If you’re reading this then I don’t need to explain to you what E3 is. Though, I think I might need to remind some of you what E3 means. I thought all gaming enthusiasts always understood what the mega-trade show really meant the gaming industry and culture. However, there has been a growing rhetoric within the gaming community that E3 isn’t necessary anymore. Like clockwork, in the months prior to E3 (and the days after) the same “E3 is dead/dying” stories make the rounds.
Why do people think E3 is becoming irrelevant?
Pundits produce think pieces listing all the reasons why E3 making its death knell. Yet, those same people enthusiastically board the speculation train as they attempt to predict what announcements the gaming expo will bring.
So then, why is it that gaming journalists and talking heads still seem to believe that E3 is dying? Why do they opine so strongly that E3 is no longer relevant?
Maybe they are just capitalizing on our desires to see something successful fail? Is the media employing a hipster-like contrarian attitude for the sake of attention? For some reason popular kids think it’s “cool” to have a jaded attitude towards the gaming expo.
Though, I have to be fair. There are at least a few factors that contributed to this trend. Some of these factors are a result of E3’s self-inflicted wounds. While I am ultimately going to defend E3, that doesn’t mean they haven’t made mistakes. However, that is a whole other opinion piece that may come later.
Do online leaks undermine E3’s true purpose?
For now, I’m going to focus on the most common argument cited by those convinced of E3’s slow death. Which is that the show is becoming irrelevant because announcements/reveals are often leaked days or even weeks beforehand.
Leaks are definitely a thing and they certainly do happen with increasing frequency. It seems that there is always one person who is willing to jump on reddit and blow the whole load just because. I personally don’t understand the psychology behind such actions but I certainly can’t deny that it happens.
Regardless, the argument remains. What is the point of E3 if everything leaks?
It seems like a logical position to take at first. If the purpose of E3 is the announcements, and announcements leak ahead of time, then functionally E3 is a failure right?
The problem with this argument is that it’s only sound if you believe that the purpose of E3 is strictly to make announcements.
The fact is it’s decidedly not the only purpose of E3. New game and console announcements have always just been the icing on the expo cake.
What is E3 really about?
The reason why it may seem like E3’s existence is purely for reveals and announcements is because that aspect is the most forward facing. It’s what matters to them the most: “what’s coming out and when can I play it?”
Don’t get me wrong, that is still very important but it is hardly the only function of E3 nor is it the only reason why we should care about it.
Remember, E3 started out as (and still is technically) a trade show. It’s a way for developers, publishers, and manufacturers to get their games and gaming products in front of the eyes and in the hands of industry folk and the major retailers that would be playing, selling, talking about, using, and reviewing said games and products.
It’s true that digital distribution has changed that relationship significantly. However, brick and mortar retailers will remain important as long as physical game sales and physical accessories (controllers, carrying cases, headsets, gaming pc components, etc.) are still a major part of the industry. Spoiler alert: they are.
Developers need to connect with publishers and gamers
E3 also serves as an arena for developers to connect with publishers. Publishers (through their resources) help developers get their games out to the masses making it easier for gamers to find great experiences. There are a lot of crowd favorite games out there that may not have been nearly as successful were it not for the creators connecting with a publisher at a venue like E3.
This effect has been amplified further by the inclusion of IndieCade which is an amazing organization that helps small independent developers get eyes on the games they’ve worked so hard on. IndieCade has given a megaphone to countless indie devs and E3 is a contributing factor. I know for a fact that major journalists and publishers make it a point to stop by the IndieCade exhibit at E3 to see what indie developers have come up with.
E3 allows real gaming journalists to properly filter the hype
Finally, I think one of the most overlooked purposes of E3 is that it provides a way for gaming journalists to filter out the hype and provide gamers with real information and fact-based opinions on games they experience on the show floor. This could mean tempering expectations on an over-hyped game or giving a loud-speaker to a game that may be getting lost in the noise.
Without a venue for journalists to get hands-on time with announced games (even if they are early builds), then gamers have to rely on the tightly and methodically strategic messaging put forth by PR firms hired by publishers.
That means consumers have less information to go on and developers get less feedback to help them improve their games before launch. It is a lose/lose situation.
Now, you might be thinking “that’s what reviews are for” and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. The thing is, review copies of games are almost always 99.99% final versions. Which means any feedback comes at a time that is too late to fix things before it releases.
If a developer gets crucial feedback earlier, it’s much easier for them to course correct before it has a major impact on the release date and make the experience better for the end users. This is part of the reason why developers do hands-on demos at E3 in the first place.
Yet, all of those other aspects of E3 are lost on gamers at large because that isn’t what they see. They see the live-streamed events and press releases from publishers. That being said, it’s easy to understand why so many people think that E3 is only about the announcements.
The part that surprises me is that people who should know better, the professionals and influencers of the industry are pushing the same argument. Even some gaming journalists!
The funny (and annoying) part is that you can find tons of YouTubers who have made long think-piece videos about the decline of E3’s relevancy while having never attended the event themselves! How does the math on that work?
Livestreams and stand-alone events are NOT leak-proof!
As nonsensical as that is, the most irritating part of the whole take is it’s justification. The same people who site leaks as the culprit of E3’s decline often use Nintendo, EA, and now Sony as examples to prove their point.
Nintendo’s “Direct” and PlayStation’s “State Of Play” livestreams are touted as largely successful alternatives for E3. When the truth is that’s only partially correct. Leaks are not the reason why those companies backed away from E3. The real reasons have more to do with controlling the narrative and frankly, conserving resources.
Going back to leaks, take a step back and look at the whole picture. There are almost always leaks before a Nintendo Direct! Most leaks are wrong but there are always at least a few that are right. I don’t think there has been one Nintendo Direct where something had not leaked before hand.
Sony has only been doing their State Of Play events for about a year and they’ve suffered leaks as well.
The bottom line is the platform or venue is of no consequence. As long as big publishers, developers, and console manufacturers announce new products, people will leak them!
Yet for some reason people seem to correlate this phenomenon exclusively to E3. It’s nonsense!
Furthermore, I would also argue that not everything leaks ahead of E3. A prime example is the Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk 2077 reveal at Xbox’s 2019 E3 briefing. Nobody saw that coming! Not only was it a complete surprise, it also gave birth to the “You’re breathtaking” meme that we all know and love today.
There are more logical reasons why those companies stepped back from the expo and I think it has more to do with the direction of the show as well as financial factors and having more control. It’s not just about leaks.
E3 isn’t perfect but it is still an important part of the industry.
Despite my disagreement with some of E3’s choices, I can still acknowledge that right now the Electronic Entertainment Expo is not only relevant but needed. E3 keeps things honest between gamers and gaming companies, helps great games find their audience, and contributes to the continued forward movement of the gaming industry.
Those things should always be relevant to gaming enthusiasts around the world. So maybe pause the “E3 is dead” talk for a while. Let’s give them some room to grow and evolve.