In the end, the industry just didn’t want this E3 | Opinion
But could it come back?
"It's possible that people have already made their mind up about E3. Perhaps all of this is a little too late. And when my bosses come back from meeting all the big games companies (with a presentation that will inevitably get leaked), perhaps we'll hear how everyone was indifferent, and it's just not what the industry is looking for.
"But I hope not. I hope they'll sign up and come back, so that together we can make E3 2023 a week to remember."
That's how I concluded an opinion piece I put together about E3 back in July last year. Back then I'd been asked to feed into the E3 project from my bosses at ReedPop, and I've been kept abreast of what was going on with the show periodically since.
And at the start, oh that glorious start, it seemed so positive. Companies were talking about taking up huge spaces… the E3 team was looking at how we could expand into the car park and use the extra areas that hadn't been used for years. Back then all bar one of the big games companies were enthusiastic about the return of E3. Or at least, they said they were. Or at least, their events teams said they were.
As the months dragged on and contracts remained unsigned, the mood changed. And they gave good reasons for pulling out. "Our games aren't ready", "We don't have code", "We can't be seen to be extravagant in this economy", "The timing isn't quite right", and so on.
It doesn't matter how true those reasons were, it all amounts to the same thing: the games industry didn't want it after all.
Not that ReedPop's first stab at E3 was flawless. Things moved a bit slower than anyone would have liked, and perhaps the communication strategy should have been different. But that's all detail. The pitch, I felt anyway, was good. It had the business and consumer components separate (or at least, as separate as was possible in that venue), it was more affordable, they were going to sort the wi-fi, improve the food, add a stronger digital component… it was everything everyone said they wanted. But in the end, it turns out, they didn't want that either.
In hindsight, perhaps E3 should have been more radically different. A heavier focus on digital, with the physical show focused squarely on the business side, without the reliance on booths to entice people in. But some might argue that's almost a different event entirely.
I've always felt E3 played a global role in getting everyone excited about games, and not just gamers
I am disappointed. I've always felt E3 played a global role in getting everyone excited about games, and not just gamers. E3 went beyond the traditional media channels. It's the one games show that would appear on the six o'clock news in the UK, and would get featured on the front of the Entertainment sections of mainstream newspapers in Australia. In a time when most major games companies are talking about wanting to reach billions of players, surely that's where E3 comes in? And in an economic climate where gamers are being choosey about what they're buying, surely a show like E3 is where you can get that attention?
I also think E3 is important from an industry point-of-view. The market is tense due to the economic situation, and the business feels more divided than ever. It's always been a competitive industry, but whether it is employees rebelling against their employers, or the ongoing and increasingly tedious Activision/Microsoft/Sony saga, there is disharmony in video games right now. E3 could be the thing that brings the business together, to get people believing, and to remind us that for all the division, we're ultimately all united in our love of making and selling video games.
All of that may sound like a good reason for E3 to exist, but what does the ROI look like? Is it worth spending huge sums of money in LA on a booth, flights, hotels and unions to speak to the media and boost morale? Would the money be better spent elsewhere?
People will rightly tell me that there are still games stuff happening that week, with or without E3. There's Summer Games Fest, and Ubisoft's conference, and Xbox's event. So there's certainly plenty for gamers to get excited about, and for the games media to get its teeth into.
But talking to those in the UK this week, I've found that some of the mainstream outlets won't be flying to LA. We at GamesIndustry.biz would obviously still love to go, but we won't be able to justify the journey without some executive or developer interviews.
The Play Days event that's taking place should satisfy the games media. But E3 wasn't just about the press. Analysts, licensors, investors, publishers, retailers… all the groups E3 catered for outside of the media will now be turning their attention towards Gamescom.
The games industry already has a Gamescom-style show: it's called Gamescom
The big test now is whether, without the anchor of E3, all these satallite events will remain in place. There are still AAA companies showcasing games this June. And because of that, there will be smaller developers using this as an opportunity to get some attention. But for some publishers, June might not be the best time to show off games. Since E3 stopped during the pandemic, Nintendo – a long-term supporter of the show – has been doing its announcements in that August/September window instead. Other companies have been revealing more at GDC and Gamescom. I hope the business still gets together in LA every summer to get the world excited about its games, but it's not a sure thing.
Over the years, numerous people have given their armchair opinion regarding what E3 should be (myself included). "It should be like Comic-con" or "It should be like Gamescom" or "It should do digital showcases." This E3 was actually going to be a bit more like all of those things. But, even so, the games industry already has Comic-con-like events: they're called PAX. And it already has a Gamescom-style show: it's called Gamescom. And there's an endless supply of digital showcases out there, from platform holder showcases to the Future Games Show to the Video Game Awards.
Could E3 come back? If next year turns out to be a hardware year, is there a chance the platform holders would be interested in getting together and putting on a show? Maybe, although listening to the ESA, it sounds like the desire for the big, dramatic E3s of old are over. Either way, I'd be the first one on the plane to LA, that's for sure.
But as I observed back in July, E3 is the industry show. It may belong to the ESA, it may be pulled together by my parent company, but it is an event that was created by the likes of Nintendo, EA, Sony and Sega back in 1995. And it'll be those same companies, plus a few new ones, who will decide whether it comes back or disappears from view.
As of today, the industry's decision seems pretty clear.
Disclaimer. GamesIndustry.biz parent ReedPop was the organiser of E3 2023