E3 is coming back. It skipped 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will grace our screens in 2021 as an all-digital event. Last year was the first time since 1995 that an E3 didn’t take place, so we saw what would happen if the event no longer existed… and life went on. Game companies and media outlets took their plans for the big conference and made them their own, hosting live streams and releasing demos digitally all throughout the summer. While a lot of it was a summer mish-mash of shows, we still got all the announcements that would’ve been at E3, so I ask you: do we still need E3?
E3 has changed a lot since its inception in the 90s. It started out as a trade show for retailers, and over time turned into more of a public-facing marketing event. Each year, I’ve looked forward to E3, not wholly because of the game reveals, but because of that spectacle the show provides. Fun music performances, celebs on stage telling everyone they’re breathtaking, and bubbly developers have usually stood out more than trailers or gameplay videos on offer. Part of me feels like the mish-mash of all this made the show lose something, becoming more feeding into hype rather than just celebrating announcements. But at the same time it was fun, and I think I’d miss it.
Multiple big publishers seem to be realising that they don’t need E3 for that marketing push either. Sony stopped attending the event in 2019, after having been at every one since it began. Nintendo haven’t done a live E3 press conference since 2013, and instead do pre-recorded Nintendo Directs throughout the year. EA hold EA Play during the E3 week, though they technically aren’t part of the event’s official schedule. While last year these things all took place around the E3 week, others developers and publishers held their own sorts of “directs” at various points during 2020.
We also saw events like the Steam Game Festival and the Summer Game Fest, which housed a lot of the displaced shows and demos that E3 would’ve contained, as well as a lot more. This did cause E3 to essentially go from a week-long announce-athon to almost two months worth of press conferences. Though, it seems like it happened that way because no one really knew when to hold their own shows without the central E3 to tie it all together. For smaller game companies, holding their streams during the hubbub is helpful for getting attention, whereas bigger players, like Microsoft, were more comfortable holding events throughout the year, because they’d still get a huge audience.
Perhaps E3 doesn’t need to go, so much as it needs to change. It serves as a good anchor for these conferences in the summer, though I would like if it focussed a little more attention on the companies that need it. 2020 proved that the event wasn’t completely necessary, but I think 2021’s digi-E3 might make us realise how much we missed it. But what about you? Do you still think we need E3? Do you still want it?