2020 was the first year since 1995 without E3: did we miss it?

Since the E3 period usually ends and most of the game announcements and showcases that were normally made as part of E3, this is a good time to take a look back at how things were going and look at the impact a year without E3.

Of all the many different ways events in 2020 are changing things around the world with the spread of the COVID 19 pandemic, one of the more reckless and insignificant ways was the shock in the world of gaming events for the first time since 1995 there is no longer an E3. With a view of the street, it is difficult to even guess what could happen in the future. Could there be a return to normal in the calendar of regular game events in 2021, or will things never be the same again? Think with us about the year without E3 and about the future.

The signs of some form of problem at E3 stem from the pandemic that brought E3 to a definitive standstill in 2020. In February we heard that the longtime host and for many the face of E3, Geoff Keighley, would not be involved in the show this year. He said that for the first time in 25 years, he would not be involved in the show in any way, as he felt “uncomfortable” because of the plans he had seen.

We may never find out exactly what made him so uncomfortable since the show never really took place. There were some leaked plans, of which we heard some details that aimed to change the format of the show to focus more on “influencers” and “celebrities”, and maybe it was this direction that Keighley took didn’t feel comfortable.

This happened against the backdrop of large companies like Sony completely dropping from E3 in 2019 and 2020, Nintendo withdrawing their engagement and many other publishers paying attention to their own direct communication with players without any kind of intermediary or broader organization coordinating efforts.

Given all the unpredictability and last minute changes required for events beyond their control, most major game companies have handled things fairly well. Sony and Microsoft seem to have disturbed their plans for the exact methods they would take until their next-generation consoles were released, but for the most part, they seemed to have handled things smoothly. EA’s EA Play Live was a generally well received event with some exciting announcements, and the narrower format was preferable to the expanded, cumbersome segments that end their usual EA stage events.

A series of fairly spontaneous events came up to fill the void for smaller games that had hoped to use E3 as a stepping stone to create some public awareness. Events such as IGN’s Summer Of Games, Guerilla Collective, Future Games Show, PC Gaming Show, Escapist Indie Showcase, New Game Plus Expo and BitSummit Gaiden have presented some exciting games that would otherwise have fallen under the radar. Some of these events were originally planned as a supplement to E3, but became more important with the cancellation of E3.

Ubisoft has its Ubisoft Forward Event this weekend. I am confident that they will be showing some interesting games, although the event may be somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing scandal about their culture of abuse, harassment, and cover-up that has recently been exposed. We’ll have to see some changes in Ubisoft before completely ignoring these types of working conditions when we think about playing their games, though we’ll have to wait and see if this topic is something they have decided to discuss on their video game marketing event.

The remaining question that underlines all of this is what will happen next year. The organizers of E3, The ESA, have set June 15, 2021 as the date for the event next year, but have also announced that the event will be “reinterpreted”. Exactly what that means is unclear, but they have plenty of time to prepare for it. Will the game industry fully support a future E3 when it has proven that it can at least survive without being tied to an event over which they have limited control? What exactly is it advantageous for publishers who are able to address a large online audience if they tie their future marketing plans to an event that goes in so many different directions? What is best for E3 will not always be the best for companies that have traditionally participated in E3.

E3 feels like a dinosaur these days, with the largest audience at home, but so much of the event is geared towards promoting E3 and selling tickets. The exact ratio of the number of people who learn something from the game while physically present at E3 to those who only watch from a distance is undoubtedly something that is being investigated as a publisher to determine how sustainable it is future participation of E3 is.

The inflexibility of the schedule is also a challenge that the format requires, but it could still be a headache for the participating companies. If a game or trailer takes additional time to prepare for the presentation, or if external factors require a change in the planned advertising campaign, none of the individual publishers can change the date of E3. It happens whether you are ready or not. If you are responsible for both a scheduled event and the games it presents, you can plan accordingly. Publishers like Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, Ubisoft, etc. get a lot more control over their messages if they set the date themselves.

How could things develop next year? Maybe E3 is back after a year off and bigger than ever. He shoots all cylinders to assert himself as the most important game event. Perhaps the gap year will spoil their momentum and their normally extensive list of partners will dwindle. There will be a lot of driving on E3 next year, as this could be the last die roll. We could also see that many different parties who were forced to find new solutions to promote their games felt that these new solutions were preferable to the old methods. Going outside of E3 alone with your own events was a last minute plan B for some, but maybe for 2021 that could be promoted to plan A. Certainly, more time for planning would make execution a little easier. It remains to be seen whether the key players could try to coordinate so that these separate events can form a reasonable collective schedule. We could see that the industry continues to focus on a week or two in the summer for their big games the year, or maybe we’ll see how everyone is spread across different parts of the calendar. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

How did you feel about the future of E3? Do you think this one event is essential to the health of the gaming industry? Do you think this year has proven that it no longer serves its intended purpose? How do you want things to change in the future? Let us know in the comments.

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