A recent topic of discussion in the PC Gamer offices mirrored a more general sense of confusion among the gaming crowd and industry: What do we call this summer ‘game showcase’ period when there’s no E3? We’ve mostly plumped for Not-E3, though social media has come up with its own Keigh-3 replacement. The common element there being the number, which of course comes from the three words themselves: Electronic Entertainment Expo.
E3 was always gaming’s showpiece, beginning in 1995 and held at the Los Angeles Convention Centre for decades to come. But this isn’t about a potted history of the event, which was brought to a screeching halt in 2020 by the Covid pandemic and hasn’t been held in-person since, so much as what has replaced it—and what’s missing.
You can’t say that we didn’t get a lot of games during Not-E3 2022, including megatons like the first look at Starfield (opens in new tab), and the full list is absolutely dizzying (opens in new tab). The number of events held over the period June 2-13 is also kinda staggering (opens in new tab), though obviously some are bigger than others: Sony State of Play; Summer Game Fest; Devolver Digital Showcase; Netflix Geeked Week; Epic Games Showcase; Tribeca Games Spotlight; Guerilla Collective; Wholesome Direct; Future Games Show; Xbox & Bethesda; Capcom; and, of course, our own PC Gaming Show.
The industry is bigger than ever before and that means there’s more games than ever before (even if, in the post-Covid era, many of the bigger titles in particular are suffering delays). All of the shows above boasted dozens, many of them exclusive. There’s an absolute surfeit of gaming riches to be had, yet the reaction didn’t seem there: for want of a better catch-all term, at no point during this ‘E3’ period did it feel like the hype train was about to take off from the tracks.
Personally I found the blizzard of announcements overwhelming, and the sustained nature of this period somehow drawing a lot of the excitement out of it. E3 was a three-day event that smooshed-together a whole bunch of people from the games industry and a bunch of media (public tickets went on-sale in 2017 for the first time). Usually I’d be working during E3 (whether there or not) but, when in the rare year I wasn’t, I’d be at watch parties with my mates or at very least on Discord, all of us excitedly jabbering away about what we’d just seen and what was coming next.
It felt important, and it felt exciting. Over that short space of time you’d, essentially, see the major platform-holders and publishers compete against one another to have the ‘best’ stage presentation, what we might call an E3 moment. These days it’s trendy for corporations to pretend they get along (on social media at least, the hideous portmanteau of ‘branter’ looming large) but honestly I want them at each other’s throats. I want to see nervous executives on stage, over-hyped developers, demos going wrong, and absolutely savage callbacks (like Sony’s ‘How to share games on PS4’).
For me that’s why E3 was always absolute catnip, because it was forcing these giant entities together into a convention centre and saying show us what you got. It might be that the disasters are more memorable, but there’s also something you get from a live crowd that the streams will never be able to replicate: The sheer euphoria of the reaction to something like Final Fantasy VII Remake; watching Don Mattrick struggle to sell the original Xbox One to an unimpressed and cold crowd; even something as simple as Ghostwire Tokyo being announced by Ikumi Nakamra saying “we are making a new kind of action-adventure game… it’s spooky!”
Giant enemy crabs
These stage presentations were always, of course, planned down to the finest detail. But they were still live, and happening within hours and feet of each other. Instead what we have now are shows that are pre-assembled and stitched-together with the host’s best takes well before anyone sees them, spread out over a much larger period of time and taking no cues from one another. There’s nothing reactive here anymore, not even really a sense of competition.
It’s boring. The Summer Game Fest has been discussed in terms of being the event that will eat E3’s lunch, but really it’s just a big event in its own right rather than any kind of a replacement for E3: SGF doesn’t feel like a focal point for the industry in the same way that E3 once was. There were satellite events around E3—Devolver infamously would rent out a car park across from the convention centre and stick bands on—but it was unmistakably The Games Event, the place where all the really important stuff happened, as well as all the unimportant but funny stuff.
I think I miss the people side. I’m not talking about being there myself, but that this is where people would spot Shigeru Miyamoto playing some PlayStation game or a journalist would panic playing a VR game and take the helmet off to see Hideo Kojima. Obviously we live in a post-Covid world and that has implications for huge in-person events like this but, while you have to respect peoples’ individual choices in such matters, it would be in the industry’s interest to have a smaller and more intense summer window: one where things can go wrong, where the show floor is its own story, where the industry is rubbing shoulders again.
The lack of excitement around this year’s Not-E3 comes down, for me, to the disparate scattergun of shows over a longer period, the lack of concentrated focus on everyone all at once, and the personality-led nature of E3’s most obvious replacement. I don’t have any issue with Geoff Keighley but I also think the industry’s too big to tie itself to this kind of self-congratulatory talk show format.
The problem being that the ESA is a shitshow. The Entertainment Software Association runs E3 and, while every big events company has gone through a business crisis over recent years, E3 has been handled especially badly: I’d particularly flag the will-they won’t-they manner in which the ESA has said that E3 would return this year and last year, and the well-founded uncertainty this created. You can’t blame Keighley and others for stepping in, nor the industry that wants a global showcase, when it doesn’t look like the organisers of E3 know what they’re doing.
Games is now one of the world’s largest creative industries, a space where so many exciting things are happening all at once that it’s hard to keep track at the best of times. The industry shouldn’t shy away from having its moment in the sun, but an 11 day spread can only ever feel inchoate and diffuse. We’re worse off without E3, and the industry will seem like a more exciting place if it can somehow pull off its promised 2023 comeback.