Rumours of Nintendo’s possible absence from this year’s E3 have proven to be unfounded, but doubts are still swirling around the 2020 edition of gaming’s signature mid-June hype festival in Los Angeles. Earlier today, longtime E3 participant Geoff Keighley announced he wouldn’t be involved with the show this year.
“I have made the difficult decision to decline to produce E3 Coliseum,” he announced on Twitter, referring to the series of livestreamed developer interviews he had put together for the last few years. “For the first time in 25 years, I will not be participating in E3.” Keighley had attended every E3 since the show began.
“I think E3 needs to become more digital and global,” he said in a Twitter reply to someone asking about his decision. “It’s a brand that means a lot to people, but it shouldn’t just be a show floor.”
He didn’t elaborate further on what he thought E3 was doing wrong. The Entertainment Software Association, the industry group that runs E3 each year, didn’t provide many clues themselves.
In a press release issued after Keighley’s announcement, the group noted that this year’s show “will feature special guest gamers, celebrities, and digital programming on the show floor while connecting with global audiences through extended livestreaming. A highlight will be the debut of an all-new floor experience that will be streamed to bring exclusive conversations with leading industry innovators and creators to attendees and fans worldwide.”
Much of that sounds like the exact kinds of changes that would make E3 more digital and global, as Keighley hoped, but something about the planning clearly went awry.
When one fan on Twitter asked him if the issue was actually money, he replied: “Wasn’t really anything to do with that. We honestly didn’t even get that far.”
E3 2020 was already hurting from Sony PlayStation’s surprise announcement that the gaming giant would be skipping the show. While PlayStation had already skipped the 2019 edition, the fact that the PlayStation 5 is coming out near the end of the year made it seem likely that Sony would resume being a fixture of the event.
Xbox and Electronic Arts have both run satellite events near E3 during E3 week but have not been part of the show floor for years.
This morning, the absence of Nintendo from a leaked E3 exhibitor list raised questions about whether that gaming giant was also bailing on the show. But the ESA’s E3 2020 press release boasted of Nintendo (and Xbox, for what it’s worth) “participating” in the show. While neither the ESA nor Nintendo commented to Kotaku on just what Nintendo’s role will be at E3, a source close to the show said they will indeed be an exhibitor.
E3 used to be a more focused event, concentrating most of the biggest video game announcements of the year to a few high-profile press conferences and a boisterous show floor within the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Centre. As years went on, more game publishers began to exhibit their games at their own events adjacent to E3 and added their own events and announcement videos to the weeks prior to the show. But E3 week had remained a peak moment of interest. Originally, the event had only been open to industry professionals, although this was a stipulation easily exploited by rank and file game shop workers and anyone with the savvy to generate some clips for mygamingsiteisntjusttogetmeintoe3.com. In recent years, E3 has been open to the public, at least for some of the time. This year, members of the public can attend for anywhere from $US165 ($245) to $US995 ($1,476).
It’s unclear just what Keighley’s lack of participation augurs. While he has been a fixture of recent shows, he’s better known for December’s The Game Awards events, which appear to be a rising success as a platform for showcasing games, making game announcements and, this year, coinciding with the release of games and game demos. This year, The Game Awards was even the venue Microsoft chose to unveil the real name and look of its next console, the Xbox Series X, a reveal that typically would have happened at an E3.
But Keighley’s Coliseum show was just part of a series of activities he conducted that generated buzz around E3. For well over a decade he’s overseen a one-week mid-May game critics tour of mostly unannounced preview builds of big-budget games. That tour would lead to a mid-June vote by those game critics for the best games of E3. He’s also spent years hosting newsmaking interviews with developers on the days leading into E3, first for Spike TV and more recently for YouTube. Of the former event, he said on Twitter that “There will be a Game Critics Week this year but not related to E3.” Of the latter, he said, “We’re still figuring out plans with YouTube for this year.”
Full disclosure, by the way, that Keighley and your article’s author have been friends for over a decade, and I’ve been both a member of the Game Critics tour and a guest on Keighley’s Spike and YouTube E3 shows over the years. Keighley nevertheless did not respond to my questions for this article about what his decision might mean for the future (shakes fist). He did tell Wired that he has “no current plans” to produce an event like E3 Coliseum on his own.
The ESA has tried to play it cool regarding Keighley’s comments today. “Geoff has been, and continues to be, a strong industry advocate and champion,” an ESA rep told Kotaku. “We appreciate his contributions and hope to have future collaborations.”
Keighley, meanwhile, spent a portion of the day retweeting articles about his decision not to attend E3 to his more than million followers on Twitter.