E3 has been cancelled, and no one reading the news is surprised. It may be the most noteworthy convention in the gaming calendar, but with famous festivals like Coachella postponed and the Olympics under serious jeopardy, it’s hardly surprising that coronavirus has claimed another victim. Of course, in this case, the pandemic may prove to be the smokescreen that organisers ESA need to save the stumbling show.
While it’s been a kind of Christmas for gaming enthusiasts for decades, E3 2019 was not a good show. Part of that can be attributed to the timing – the tail-end of generations rarely bring the biggest news. E3 2020 was being billed as a comeback, but all has not been well behind-the-scenes. Sony, for instance, was quick to distance itself from the event – cancelling its showcase for the second successive year.
The Japanese giant, who’s clearly had issues with the convention for some time, promised that it would interact with fans at hundreds of other events around the globe – and later announced a bumper booth for PAX East 2020. While coronavirus ultimately pulled the plug on its plans, it’s become increasingly obvious that Sony’s issue is not with consumer and trade conventions, but with E3 itself. Renowned journalist Geoff Keighley followed the manufacturer’s lead.
But in reality, E3 2020 was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. It was pitched as a “fan, media, and influencer festival”, but it lost its creative team only days ago. iam8bit, the group tasked with transforming this year’s show, said that it had “mixed emotions” about its resignation. Exactly how ESA planned to pivot and replace its creative directors with just three months until the event itself will never be known.
In truth, this may be a blessing in disguise. We can all safely assume that this year’s event would not have been good, and with various controversies gripping at its coattails, a disastrous show could have proved the final nail in the formerly great convention’s coffin. At the very least, it now has a year to regroup, reconsider, and decide exactly what it wants E3 to be in the future. That’s a positive thing for the gaming industry as a whole.
The problem it now faces is whether publishers will ever want to return. Sony, it’s safe to say, would have branched out on its own – but now Microsoft and Ubisoft have announced similar plans. We can assume that Bethesda, Square Enix, Warner Bros, and any of the other usual suspects will all host their own events as well – either digitally in June, or physically later in the year. The companies may find that operating on their own terms gives them more flexibility – and does less damage to their bottom line. And that could mean the ESA will have problems getting organisations back through the door.
This feels like a turning point, and while coronavirus is taking centre stage, there’s clearly a lot more going on behind-the-scenes than we realise. It’s possible that E3 may have already taken its last breath, in which case we’re entering a brave new world right now. ESA may have avoided an embarrassing summer, but now the real work begins, as it works to redeem the convention’s rapidly deteriorating reputation.
Do you think coronavirus could have inadvertently saved E3 from itself? How do you feel about the event's future? Pull the plug in the comments section below.