The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short; was at one point in time a celebration of video games. An event where consumers, influencers, and games media all came together to share their love for their favorite hobby.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. And in recent years it has become clear. E3 is dying. and if the worst-case scenario happens. I am going to miss it very much, and the entire industry will too.
Now, before I get into what led E3 to become a shell of its former self. Let’s start with how it came to be, and what made it great in the first place.
The first E3 was in 1995 and was a resounding success. Over 50,000 people attended the event. At the time, there wasn’t a convention or trade show dedicated to video games. Before E3, video games were exhibited Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Outside a small area of the show floor. The first E3 was an influential moment for video games as an industry and as a culture.
E3 has been a video game staple ever since. And as the years went by, its popularity grew. To many (including me), E3 was considered “Gamer Christmas.”
When the internet’s presence grew in the early 2000s, E3 and the various companies took advantage of this. Broadcasting their announcements live on the internet. This took E3 to new heights. As not only did it grow in popularity to those who were at the event. But you had millions of people watching online as well. As if their presence was felt there as well.
Furthermore, thanks to broadcasting on the internet. Some of E3’s most iconic moments spread via the internet. Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime’s introducing himself to the world at E3 2004. And his subsequent celebrity status was all thanks to the internet. Other moments such as Sony’s jab at Microsoft at E3 2013. Reggie himself saying one of his legendary quotes at E3 2007. It was moments like these that spawned memes and in-jokes across the internet. But more importantly, it became a part of video game history and an influence on gaming culture.
Even the more low points and cringe-induced moments. Like Jamie Kennedy hosting Activision’s conference in 2007. Konami’s hilariously bad conference in 2010. And my personal favorite, Mr. Caffeine during Ubisoft’s conference in 2011. All went viral and became subject to memes.
E3 as an event itself did have a few rough patches during its peak. Like E3 1997 and 1998 held in Atlanta instead of Los Angeles. And E3 2007 held outside Santa Monica airport. Causing it to have the lowest attendance in the event’s history. But despite those questionable decisions in the past. E3 still played a major impact on the industry, and that looked to continue well into the 2010s.
Now it brings us to here, where E3 is not only struggling with staying relevant but also dying as we speak. And the only one to blame is the one company that has run E3 since the beginning. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
Things started out pretty well. Media and press attendance went up in record numbers. And the public still continued to watch the action unfold via live streaming. But there was one problem the event was faced with. Adapting to change.
In all fairness, some of the problems that plague E3, like leaks on the internet, is not their fault. Every gaming event these days get leaked. Does it ruin the surprises? Yes. But that’s a downside to the internet these days.
What the real problems E3 faces are their refusal, and inability to adapt to industry changes. In my opinion, the first instance of change was when Nintendo replaced its traditional press conferences in 2013. At the time, many believed it was them bowing out to hide from the Wii U’s failures. Little did we know, is that Nintendo started a trend. And many companies like Sony and Microsoft eventually decided to adopt and put their own spin on it.
The second moment of change was the ESA’s own actions, or should I say inactions. For nearly two decades, E3 was the go-to convention for video games. The only problem was that it was a convention that was only attended by the gaming press and media. Yes, E3 went back to being open to the public. But public admission was still limited to 15,000 people. And the convention still leaned toward being an event for the press.
This inaction took a hit on the ESA in the long term. When events like the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) started to grow in influence in the 2010s. PAX has been around since 2004. But once it expanded into having 4 seasonal events throughout the year. (PAX East in Boston, PAX West in Seattle, PAX South in San Antonio, and PAX Australia in Melbourne). It became wildly popular. Other events such as MAGFest and TooManyGames also have a cult following and have grown in popularity as well.
These conventions are a success because it adopted the industry changes E3 has refused to make. It is cheaper and easier to travel to. But most importantly, it is more interactive and fan-focused to the public. The gaming press still has a major presence at the conventions, but they take a back seat to the fans. Furthermore, it has concessions that E3 severely lacks. Like having guest panels, more live music. As well as the ability to interact and be closer to your favorite content creators.
This has taken a toll on E3 in the long turn. And its starting and killing E3. The first warning sign was last year. When Sony announced that PlayStation wouldn’t have a presence at E3 2019 at all.
Then came the E3 data leak right after. Which personal information and contacts of the gaming press, influencers, and more leaked online. This caused many people to be doxxed and sent harmful messages online. This caused The ESA’s already muddy reputation to take a hit that they may never recover from.
This has caused the E3 to face some sort of identity crisis. And according to a leaked document, the ESA will rebrand E3 in 2020 to be more geared towards fans. This received mixed reactions online, and it remains to be seen if it would work.
Then a few later, Sony once again announces it has decided to skip E3 in 2020. This one is more consequential than last year. Considering the next-generation of consoles are releasing this year.
So what does it mean for the future of E3? With everything that has happened within the last decade. E3 is dying. It started slowly, but recent events, some by the ESA’s own doing, has accelerated its demise. How many more years does it have left, and can it be saved?
My answer to both of these questions is, I don’t know. I want it to be saved, but the chances are bleak. But when the day comes that E3 is a thing of the past, I’m gonna miss it. And a majority of us, both consumers and the industry as well, will as well.
Why say that? It’s because I still love following E3 every year. Watching the live streams and talking about with close friends. One of my childhood dreams was to go to E3. A dream I fulfilled in the summer of 2019, as a college graduation gift. When I was at the event, I felt that the magic and excitement of it was still there, somewhere. And even though Sony wasn’t at the event, I still had an amazing time and will cherish it forever. My goal is to go again in the future.
Here are some photos I took at the event:
The slow demise of E3, while self-inflicted on many instances. Will be a part of gaming that I will miss if and when it goes away. I still believe the event has a purpose and vital to the industry. And if it ceases to exist, it will open a void that will be irreplaceable. And while a large part of me agrees that The ESA has gotten what it deserves. y hope that they finally adapt to change, and save E3. The odds are against them, but it’s not impossible either.
But if E3 can’t be saved and reaches its demise. Let’s not talk about why it happened and who’s to blame. We should instead appreciate the event’s influence on the industry. And place among video game history. Because while all good things come to an end. The memories live on forever.