With E3 2022 now officially off the calendar and conflicting reports about its future circulating on social media, the question now becomes: what happens now?
It uh, it already happened
The direct-to-consumer approach kind of blew up E3’s spot when it wasn’t looking.
In the short term at least, the answer to what happens to E3 now is “Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest.” Keighley created Summer Game Fest, his own annual showcase, in light of E3 2020’s cancellation and his departure as a host. Now, it threatens to subsume E3 altogether. Originally planned as a months-long online festival spotlighting devs of all sizes, Summer Game Fest has shifted focus. Its 2021 showcase had more in common with Keighley’s year-end show, The Game Awards, a lengthy and almost uninterrupted firehose of world premiere trailers for upcoming games. It will now, functionally at least, replace E3 2022.
In spirit, Summer Game Fest is the future that the modern version of E3 was barreling towards. It’s hours of advertising and hype, delivered at fire-hose pressure, with Keighley stepping in periodically to spruik a sponsor that also has a game on the way. The crucial part for marketers is that Keighley’s model obliterates any need for press access and goes directly to the audience. This is the same thinking that saw Nintendo convert its E3 press conference into a Direct broadcast. It’s the same thinking that led to publishers like PlayStation and Electronic Arts departing E3 entirely. They don’t need E3, they just need to reach the people who will buy their games, and Keighley’s take goes down the smoothest.
For an industry full of players deeply suspicious about hype and marketing, the appetite for The Keighley Method is curiously massive. Video game showcases are interminable, we know this, and yet we sit through them anyway.
It’s the video game marketing equivalent of Homer Simpson inhaling a trillion hell donuts and still being ready for more.
What can it do about in-person then?
If E3 survives this latest cancellation in favour of a big in-person 2023 return, what can it do to re-invent itself? What can it do to make itself relevant in a world that is perfectly happy to watch a parade of trailers streamed online? We’ve already seen the leaked plans for a ghastly, more influencer-friendly version of the show. That pitch went over like a lead balloon, so that’s obviously not the move. Even consumer trade shows like PAX have taken the E3 show floor and put it into the public’s hands, so it can’t lean on that either. E3 even opened its doors to the public in 2017 in an attempt to embrace the same direct-to-consumer thinking.
But its problems as an in-person also remain. The Los Angeles Convention Centre is a massive space and E3 fills the bulk of it. Recent shows felt thinner, however, due to the departure of names like PlayStation. How do you fill out a giant convention space when one of the biggest names on the floor has left a vacuum? To date, the answer for the ESA has mostly been “more vendors.” Peripheral makers, startups, smaller studios with a budget to burn. To -pay to rent a massive space like that and not fill it must make the eyes water.
But none of that sets it apart from PAX or other industry shows like Gamescom. It simply isn’t special anymore.
This question of how E3 can retool its live show and remain relevant post-pandemic is a tough one to answer.
Do we even need E3 anymore?
This is the question that currently hangs above the show like the sword of Damocles. Given how far the industry has moved toward a direct-to-consumer mindset, does E3 even have a reason for being anymore? It’s come to feel somewhat outmoded, the product of a very different media landscape. Each successive show since the mid-2010s has possessed an increasing sense of desperation. Has E3 served its purpose, and is it time to push it off from the dock? With E3 2022 now off the calendar, could E3 2021 truly become The Last E3?
Definitely keen for the reader’s perspective on this one. Do you feel like direct-to-consumer has killed E3? If you could go to E3, would you? As you all make up the target market, I’d be interested in your take here. Pop off in the comments!