On June 13 2017, a beautiful moment in the video game industry occurred; The Electronic Entertainment Expo, which for over twenty years had been a closed-off event attended solely by individuals with a professional connection to the industry, was opened to the public. Initially, 15,000 tickets were reserved for paying customers; when they ran out, a further 68,000 were sold, which infamously caused crowding at the expo, and led to many floor management issues.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
That was the peak, and that was six years ago. Since then, the once-yearly event has only organised two in person; 2018 and 2019. To look at an event we’ve gone without for four years in its truest form and say it could come back is fruitless; just let E3 die.
The cracks began to show with E3 2019. The event was subject to a huge withdrawal in the form of Sony Interactive Entertainment, a staple E3 exhibitor, who departed the event for the first time in 25 years. Soon after, they began hosting their own online presentation, and many organisations, like fellow heavy hitters EA and Nintendo, followed; between 2017 and 2019, E3 lost nearly a third of their presenters, dropping from 293 to 209.
E3 2019 suffered a bigger blow approximately a month after the event when they were subjected to a data leak. It wasn’t a targeted attack, but simply an embarrassing revelation; on August 3rd 2019, it was discovered that an unsecured list of personal attendee data was publicly accessible from the organiser’s website. Nearly 2,000 people were documented, most being journalists or social media influencers who had attended E3 2019. Yes, the list was quickly removed, but the damage was done, and trust was eroded. How many journalists, doxed and subsequently threatened by viewers, decided they were done with E3 after such a catastrophe?
The matters were made worse by the COVID-19 Pandemic. E3 2020 was cancelled, and preparations were made to resurface the following year. Like many organisations, E3 2021 made the transition to online-only that year, to a very mixed reception. There were issues with the app. There were issues with the organisation. For many, it was a glorified stream – something every triple-A game publisher has proven they can do of their own accord.
2022 tried and failed to bring the expo back, but numerous issues, and the hanging shadow of the pandemic, caused it to be cancelled. E3 2023 looked sure – there was a move to facilitate the in-person event once again, and the organisers approached ReedPop, who had successfully operated large-scale conventions such as Star Wars celebration, New York Comic Con, and PAX events. It was set to go, but then Microsoft and Sony confirmed they would not be in attendance. Then Nintendo stated they would be absent. Then Ubisoft. Then Sega. Then Tencent.
Why? Because for the vast majority, it was no longer in their best interests – most held their online-only events to varying degrees of success, and never looked back at the once-great exhibition. With the usual venue, the LACC in Los Angeles, having its planned use cancelled in 2024 and 2025 in June of this year, the future of E3 hangs in question – will these events move, or simply disappear?
The priority has to be changed if E3 wants to survive. Something new has to come; a broader focus on independent developers, an incentive to have triple As in attendance, or a bigger push for public participation. These seem unlikely. The world has normalised innumerable exhibitions for every publisher under the sun, hosted through online services such as Twitch. E3, like the once spectacular, midnight releases of physical video games, is a relic. To submit to such change is too great, too complicated, when the solution is much simpler; cancel it.
Maybe E3 2024 will happen. Maybe it won’t. In either case, it will be a whisper, nothing like the events of days gone. It’s a shame that the premier video game showcase has had to fizzle away into insignificance, but there is nothing that can be done with such short notice to inject it with fresh life.
Edited by Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor