Does E3 matter anymore?

For the second year in a row, E3 2022 will likely be a digital-only event. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise with the new Omnicron variant spreading worldwide, hosting live events with large crowds is proving problematic.

A raft of new racing games could be announced at E3 2022. But the show’s digital shift raises the question: does E3 matter anymore?

E3 (Electronics Entertainment Expo) was first held in 1995 at the Los Angeles Convention Centre. Initial shows were formal and corporate. But at the inaugural E3, Sony dropped a bombshell with the announcement of the PlayStation.

Infamously, Sony casually entered the stage and announced the PlayStation would cost £299, delivering a fatal blow to the pricier Sega Saturn.

Since then, E3 has become the world’s largest video game convention, watched by millions around the world. Over the years, E3 has hosted reveals of major games and new consoles, from the original Xbox to the PlayStation 3. The most anticipated gaming event of the year, E3 was like Christmas for gamers. That isn't the case anymore.

Digital shift

E3 opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2017, attracting huge crowds of 15,000 gamers. A few years later, the pandemic struck in 2020, cancelling E3 for the first time in the show’s history.

In the UK, shows like EGX have provided a similar experience to E3 on a smaller scale, but the pandemic means these events have also switched to digital-only replacements.

Last year’s first digital-only E3 was lacklustre, to say the least. Apart from the announcement of Forza Horizon 5 at Microsoft’s conference, there were no huge show-stopping announcements or surprises.

Forza Horizon 5 Mercedes AMG One
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Forza Horizon 5 was announced at E3 2020, but the digital-only show was otherwise lacklustre

With no crowds filling the stands and no live audiences watching the press conference, E3 2021 lacked the fanfare and roaring atmosphere of previous events. By contrast, the shocked reactions when Keanu Reeves stormed onto the stage to talk about Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 2019 will go down in history as one of the best moments in E3’s history. 

Managing expectations

Consequently, without the glitz and glamour of the physical shows, E3 has arguably become too reliant on game trailers to generate hype.

Made specifically for E3, these trailers take up valuable developer resources. Often, they don't represent gameplay - remember when Motorstorm and Killzone 2 caused controversy in E3 2005 with their fake CGI trailers?

More recently, E3 trailers for Cyberpunk 2077 and Battlefield 2042 generated huge hype, but the final bug-ridden games were a disaster and failed to meet unrealistic expectations.

Patch updates have improved the experience and fixed issues, but the damage is already done as dwindling player counts show.

Keanu Reeves at E3 2019 Cyberpunk 2077
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Keanu Reeves made a surprise appearance at E3 2019

Attempts to engage the gaming community at E3 have largely fallen flat. In 2017, YouTube content creators and influencers attended E3, some of which co-hosted the EA Play conference.

But streaming games and making videos is a different proposition to hosting a live E3 conference, as poor YouTuber Jesse Wellens found out when he awkwardly stumbled through his lines while introducing NFS Payback to the world. It was toe-curling, but then no E3 conference is complete without cringe-worthy moments.

Sony and Nintendo skip E3

Another problem is that major games companies have already pulled out of E3. Sony and Nintendo no longer have a presence at E3, allowing Microsoft to steal the show. Instead, Sony and Nintendo host their own online conferences outside of E3 with PlayStation Experience and Nintendo Direct.  

Since Sony and Nintendo don’t have to share the spotlight with Microsoft at E3, new games and hardware announced in these conferences enjoy more exposure, making it difficult to justify the resources and expenses required to fly staff to E3 in LA.

These shows can also effectively promote indie developers, as some of Sony and Nintendo’s conferences focused on lesser-known indie games that may have gone unnoticed at E3.

In the digital world with other online game events like the Summer Game Fest and The Game Awards gaining traction, the future of E3 looks uncertain.

Here’s hoping E3 will come back with a bang and be bigger and better in the future.

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