E3 2019 is not very far away. For the industry, it is still the biggest event of the year, but all the signs are there that it is starting to lose its luster. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have been the main attractions for years, but this year Sony is skipping the event, content to just do general marketing of their games without having a dedicated presence. There are a lot of signs that E3 might be losing it’s place at the top of the yearly gaming event calendar, and Sony skipping this one might just be another nail in the coffin.
#1 Gaming Has Changed
The games industry has changed dramatically since 1995, the first year of E3. Magazines are all but dead, gaming companies are no longer the shadowy and distant organisations they used to be. The internet now means that we are constantly connected to the hobby, hoovering up news and thoughts about the games we love. Announcements can go viral in minutes, and announcing a new game or piece of hardware can be done on Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit with no major complications. Simple links bring people all the information, text, and video that they need. Companies holding back announcements for E3 feels like a hangover, a callback to the old days because that is just what the industry is used to. We don’t need a dedicated event, and the subsequent magazine purchase window to get the news out. We can just know everything, all the time.
#2 Big Names Have Already Left
EA is one of the biggest publishers in the world, and while they plan EA Play to piggyback off E3 and feel connected to it, it is their own event that they control entirely. Once you are in the doors they are not competing with anyone for your time, or your attention. Everything you see, hear, and consume is controlled by them for the weekend. It is clearly giving them the result they want, because they haven’t felt the need to return to the E3 show floor and tangle with their competitors.
#3 Average People Don’t Attend
A couple of years ago E3 decided to pivot from a closed event, for gaming industry people only, and made tickets available for the general public. The simple truth is that normal people are just not flocking to E3 the way we might have assumed they would. The PAX events absolutely dwarf E3 when it comes to importance for the average person. A single PAX event will see more public tickets sales that E3 will, and there will be multiple PAX events each year. It seems that E3 is struggling to overcome its long history of being an industry focused showcase. We can assume that the reason public tickets were sold was a need to generate revenue, and it not really working out as expected may just be worse news than we think.
#4 There Have Been Security Issues
Events like this live and die by their ability to keep the people who attend safe and secure, and the last few years have been rough going for E3. E3 2017 had neither metal detectors, nor bag checks, and several stories emerged about security being more than a little lax in carrying out their duties, including refusing to assist an attendee who had been injured. This kind of touches on our previous point, about the event going from a closed industry thing to an event that was open to the public. Generally speaking industry events work off the concept that everyone there is a professional, there in a professional capacity, and will be answering to someone for how they behave. This isn’t the case with events that are open to the public. There is no litmus test for who can attended, all you need to do is have the money. General organization issues and crowding were also problems. E3 seems to be aware that change is needed, but if it is not enacted the right way, it will lead to all sorts of problems that make people not want to attend.
#5 There Is Rumored Behind The Scenes Issues At ESA
E3 is organised and run by the Entertainment Software Association, and rumors abound that the organisation is facing some behind the scenes turmoil. A lot of the leadership has left since the last E3, they recently lost the head of their organisation, and apparently some dues paying members are said to be very unhappy with the direction things are heading in. For an excellent read about the trouble facing the ESA, check out this great report from Variety. The simple fact is that internal strife affects the projects and products that companies work on. If ESA are losing staff that are intimately aware of the workings of E3, that level of experience is hard to replace.
It would be foolish to think that E3 could never die, but there is also no real reason to believe that such a death would come any time soon. If Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo decided to permanently drop out of the event, I think that would be a huge indicator of the expo’s loss of prominence. It would also set other people thinking about whether they actually need E3 at all in a world where conventions are not rare, and we are all hyper connected to the industry news cycle.
It is also true that E3 needs to change to survive. Over the last few years we have seen new and important windows open in the gaming calendar. No longer is it all about holiday seasons, and easily planned for events. As such, it makes less sense for companies to hold back on big news just for the event. E3 are also directly competing with events like PAX, Blizzcon and Gamescon for those precious consumer dollars. So many game’s have their own conventions now that people have built up rituals about attending with their friends. For some, it is the only time they will all be in the same place at the same time. Convincing them to give up on that social aspect just to attend E3 is going to require a lot more than just expecting to be happy to be there. So many conventions were built around what the consumer needs and wants that E3 needs dramatic changes to have that same appeal.
So, while E3 won’t die soon, it is at risk of continuing to lose relevance in the world of gaming. As publishers and developers look to exercise more control over the way people interact with the products, and as consumers seek deeper access to the things they buy, something will need to change for E3 eventually if it wants to stay relevant.