It was recently announced that E3 will not be held this year, and gamers everywhere are mourning, and I’m here to throw a lump of salt and a squirt of lemon juice in their still fresh wound because, frankly, E3 has already outstayed its welcome.
There was a time when E3 was important. That time was the time before high-speed internet. Game developers needed a way to show off their products to the public. However, there was no easy way to get their eyes on dev builds. So we held this big party every year for every developer to set up these big kiosks where game journalists would wait in line for hours to get 15 minutes with a game that they then needed to spin into a 2,000-word article.
Notice something here? Nearly every part of that sentence is close to obsolete. Games journalism has changed from giving direct previews of games to instead commenting on trends in gaming, talking about the meanings of game releases, and speculating on game release plans. Game previews are fairly rare these days because most of the time the game journalist gets to see exactly what the gamer gets to see.
Which brings me to my next point, industry-only game conferences are largely a thing of the past, and that’s because game journalists are no longer the primary vector of marketing to the consumer. The industry has largely shifted over to direct-to-consumer marketing, with things like PlayStation’s State of Play and Nintendo’s Directs livestream and on-demand videos. And again, these are for the most part exactly what game developers used to do with their E3 conferences, getting up on stage and showing up proof of concept trailers and guided demos. This is exactly what is happening in direct-to-consumer presentations, except they have more time to work on them, and we don’t have to fly out to L.A. to sit in a cramped convention hall in an attempt to live blog the presentation with spotty auditorium WiFi.
And what about demos? E3 was a chance for game journalists to get their hands on test builds of all the greatest upcoming games. Isn’t that still important?
NO! What do you think all the public demos and betas are that the general public now gets to just download to their consoles? Games from Triangle Strategy to DNF Duel are pushing out public beta and demo builds and its doing nothing but helping their publicity. The old fear of a build being too broken to show the public has been shown to be unfounded. Some public demo builds given to the public crashed, bugged out, or flat out didn’t operate. Remember when the first few days of the very first Guilty Gear -Strive- beta didn’t allow anyone to play, and they had to extend the beta because of it?
Plus with games going into early access, a completely unfinished state, the general public is used to playing and even buying unfinished games. Developers and publishers risk very little by sending out test builds to the public. The worst that can happen is that they get data mined and upcoming characters, stages, or other forms of content gets leaked to the public. But even that usually ends up building hype! You know the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Well it really seems to apply here.
Now look. I don’t hate E3. In fact, I loved E3. For one blissful week, game journalists were treated like gods, treated to free lunches, invited to cool parties, and frankly they had to be to offset the absolute amount of grueling work they had to do. But that’s just it. That system of feet-on-the-street journalists working 12 hours days and writing 12 hour nights is just antiquated at this point. It’s better for journalists to watch presentations from the comfort of their own home and play demos on their own consoles.
Not just because it treats them better as people, but because it produces better content! If you force a journalist to work until their feet have blisters, they are going to be more likely to look at new games poorly. Similarly, if you pamper them they might write more favorable previews and look over flaws. Sure, we all do our best to remain objective, but it’s difficult when there are so many other factors involved. A journalist’s home is their own neutral space, where they can be most unbiased. So again, why not just let journalists preview upcoming games at home.
There is one important thing about E3 that needs to be saved though: the time. Having one particular week where we get a ton of new announcements is not only a good for businesses but good for the fans. It’s like a gamer’s holiday.
And the good thing? So far it looks like the time is all that’s going to remain. Many major publishers are still going to have new announcements to give us in early summer. So it’s going to be the best of both worlds. We are still going to get more announcements, more demos, more news than we can possibly keep up with in the summer. We just don’t have to cram a bunch of people into a convention center to do it, especially in the age of COVID.
While it might be bittersweet to see E3 go, it’s OK. It’s the end of an era, but that just means we can celebrate the beginning of a new era, a digital era, an era where the exclusive demos and trailers shown just to the industry can now be shown to everyone. I think that’s a step in the right direction.
So long E3. You will be missed, but I think we are better off without you.