A lot of gamers were disappointed to find out that there would be no E3 this year due to concerns of transmitting the COVID-19 virus. But hey, better to be safe than sorry right? No one wants to be known as the one video game event that caused an outbreak due to poor hygiene.
That honor is usually reserved for Smash Bros. tournaments, HEYOOOO!
All joking aside, this does mean that one of the most important events in the gaming industry just isn’t happening. On the flip side, E3 isn’t the beast that it used to be. Major publishers have been pulling out for the last few years, and maybe our perceived “importance” of the event really just comes down to nostalgia, tradition, and game journalists wanting to get bribed with free lunches.
We actually think the cancellation of E3 this year will prove that it might not be as necessary as we all might believe. There are lots of ways to get news about new game releases out to the public without a gigantic event in the Los Angeles Convention Center. Here are just a few.
Sony and Nintendo used to rent out gigantic arenas to hold massive presentations to captive audiences at E3. Now, they use a small studio space and put the same trailers and the same speeches full of industry buzzwords into a direct to consumer presentation, and frankly, it works out better for them.
There were always major issues with these gigantic arena events. First of all, the wi-fi at these venues was spotty and unreliable, so much so that journalists watching the livestream at home could usually liveblog the event faster than the people who were actually sitting in the seat. Yeah, sitting in the seats was nice. It felt like going to a concert. But the important work, getting the information to the consumers, was basically being done by people sitting in front of a browser window in their underwear.
So these big events weren’t really helping the journalists, and they weren’t really helping the consumers, and they were costing these major publishers hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to pull off. Eventually, they just decided to skip the middle man and let everyone do what they were already doing, watching the presentations from home, via live-streamed direct presentations.
Now that E3 is canceled, all the big companies can do…. Well basically the same thing. In fact, last year there were more direct to consumer presentations than there were press conferences at E3. Nintendo and Sony will still do their direct presentations and Microsoft and Ubisoft have already announced that they will follow suit, and once they do we aren’t entirely sure they will ever go back.
For the consumer, the majority of E3 week is frontloaded in press conferences. For the journalist, the majority of E3 is spent playing hands-on demos at booths. Without an E3 that means that no journalist will get hands on time with any of the upcoming year’s games.
Or will they?
Game journalists are sometimes invited to closed demos/alphas. They get codes to plunk in to the PS or Xbox store, or Steam, or the Nintendo eShop or… the Stadia? Do people still care about the Stadia?
They get to play a small portion of a game from start to finish, representing a work in progress. Then they delete the demo from their systems because hard-drives are always perpetually full.
And you know what? This is almost identical to playing a demo in an E3 booth. The only major differences are they don’t have to wait in a line for downloadable demos, nor do they have to make small talk with the hired PR temp that is trying to talk up the game but simultaneously can’t answer any questions.
Yes, sometimes they get the chance to talk to a member of the design team at E3. You could also do that through e-mail, or a phone call, or… Skype? Do people still care about Skype?
Also, sometimes they get to go into backrooms and get exclusive demos of more incomplete builds, guided by the watchful hand of a member of the team. You can still do this remotely with developer fact sheets and, once again, conference calling.
The only major roadblock to direct demos like this are the storefronts themselves. Sony, Microsoft, Valve, and many others have to play ball with publishers and developers to let these demos go out to journalists. But on the upside, if they do, they can then release these demos to the public shortly thereafter. Then it’s like everyone gets to play the E3 booth demo and no one has to wait in line.
Virtual Press Conferences
A while back, Sony patented some really interesting VR tech. Essentially it was tech to allow people to sit in a virtual stadium using VR headsets. You would see the event through the eyes of a camera situated where a seat would be at the venue, and looking left or right would let you see other VR viewers as if they were at the event with you. They even had some nifty ideas for VR giveaways, like a virtual T-shirt cannon which let you catch a T-shirt in virtual reality and then get one mailed to you at home.
They never did much with this tech… yet. But now might be a good time to try it out. A lot of people own PSVR headsets, and plenty more own third party headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive line. Sony, or really any company who has access to similar tech, could hold their E3 event in the virtual world this year. Then we would get all the awesome trailers and the experience of sitting in a stadium without ever needing to leave our houses.
There’s another bonus to virtual conferences like this: virtual trailers. Trailers for VR games can be shown off with full 360 degree vision. Even non VR games would allow users to get a “front row seat” to see all the action in HD. Headsets would also be a convenient way to include subtitles for the hearing impaired, or to translate press conferences into different languages, automatically based on the language settings of the headset you own.
And anyone who doesn’t own a VR headset can still tune in, in a more flat less immersive way.
All of the above alternatives to E3 would serve the PC and console gaming audiences similarly, but there’s actually something that console gamers can do that PC gamers can’t: console events. This was one of the major marketing points toward the beginning of this generation of games. Sony and Microsoft said that they could hold virtual events directly through the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One and give gamers live access to demos as the events happen.
And neither company has done anything like that since the consoles released.
No time like the present.
Granted, the tech might just not be there. This might be an example of major promises never delivered on. But if they still have the tech hiding out and collecting dust in a digital closet somewhere, imagine how much hype it would generate. Imagine if you could watch a gameplay demo of The Last of Us 2 during the Sony presentation and then as you watch it, download the exact same demo to play right when the presentations ends. How sick would that be?
We like to put a lot of weight on E3, but it’s not the only conference in town. There’s Tokyo Game Show and Gamescom, both of which haven’t been canceled due to taking place later in the year when, hopefully, this whole COVID-19 thing has died down. There’s The Game Awards which always bring major announcements with them. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have their own major events each year, as well as tons of direct presentations that just come out of left field. Honestly, anything that could be shown off at E3 can just as easily be shown off at another event.
Not having an E3 does suck. Heck, with all these game companies looking at alternatives to the show, we may never see another E3 again. But that’s a conversation for another time. The greater point is, no E3 doesn’t mean no announcements. On the contrary, with new console releases coming up and reduced overhead from not having to get an E3 booth, we think all the major publishers and developers will bring us more major announcements this year than they have in other recent years.
So kick back, relax, and enjoy the future of video gaming from the comfort of your couch, you know, like you were going to do anyway.