E3

For the video game industry, summer was once a season dominated by a monolithic convention in Los Angeles, an annual attraction filled with wall-to-wall announcements from the biggest companies in gaming. E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, welcomed game publishers, developers, media and fans onto the packed floors of L.A.'s convention center and reveled in the spectacle of the gaming world come together.

arrow © The Washington Post illustration; iStock

Over the past few years however, a series of unrelated events has eroded that monolith. The landscape, once uniform, has fractured, producing a sprawling delta of livestreams and competing events that have divided gamers’ attention and lessened E3′s usual impact.

Following the cancellation of E3 in 2020 due to the onset of the covid-19 pandemic — the first time in 25 years the show did not go on — the return of the annual event in 2021 had many fans eager for a high-profile extravaganza. The convention itself, held virtually from June 12-15, did feature a number of marquee events, but the majority of the content was stretched thin over the extended broadcast schedule. Hindered by a linear broadcast, and with the remoteness of a normally buzzing audience muting their reactions, the four-day showcase proved a pale reflection of the usual event, where gaming fans would lose their minds over new game titles, and surprise appearances by celebrities like Keanu Reeves delighted all.

Still, it served its purpose. Massive gaming companies like Xbox and Nintendo enjoyed the attention of millions of viewers for their presentations, and received praise for their showcases. With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti opening the 2021 E3 stream by welcoming the event back to the city for 2022, the question now centers on the continued evolution of the event. What will E3 look like moving forward?

The origin and evolution of E3

“E3 is the center of gravity when you talk about summer events related to games,” Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the ESA, said. “Our hope is to create an event that stimulates excitement and allows those partners who want to showcase their products to really have a platform that outshines everything else. Putting a show of this caliber together, whether it’s physical or in-person, requires months of planning and scheduling.”

E3 had a string of issues preceding the pandemic that had already prompted questions about E3′s seemingly essential role. In 2019, Sony dropped out of the show for the first time in its history. A few months later, longtime partner and live presenter Geoff Keighley announced he would not be participating in the 2020 show for the first time. All of this was coupled with reports that the ESA was looking to rebrand E3 in a way that showcased online content creators more, a move that came after the longtime trade-only event opened its doors to the general public for the first time in 2017.

The lack of an E3 event in 2020 meant companies needed to consider new ways to deliver their high-profile game announcements. Similarly, it was a year in which both Xbox and Sony planned to reveal their new consoles. The vacuum provided an opportunity for a competing, must-see event for the gaming audience. Enter Keighley — who also created and produced The Game Awards, winter’s major gaming event — and his newly-minted Summer Game Fest.

While Keighley maintains his intention is not to compete against E3, it was hard to ignore the coup he scored this year when the capstone of the Summer Game Fest kickoff show this year was a first look at FromSoftware’s highly-anticipated “Elden Ring.” According to data provided by Twitter, the trailer was the most-viewed video on the platform from either E3 or the Summer Game Fest. The game’s publisher, Bandai Namco, used its time during the E3 showcase to air footage and a developer interview from the game “House of Ashes,” a title with a much lower profile.

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“Some people may see it as competitive, but it’s not like they’re on the same day on top of each other,” said Keighley, who launched his second annual Summer Game Fest show on June 10, two days before the official start of E3 2021. “If you’re a gamer, you’re going to watch all of it. I don’t necessarily see it as competitive, I see it as complementary.”

A lacking virtual reality

The lack of a physical event also may have hurt E3. A week that has traditionally welcomed more than 60,000 attendees to the Los Angeles Convention Center — all of whom have access to exclusive demos and industry booths — was replaced with panel discussions and recorded interviews interspersed with bigger reveal events.

While Summer Game Fest kicked off with a condensed showcase, E3’s more spread-out approach echoed its conventions of yesteryear, but without the benefit of its live counterpart. E3 2021 offered a variety of major announcements from various publishers and developers, such as Microsoft, Nintendo, Ubisoft and Square Enix. But whereas in the past, E3 owned the reveals exclusively, most of this year’s presentations were co-streamed by other media outlets, including Summer Game Fest (with the notable exception of Nintendo).

“[E3 is] a bit kludged and confusing in terms of branding, at a minimum,” said Lewis Ward, research director of gaming, esports and VR/AR at analytics firm IDC. “Since Nintendo and Microsoft are focused on E3, I’d say it’ll get the nod, but Summer Game Fest didn’t exist before 2020, so it certainly feels like it has more forward momentum.”


Video: Pandemic forces annual E3 gaming show online (Associated Press)

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