Recently, Sony announced that it would be skipping E3 2019 and, presumably, 2020 and each year after. Sony is one of a number of companies pulling out of or backing away from E3 in recent years, and it seems like the writing is on the wall: E3’s days are numbered. Inevitable as it might be, I think it’s bad for both consumers that want details about upcoming releases, and members of the press that pull interesting details from developers.
Why is E3 dying?
We’re in a different world from the years of E3 past. Streaming is ubiquitous. Even NASA streams, and on Twitch no less! Companies are finally getting a handle on how to stream things effectively and how to make them watchable.
And this lets the developers and publishers control the message when telling us about their games. They can tell us all the cool features and leave out the boring ones. They can pick their words carefully to make microtransactions sound fun instead of onerous. They can show us carefully-curated clips of gameplay instead of playing them live on stage or to journalists behind closed doors, ensuring that no awkward lockups happen in front of the whole world.
Companies like Sony, EA, and others also look at E3 differently than gamers do. For gamers sitting at home, E3 is Video Game Christmas. The game makers are the elves, and us journalists get to play Santa. For these publishers, though, it’s a competition for our attention. You can see this when you look at how E3 has stretched out and dilated in the last few years. E3 used to start on Tuesday. Then Monday. Then Saturday. Once, I used to take a couple days to visit friends when I’d head out West. Last year, though, it was non-stop work from one end of the show to the other.
These companies don’t want to compete. They want their own day. Microsoft Day, Sony Day, Nintendo Day. Nintenday. Having to all be on the same day, with people bussing from one event to the next, doesn’t serve the companies’ best interests. Even though it’s convenient for the journalists running around the show floor and business people meeting behind closed doors. Not to mention fun for gamers.
From the perspective of the ultra-dominant Sony or the uniquely obstinate Nintendo, E3 is not useful. Microsoft is struggling, so they’re still all-in, but even they backed off the E3 show floor this last year and into their own theater a couple blocks away.
So why would they spend millions of dollars on a show they can’t get dedicated time on when they could instead spend millions of dollars on a show set when no one else has a show? And it doesn’t help that shows have exploded in the last decade. We used to have E3 and Tokyo Game Show. Now we have those, Gamescom, GDC, PAX East, West, Up, Down, Left, Australia, and of course the PlayStation Experience and XO18. There’s no longer one show to go to, one place to convene.
They’ve got a point.
But E3 has a point, too.
And that’s access. If you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco or New York, access is a year-round thing. But many of us live out of the big cities. I’m in Minneapolis, wading through snow. Another staff writer, Ron, is on the East coast, but not close to NYC.
A show like E3 gives journalists the chance to not just see each other – people we work with, game with, and are friends with – but also obtain direct access to the people who make games. Every year, we run from room to room at E3, watching demos and running interviews. Last year, a demo for Spider-Man turned around my opinion of that game, which eventually led to one of my most awkward E3 moments. Earlier this year, I got to do an awesome interview with Remedy Entertainment for the upcoming game Control. Playing games that I might not otherwise check out led me to reviewing games like Swords of Ditto – an experience I otherwise never would’ve had, that the publisher would never have gotten the publicity for, and that I never would’ve gotten to spread the word about.
For most of us who write about games, the E3 experience is absolutely crucial to maintaining industry relationships. It’s also vital for getting those developer and creator interviews that we can’t otherwise lasso; interviews that give us the chance to ask questions that developers might not have an answer ready for. Candid moments. It gives us the chance to see games that are on the edge of exploding into popularity, and tell readers about them so that they do in fact explode. And it also lets us get closer looks at games that might sound like neat ideas, only to crap the bed at launch. Hi, Fallout 76!
By scattering events across the country and calendar, it makes it harder for all but the few to make it to shows and to get those insights, to dig up those stories. Whether E3 continues to exist, whether we can make it to the show, those questions are up in the air for the years to come. These replacement shows, like the PlayStation Experience, still let journalists in – but flying out across the country or overseas in March, June, August, September and December just isn’t realistic for a huge portion of us. Getting that kind of access when you’re not face-to-face is tough but, with E3 dying, we’re going to have to find another way in.