E3 has been the event around which the video game industry revolves for nearly three decades now, but it’s time to admit it’s a relic that has long passed its sell-by date. There will be critics of this article that will point to the pandemic as justification for this year’s inept event, but such a response ignores the very real reality that the show has been in decline for several years now – lest we forget that last year’s convention was sounding like a catastrophe, before coronavirus came in and saved organisers ESA’s blushes. The cold hard reality is that it’s time to move on.
Sceptics may say that this article only exists because Sony pulled out of the show, and as a single-format website we’re writing this because we’re experiencing sour grapes. But in hindsight, the Japanese giant foresaw what we’re all coming to terms with now: the event is out of touch. Ex-PlayStation boss Shawn Layden said it best when he justified PlayStation’s decision to drop out of the 2019 iteration: “The world has changed, but E3 hasn't necessarily changed with it.”
The problem is that E3 doesn’t know what it wants to be: it was originally conceived as a trade show, but has gradually transitioned into a consumer event. However, it serves neither purpose particularly well, and in an era where publishers and platform holders can attract significant audiences through their own dedicated platforms, the importance of commanding an E3 stage has eroded. For a long time it’s felt like publishers have been going through the motions, but that’s especially true this year.
Of course, the pandemic plays a significant part in that, and no one with reasonable expectations would have anticipated megatons of the nuclear variety to come out of this event. But publishers aren’t exempt of blame here: Gearbox has never hosted an E3 broadcast before, but somehow decided that this was the year to do so – despite failing to even elaborate upon the Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands trailer it had aired a couple of days before.
The event reached parody status when, during a Capcom showcase where we were told beforehand what to expect, a planned Resident Evil Village update amounted to a black screen with text informing us that DLC has entered production. Coronavirus has surely impacted productivity among all of these major publishers, and we fully respect and understand that, but perhaps common sense should prevail here: the company could have stayed away until it has more meaningful content to show.
And even publishers who do have blockbusters under their belt, like Square Enix, are being hamstrung. The firm may have revealed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – arguably one of the highlights of E3 2021, which says a lot – but the likes of Final Fantasy XVI and Forspoken were missing in action, almost certainly because Sony has dibs on the releases and wants to demo them during its own event. Consequently, E3 is not the venue for the biggest and best announcements anymore.
We’re sure many will point to Microsoft and Nintendo’s excellent showcases as examples of E3 2021’s ongoing relevancy, but neither needed to be tethered to the event at all – both platform holders could have delivered just as strongly through their own platforms and on their own terms during a period of convenience to them and their partners. Sony, on a whim, showed Horizon Forbidden West a couple of weeks prior to the show – and its engagement is higher than almost everything at E3.
Ultimately, this year’s show has reeked of desperation: it’s clinging to the idea that the industry needs a week-long advert. But it doesn’t. In an era where publishers and platform holders can have a direct dialogue with fans, the E3 stage no longer commands the importance that it once did. And while coronavirus certainly upended this year’s event in a significant way, it underlines why companies should be holding events on their own timetable rather than sticking to the schedule of an arbitrary summer showcase.
What are your thoughts on E3 2021? Was this just a particularly bad year due to the pandemic, or has the event been on a gradual decline? Drop a megaton in the comments section below.