Canceling E3: The Good, The Bad, and the Alternatives

Gaming article by Anson Chan on Monday, May 25, 2020 - 12:00
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A fistful of game trailers

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, has built up quite a reputation over the years as the gaming event to pay attention to if you love games. After all, it is (or was) one of the few occasions where game developers and publishers of all shapes and sizes gathered together to unveil their upcoming projects. Unfortunately, due to a global pandemic, E3 2020 has been canceled. For the first time in decades, game developers and publishers can't go to the most publicized gaming event of the year. The timing couldn't be worse as a new generation of consoles is on the horizon.

Naturally, gaming companies didn't want to just sit around and do nothing. Most of them plan to do their game reveals online. Nintendo was ahead of the curve for years with Nintendo Direct. Meanwhile, Microsoft dropped their first batch of Xbox Series X game trailers on a YouTube stream. It wasn't particularly well received, but that was mostly because almost no actual gameplay was shown. From a technical standpoint, it was a perfectly fine replacement for E3. This, naturally, brings up the question of whether or not we need E3 anymore when anyone with a working computer can have their own big reveal event. 

Indeed, there were signs that E3 was on the decline even before the pandemic. It was subtle of course. At first, you could attribute shifting convention formats or disappointing presentations to bad luck. Then some companies decided to have their own conventions on the same week, which was unusual at the time, but there was some hard logic to it. On top of that, there's the rumors that plans were in the works to make E3 2020 a pop culture Disneyland monstrosity filled with"influencers" and "celebrities." Fortunately, these plans were obviously never finalized. Yet when you add all these factors together, it appears as though the once venerated event is losing its purpose.

If that wasn't enough, E3 was certainly starting to feel like companies were there just to be there. Bethesda is a particularly egregious offender because most of their games have long development cycles, meaning that there's not a whole lot to show. If memory serves, large portions of their recent E3 presentations can be categorized as filler content. Teasers for games that don't have anything close to a release date (looking at you Elder Scrolls VI), appreciation videos, that sort of thing. It's a little reminiscent of last-minute school projects where a word count needed to be met.

By contrast, Microsoft's Xbox Series X stream kept all of that to a minimum, with downtime mostly filled by developer interviews. Which in itself is saying something as their recent E3 appearances have been relatively to-the-point. It offered about the same amount of information that a normal E3 presentation would've provided, but without the cheering crowds. The presenters seemed more natural at the very least. It's still a marketing event at the end of the day, but not nearly as intense as the scripted-to-perfection nature of E3. 

In fact, one can say that the Xbox Series X stream format might be more fair for everyone involved. As Microsoft demonstrated, it's quite practical to have one event dedicated entirely to indie and smaller developers, then have another for larger AAA titles. You're not going to have everything overlap as it would in a normal E3 presentation where the audience barely has anytime to digest the information that's being given to them. Everyone gets their time in the spotlight as it were. Of course, it's too early to say if this format will work for everyone, but it's theoretically quite possible.

e3 truck
Well this is not something you expect to see everyday at a convention for games

That's not to say that E3 didn't have a certain charm to it, or its uses. Having a single, high-profile event for everyone is very convenient. It's seemingly helped some smaller developers reach a wider audience too. Plus you can't have the same kind of pageantry. As out of place as they may be, it's hard not to appreciate the work that goes into the literal song and dance routines. And who can forget Devolver Digital's weird skits? There's no doubt that the skits helped Devolver Digital become a more widely recognized name once they made their way through social media. As far as viewing experiences go, no other gaming event comes close. 

In a way, the perfect storm of real-life events showed how deeply rooted E3 was in the gaming industry. On the other hand, it also revealed that E3 is basically the gaming equivalent of movie theaters or concerts. There's no practical need for it, since gaming is only going to get more digitized as time goes on. Yet it provides a viewing experience that is hard to replicate, for better or worse. Can developers and publishers eventually create the same experiences on their own? Absolutely, but it will take time for that to happen, time that can be used to reflect on how E3 can be improved in a way that more closely aligns with the interests of the target audience.

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Anson Chan

Staff Writer

You ever wonder why we're here? It's one of life's greatest mysteries, isn't it?