to plug into the profoundly terrible, “metaverse.”
But this began long before any restrictions showed up to ruin our lives. Beginning in 2013, Nintendo was the first company to forego a traditional press conference on the show floor and instead released a pre-recorded video filled with fun moments and game announcements. Since then, Nintendo Directs have become the primary way the world’s largest game company has delivered updates and announcements, and several companies have followed suit—so it makes one wonder why we need a dedicated event for “big announcements.”
The trend I’ve noticed as of late—I think—speaks largely to the weight both consumers and the industry have put on E3. Too many companies seem desperate to have content to announce at E3, that, typically, they only show up with pre-rendered video or single jpegs, accompanied with vague, far off release dates to render their announcement at E3 meaningless.
By that same notion, the gravity that E3 that forces companies into a mindset of needed a “big reveal” for the event has, historically; only led to “vertical-slice” gameplay trailers that generate hype, but never live up to their own expectations. You need only look at games like Anthem, No Man’s Sky or Marvel’s The Avengers to see the process in action, but the list extends far beyond.
Furthermore, the very nature of information and the sharing of has multiplied to such a degree—driven by both social media and the evolution of online media—that most announcements can happen on a regular basis and spread like wildfire, so no one event realistically has any more importance than the next—particularly not when “it’s been [insert number] of days since the last [game update] is the current level of discourse in games media.
However, this poses a problem of the “how?” The ESA attempted an all-digital E3 in 2021, but it was a complete shambles, as their proprietary app was hard to navigate for journalists, and barley worked when the event went live. I would argue, there’s no need for any of it—at least not as far as the app was concerned for setting up interviews during the event—when all of that doesn’t usually get published until after the event anyway, is pretty easy to set up through PR reps, and most coverage being centered on the games.
But I think, most of all, the game industry in its current form, and possibly future trajectory just isn’t one that deserves a big, celebratory showcase. It was a similar feeling I had about the 2021 VGAs—the past few years of the industry’s history has been so marred with stories of abuse, toxic workplaces, and exploitation; both of the people who make games, and the people who wish to enjoy them. Having an event that seeks to celebrate the industry, and focus on the excitement of new games while so many of the industry’s problems still exist just seems like its in incredibly poor taste.
I’ve been told E3 is essential to the industry as it allows game companies to balance their budgets—spending any excess funds on a big show-floor events. However, were there no E3 to facilitate such a need, then maybe those funds could go to the salaries of the people who make the games we enjoy so much?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want E3 to disappear entirely, at least not in concept. Perhaps I’m just too old and cynical—longing for the early days of gaming that, indeed weren’t perfect, but certainly better than they are now—and have been let down by the industry too many times, that an event like E3 just doesn’t excite me anymore, and game announcements are so frequent throughout the year that by the time E3 comes around, you can almost feel burnt out by them.
But the way the industry has changed so much, and the way the pandemic has made us re-evaluate, not only the way we consume content; but participate in it suggests to me that E3 is probably a relic of gaming’s past and one that needs to recede to annals of history—gone with things like cheat codes, and games that weren’t cynical vessels for microtransactions.