E3 2023? Why it’s too late to save gaming’s biggest event

E3 is back in 2023…or so we are told. The Entertainment Software Association, the gaming industry association and organizer of E3, the show canceled full in 2020 and 2022 and kept an underwhelming only digital version in 2021† The main reason for those cancellations was the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but now that everyone knows the cure is just pretending it doesn’t exist, E3 is back† Presumably.

As the ESA recently told The Washington Post, an in-person E3 with an online component is in the works for 2023. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about that. First, the ESA made strikingly similar announcements in 2021 and 2022, neither of which came true. But even if E3 returns in all its glory next year, we’ll be left with another question:

Is that also a good thing?

E3 started in 1995 and for almost 20 years, it was without a doubt the biggest gaming event of the year. If there was an earth-shattering announcement about video games, it would probably be at E3. Console Reveals, Confirming Massive Games Like Final Fantasy VII Remakeand stunning gameplay demos were almost guaranteed when E3 rolled around.

the unveiling of Final Fantasy VII Remake was an E3 2019 seismic event.

In the mid-2010s, however, that changed. Nintendo and EA withdrew from the show entirely to host their own events and the ESA took the first steps towards making E3 more of a fan convention than the industrial showcase it started. More recently, data leaks and contributions to right-wing politicians further tarnished the ESA’s reputation. In the midst of that, competitors like: Summer Game Fest has shown that it can do the job of E3 and maybe even be a little less messy.

Nintendo didn’t just rob E3 of one of its biggest exhibitors when it was gone; It was an example for the whole industry with its Nintendo Direct Showcases† Splitting pre-recorded host segments with gameplay footage, the Nintendo Direct model reaches the developer’s fans directly and controls messaging better than ever during a chaotic, exclusive live event.

Now, everyone from Sony to Devolver has its own showcase, each with its own personality and no risk of the company’s announcements being overshadowed by a competitor at the same event. And while E3 now lets everyone watch from home, it’s still easy to feel FOMO when you’re not on the show floor. With online events, we all see the same thing, and without crowding into a poorly ventilated convention center with thousands of strangers.

After 2020, it’s even less appealing to roll in with thousands of sweaty gamers.Christian Petersen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Perhaps the best thing about E3 was its ubiquity. If your game got a big announcement at E3, you knew it would make headlines and get players everywhere. The obvious disadvantage is that only a few developers have the money and the influence to really make a splash at the show.

Online events haven’t solved that. Tune in to Summer Game Fest and you’ll be seeing pretty much the same games as at E3. But with the proliferation of smaller shows, there’s a lot more room for indie games to shine. It’s not just events like Guerrilla Collective and Day of the Devs specifically designed to show Indiabut even console makers have more room to include relatively unknown games alongside their first-party blockbusters.

New shows make more room for games E3 would probably overlook, like Venbafeatured at the Tribeca Games Showcase.Visai games

Likewise, having a handful of events instead of one monolith gives presenters room to experiment. E3 blossomed on high profile, you had to be there world premieresoften accompanied by concerts and celebrity cameos† Developing games is still a secret business, but it’s much harder to keep those secrets these days than it used to be, and megaton announcements don’t carry the same weight as they come after years of rumours. Rather than trying to recreate that excitement, E3 replacements are best when they do something completely different, especially if that means diving deep into games and insights from the people who make them.

That’s not to say that E3 no longer has a purpose. For the ESA, E3 is a moneymaker and a way to cement its reputation as more than just a glorified lobbying committee. For developers, it’s an opportunity to meet colleagues and close deals that might not have materialized otherwise. For reporters, it’s an invitation to closed-door presentations for dozens of games. And for visitors outside the industry, it’s a social event and a way to… play exclusive demos

Between Summer Game Fest and other up-and-coming events, there’s little need for E3.

Bad luck for the ESA, but all those other functions are already (sometimes better) served at other locations. Events such as GDC and PAX provide the benefits only in-person gatherings can provide, while digital demos and showcases reach a wider audience than a convention booth ever could.

Maybe it’s too early to let E3 rest. Maybe the ESA can transform E3 into something truly unique (and not as it is) tried in 2020 with his failed pitch for an influencer-focused brand extravaganza). Perhaps the ESA will learn from the upstart rising from the ashes of E3 and find a niche they still aren’t filling. Whatever the future of E3, it can’t look much like its past if it’s to survive.

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