Why the game industry gave up on E3
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re exploring why the video game industry’s biggest annual event, E3, has fallen by the wayside, and what you should play, watch and read this weekend.
E3 the dinosaur
The highlight of the video game industry news cycle used to occur at the beginning of summer every year in Los Angeles. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, has been a focal point for video game news, trailers and big reveals for years, but we’re now entering the third year in a row without a physical E3 showing after organizers last week canceled the 2022 event six months out.
It’s not the definitive end of E3, but it sure feels like the annual show may never reclaim its former glory after it was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and shifted to an all-virtual format last year. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, and it’s now more clear than ever the industry has moved away from centering all its biggest, most important marketing on a single, overcrowded week.
Game developers now talk straight to the consumer. The biggest sign of E3’s waning relevance started in 2013, when Nintendo said it would shift its presence at the show to a virtual press conference under the Nintendo Direct branding. This was just the first step in a broader industry movement to speak directly to consumers through online livestreams and announcements.
- Losing Nintendo dealt a big blow, but it still meant E3, and its focus on big-budget console gaming, could march on so long as it had the support of Microsoft, Sony and the two major console makers’ game publishing partners.
- Six years later, Sony followed in Nintendo’s footsteps, leaving Microsoft as the sole console maker hosting an in-person press conference in LA. Sony’s lack of presence at E3 in the run-up to the PlayStation 5 deprived E3 of one of its most vital sources of industry news.
- Since 2013, scores of developers have followed Nintendo's lead, including Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts, by choosing to pepper in announcements in smaller bits and pieces throughout the year and host larger, more controlled digital events where they’re not competing with rivals for attention.
E3 is a showcase for older, more traditional gaming. The Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that organizes E3, is largely made up of the biggest console game publishers in the industry.
- Because of the group’s makeup, the show has always traditionally focused on big-budget titles catering to console audiences. But that audience is no longer the core demographic in gaming, and even opening E3 to the general public, as the ESA did in 2017, felt too little too late.
- Many of the biggest games today are live service, free-to-play games that were never shown off at E3 or didn’t rely on the industry’s traditional release cycle. Many of the games that fall into that category also exist on mobile, a segment of the industry that has never had a strong presence at trade shows outside of Asia.
- Big-budget console games with Hollywood-level production values and budgets will of course continue to exist, and events like E3 will cater to them. But mobile makes up the biggest chunk of the pie now (see: Take-Two’s purchase of Zynga this week), and the live service business model doesn’t fit well within the traditional video game hype cycle E3 is designed to preserve.
Other events and platforms have risen to take the spotlight. While E3 has waned, a number of other events have filled the gap to ensure there’s a steady stream of constant gaming news throughout the year. And thanks to platforms like Reddit and Discord, developers now have more two-way communication with fans.
- Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards and the presenter’s companion events, like Summer Game Fest, are now among the most popular showcases for new game trailers and reveals. Keighley’s events operate much in the same space as E3 does, but are much less expensive to produce and are much more suited to livestreaming.
- Countless developers now maintain more active conversations with their communities on company blogs, as Bungie does with Destiny and Epic with Fortnite, as well as through Reddit and Discord.
- For bigger reveals, game makers will often host their own event online and then use showcases like E3 and The Game Awards to debut trailers and plug release dates to the general public.
There’s been plenty of speculation since last week's announcement on the future of E3 and whether the ESA will cancel the 2022 event altogether or try for another virtual-only event. Yet whatever form E3 takes going forward, it’s undoubtedly become the dinosaur in an industry that’s been shifting to digital for nearly a decade and forcibly adapting to the new reality of the pandemic. And if E3 disappears altogether, it’ll be because it failed to do either of those.
— Nick Statt
A MESSAGE FROM BABBEL
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TGIF: How to spend your weekend
IFC Slightly Off. I’ve long been fascinated by the business of free, ad supported streaming channels. More recently, I’ve also found myself watching them a lot. One of my go-tos is Slightly Off, which features 24/7 IFC programming, including marathons of cult shows like “Portlandia,” “Documentary Now!” and “Food Party.” It’s a great way to waste a few, strange minutes here and there without having to think about what to watch. (Streaming on Pluto TV, Xumo, Plex and elsewhere)
Bourdain All Day. Another free streaming channel I turn to frequently, even if I’ve seen many of the episodes already. Because really, what would be better than a TV channel that just re-airs Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” 24/7? RIP, Anthony. (Streaming on Plex)
Annalee Newitz: “Four Lost Cities.” Newitz wrote one of my favorite science fiction books of the past few years, and then she followed it up with this super-interesting read on the history of urban development and life. “Four Lost Cities” first came out a year ago, and was rereleased as a paperback this week. (Your friendly neighborhood bookstore)
Nock. The folks behind Half + Half, a series of minigames for the Quest VR headset, have built a new VR sports game that somehow manages to combine soccer and archery. Nock hasn’t been released yet, but it’s coming soon, and the trailer out this week makes me really want to try it. (YouTube)
Your search did not match any documents. Getting zero results on Google is exceedingly rare, if only because the search engine happens to interpret even the most cryptic gibberish as a misspelled version of something else. But if you do happen to get to one of those coveted “no results found” pages, Google rewards you with a surprise: A Yeti who’s gone fishing, and finds new treasures every time you interact with him. Why a yeti? Because, much like your search term, “it's something that's super rare to find and may not exist,” according to Google Search Delight Director of Product Satyajeet Salgar. (You’re welcome)
— Janko Roettgers
A MESSAGE FROM BABBEL
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