June conjures up many feelings for people. For some, it is a relief of surviving another semester in school or the excitement of enjoying a summer vacation with friends and family. Personally, June sets up anticipation for a particular event in the month — E3.
A gaming event that brings together the biggest names in the industry. Xbox, Sony, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA — all in one place, ready to share with players what they’ve been cooking up. This is more than a gamer’s dream; this was gaming nirvana. While other gaming events are set around the year, E3 was seen as the premier. Now, it is verging on irrelevancy. The show I used to be excited for every year is slowly but surely dying out, and it is a sobering thought.
While E3 has been running for a long time since 1995, in fact, it wasn’t something I directly got involved in at first. I always got the news of what was announced from summaries written by gaming outlets, not from watching them live. I wasn’t an active participant; that was at least till 2013.
2013 was a special year. It was the year when the then-new Xbox and PlayStation consoles came out. Earlier in the year, the consoles were announced by the respective companies. While PlayStation elicited much excitement with the reveal of the PS4, Microsoft, on the other hand, garnered scepticism with how they handled their first showcase for the Xbox One. With E3 being the first time these two machines will be pitted against each other on the world stage, it was a must-watch.
Suffice it to say; it lived up to expectations. Xbox opened well with showcases of their exclusive line-up, but after the show, news filtered out that Xbox’s new console would include online DRM, paving the way for Sony to sink them in publicity. While Sony was on hand to reveal their big guns, they delivered a final nail to the coffin by announcing that they would not be following Microsoft’s practices, to the crowd’s delight. It was dramatic. It was a spectacle. It was E3.
It became a yearly tradition to catch a conference live, even if it meant staying up. There have been many highlights — Xbox’s Backwards Compatibility surprise, the emotional announcement of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, or Sony’s mic drop moment with the reveal of Final Fantasy VII Remake.
My favourite conference overall was PlayStation’s 2016 show. An orchestra performance opened the show for God of War’s live gameplay reveal. Resident Evil was brought out of hibernation unexpectedly with Resident Evil VII. Hideo Kojima marked his return by dramatically walking down seemingly from the heavens and unveiled his newest game. Following a new Spider-Man game to delight Marvel fans — all good announcements in a typical show, but Sony did it with little interruption from presenters and kept the flow of trailers constant. That structure has now become the standard for any gaming show since.
E3 was something to look forward to, but lately, the event is sadly now a dead man walking. In the last three years, two shows have been cancelled. Sure, the pandemic was the main reason for their cancellation, but the reality is that it only accelerated the inevitable. E3 had been on the decline.
Let’s turn back the clock to 2018, when Sony is the first domino to fall. As one of the biggest names in gaming and an old guard for E3 (they’ve participated in every show since its launch), it was big news to learn that Sony will not be attending the then-upcoming E3 2019 show.
What was the catalyst for that decision? Simply put, money. It became evident through reports that the ESA, organisers of the E3 event, have been asking for big prices for companies to exhibit their games. Shawn Layden, Sony Interactive Entertainment America CEO at the time, also alluded to the redundancy of an appearance considering how the internet has evolved the spread of news; why pay so much to attend E3 when doing your own show garners the same result?
With the increasing number of exhibitors pulling out, E3 sorely needed a rebrand. Unfortunately, the one that they came up with wasn’t the solution. The leaked pitch proposes indicated that the ESA wanted E3 to become more influencer-centric. This meant getting more ‘celebrity gamers’ involved during the event and using “queuetainment” to market to people waiting in line — it was not what fans wanted, and it made them look more greedy than they already did.
Evidently, it was the same for industry personalities. Geoff Keighley showed his disapproval by announcing that he would be forgoing his attendance for the 2020 edition. Keighley is an influential figure within the games industry, and his protest speaks volumes about how tone-death the supposed rebranding was.
But we all know what happened next. COVID-19 happened, and E3 2020 was cancelled. It is the first time this has happened, but In some sense, the cancellation might have been a good thing optically, given how much bad press E3 was getting. Regardless, it very much signalled the start of a possible end; others have been taking over. Keighley, the very man opposed to E3’s new plans, was starting his own show — Summer Game Fest.
Summer Game Fest was said to be initiated to help developers and publishers showcase their works due to the cancellation of multiple gaming events, aiding the organisation of live streams and events. But I suspect that it was also made to replace E3. After all, it continued for two more years.
So E3 is dying out. The problem is that the events taking over it have yet to prove that they can match the quality that it used to have. As much as Geoff Keighley likes to post emojis taking shots at E3, Summer Game Fest hasn’t shown that it is a replacement for it yet.
Watching Summer Game Fest this year is an odd experience. The haphazard nature of the news and announcements felt strange, it was like a scattershot featuring big and small companies, but because the show was long (nearly two hours), there were definite down periods; the flow was lacking. In comparison, E3’s separated conferences are more focused and entertaining to watch.
To be fair to Summer Game Fest, it also included separate showcases in addition to the main show. Still, with the exception of the Xbox Showcase, none brought the same stature as the big players usually seen during E3. PlayStation might have been there, but had a subdued third-party State of Play — this was not their A-game. And with some shows happening days after the next, there was little way to stay jacked into the excitement of game news.
However, the worst thing about Summer Game Fest is that it had ads. This year’s show dedicated over three minutes to The Rock topless, shilling an energy drink and his new film. Also, in between the show, it ran traditional ads featuring various gaming companies. The E3 period is already an ad show for video games. It doesn’t need more overt ads on top of it. Seeing them within Summer Game Fest was a frustrating watch that diminished the overall enjoyment.
It concerns me then that it seems that this will be the way going forward. Bloated shows with ads running, not enough of the massive names of the industry joining up, waiting days for the next thing on the agenda — this isn’t something that gets me excited for June. Like many others, I want a nice, short, concentrated period filled to the brim with everything gaming, looking forward to shows immediately after one has ended; I want to be breathless by the end. That’s what E3 used to have, but not what Summer Game Fest gave.
E3 still has the power to do this. The name is still colloquially used to refer to June’s heavy game news period; it retains some of its reputation historically, even if it has been recently sullied. People still look to E3 as the standard. By getting the gang back together and returning to its roots, there is potential to revive it.
Sadly E3 itself isn’t looking to be able to provide that as well. And with the exit of many of its usual participants, the show seems to be a shell of its former self.
Will there be a return to the heydays? I’m not sure. Geoff Keighley announced that next year’s Summer Game Fest would be a physical event, as did E3 themselves for the 2023 edition — perhaps the return of a live audience will help revitalise my waning interest. Till then, at least I have Sony’s 2016 E3 to be nostalgic about.
Visuals courtesy of ESA and Xbox.