E3: Thriving or barely surviving?

A few days ago it was made public by Sony that they would indeed not be attending the E3 games conference for the second year running. With Sony turning their attention to their upcoming launch of the PS5 which is set for release this upcoming holiday period, they deemed the event as the wrong way to deliver their announcements as they aim to celebrate their upcoming content with fans on a global front. A representative of Sony delivered the following statement.

“After thorough evaluation SIE has decided not to participate in E3 2020. We have great respect for the ESA as an organisation, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year. We will build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of consumer events across the globe. Our focus is on making sure fans feel part of the PlayStation family and have access to play their favourite content. We have a fantastic line up of titles coming to PlayStation 4, and with the upcoming launch of PlayStation 5, we are truly looking forward to a year of celebration with our fans.”

Through this statement, it is believed that Sony has made a conscious decision to miss the event and turn their focuses to other avenues of engagement and ways to distribute their announcements. This is something that Nintendo has also opted to do as well by distributing their news through their own show Nintendo direct and have had great success. So with companies more regularly shying away from the gaming conference that has been seen as the highlight of the year for news, announcements and fan fare for the longest time, does that mean that E3 is dying?

The landscape has changed

Cast your mind back to the fifth and sixth generation of gaming. This was the time before streaming, social media was in it’s infancy and the best way for the leading game companies to distribute their news was through taking centre stage at a massive event like E3. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony were in close competition for the top spot in the console wars and because of that, no company could afford to miss a slot at E3, it would have handed their competitors a massive chunk of the attention and therefore the market share.

However, if we take a look at the three companies now in 2020, there are completely contrasting situations. PlayStation as a platform has stormed into the lead this generation, leaving Microsoft in a state of damage control as they look to rebuild with this console generation drawing to a close. Meanwhile, Nintendo, as they are known to do, have went against the grain entirely and are producing consoles in a completely different cycle to the rest of the pack.

For this reason, it’s leaves two out of three of the big hitters in a scenario where they have no obligation to plan and execute a multi-million dollar assault on E3. The Nintendo Switch is going from strength to strength and is only three years into it’s life span. Whilst the PS5, with little revealed at all, is already the most anticipated console of the next generation.

In contrast, Microsoft will feel obligated to attend E3 as they are dragging behind the opposition and will need to garner as much attention as they can. Not to mention that their theatre is across the way from the E3 conference so it’s not to much of an inconvenience to attend anyway. We may also see big swings from the Google Stadia as it looks to build a following in the market. The front runners however, will see this as a waste of time and resources that can be used to grow the brand elsewhere.

Because, the internet

The way we consume information as changed so rapidly through the rise of streaming services and news being available immediately and accessible so easily. Due to this, it’s easy to see why companies are beginning to react. Nintendo were the first to move away from the conference scene with more focus being placed on their own channel, Nintendo direct. When they decided on the change, many were quick to discredit their decision as the death of Nintendo as they were also coming off the back of a disappointing run with the Wii U not performing as they hoped. However, it seems that they were in fact astute observers of the way the gaming climate was going and many have also turned to alternative avenues of steaming content such as Sony’s State of Play or Microsoft’s Inside Xbox.

Through hosting their own events and channels of information, companies completely control what the message is, when it is put out and how it is received. It means that there are no more instances of live on stage technical hiccups with demos and there is no chance of an awkward silence because the message isn’t delivered in real time. With no attendance at E3, companies will be able to reap the rewards of looser deadlines and not have to work around the clock, piling resources into one massive panel. Not to mention that the money saved by making their own content in house would be huge for these gaming giants and they would be able to invest in their own shows, content or services.

Companies have on occasion when attending the E3 conference, dropped a few clangers. The most notable of memory being Xbox’s 2013 conference where they tried to kill the pre-owned game market by making their discs locked to one system and revealing that the system would require a kinect, hardware that fans did not respond well to upon it’s Xbox 360 release. Microsoft would eventually backtrack on the majority of what was said at the 2013 conference but the damage was done and the PS4 would dominate the generation after being given a huge head start.

Then of course, there’s the downside to the accessibility. Leaks are not a new thing. Media outlets are always prying and sniffing around for a juicy bit of gossip and hounding developers for more new information. We do it because we care, promise. Although, what has changed in the last decade is that through media accessibility sky rocketing due to us having the computers in our pockets that our teachers told us we would never have, the likelihood of a slip-up is almost inevitable. The magic of shocking reveals at these conferences are very few and far between these days with the majority of the audience knowing whats going to happen before it occurs. Of course it’s great to see confirmation but the wow factor is certainly fading with each year.

Is the writing on the wall?

So despite the beginnings of a moment away from the live conference approach, it can be said with some confidence that E3 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Why? Well firstly, last year was the largest attendance that the show has had since 2005. People, be that journalists, developers or gamers, still love the event and want to be there. For gamers, it still offers a lot of the same fan fare that it has done throughout the years. They can still get hands on experience of game demos, they get to socialise with other avid gamers in a fun environment and they still get treated to a number of great panels, reveals and gimmicks that the conference is known for.

For Developers, it still offers a platform to build hype around their products and although there may be alternatives for the larger companies, indie developers still see these opportunities as golden. As they have limited resources and no dedicated channel it still offers the most eyes on their product when they are granted a spot. It also allows developers to present themselves to the media and give their first hand views on their own work.

Then for journalists, this is an opportunity to see all their friends and colleagues in one place and reconnect, discuss and make plans . Not to mention the opportunity to gain access to a plethora of big names in the business and get interview opportunities that they may have never thought possible.

E3 has made a shift in recent years from being a event that has been focused on delivering shocks and thrills to fans through gaming content and has opted to keep the magic alive through more superfluous attempts. The good news for the hosts is that the fans still love it. Take the appearance of Keanu Reeves last year. The amount of memes that spawned from that little gimmick were staggering and got so many eyes on the show. It’s a different way of delivering an entertaining show and drawing attention from the alternative shows out there but it seems to be working for now. It’s whether the show goes too far and ‘jumps the shark’ that remains to be seen.

E3 as we know it may be coming to an end. It may not be this year but it is clear that the format isn’t going to last forever. From a journalistic point of view, with many big names not in attendance, it’s beginning to lose it’s appeal and is in danger of losing it’s crown as the hub of gaming news where we all gather together once a year. However, it’s unlikely that E3 will disappear from the gaming landscape altogether. It simply seems that the event holders have been backed into a corner as after all, there is no show without the big names and may be required to adapt.

For the common gamer, The E3 exposition is merely a period of time where they can expect a surge of announcements and news within the world of gaming. The accessibility to actually attend the event, be that through geography or other limitations, means that the majority will see this through news outlets or live streams anyway. So, with that in mind, it’s not that crazy a thought to assume that if events ran by companies delivered the news and E3 were to disappear, that gamers would simply carry on with little fuss.

If E3 wants to remain relevant in the long term, it seems they only have one option. Evolve or vanish altogether.

What do you think about E3, is it redundant as it is currently or does it still have a place in gaming culture? How would you change E3 to bring it magic back, or is it still there? Please feel free to leave a comment below and if you liked this article why not check out the one below? As always, thanks for reading!

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Callum Marshall

Just a dude that loves games. Platinum trophy enthusiast, Sony fanboy and gaming journalist. Feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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