E3’s Legacy Will Be Hard To Replace

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Highlights

  • E3 was once gaming’s Superbowl, with flashy showcases and competition between major gaming publishers. But the rise of online events like Nintendo Treehouse and State of Play, along with the absence of competition, has changed the dynamic.
  • The showfloor at E3, where press could try out demos, was a crucial aspect of the event. However, other gaming events like Gamescom and PAX now focus on in-person demos or no demos at all. The showfloor aspect has been neglected or forgotten.
  • While other gaming events still exist, E3 was unique in its ability to bring everything together and be the main event. Without E3, the gaming industry has lost its Superbowl and the gaming seasons have gotten a little darker.

In 1995, the Entertainment Software Association unveiled a groundbreaking concept: The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or as we would all call it, E3. E3 had it all, despite how much we all knew it was just a commercial; a commercial in which every gaming giant had to come on stage and sell you all their tech and advancements from as soon as a few months away to as far as several years out.

We all remember our first exposure to the showcase. For me, it was 2011, a time when I was discovering the wild west of internet shows, and Video Games Awesome would cut snippets of the showcase to react to. When they eventually went live to watch it in full, I was there on Twitch to join the fun. Watching E3 is how I first got interested in following games media, and I’m far from the only one to say that.

But, that time passed a while ago. E3 has had some competition, and trouble keeping up with the digital age. 2023 was the year enough was deemed enough. As we predicted, the 2023 show’s cancelation lead to a full death. Still, this was gaming’s Superbowl, and when the big picture is truly looked at, it’s hard to say we prepared for the cancelation, despite knowing it was coming.

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The Showcases: One Big Competitive Commercial

Sony E3 1995 Ps1 Announcement reveal PlayStation Steve Race 299 speech

The showcases (or presentations) were a true draw for the media and fans alike. Representatives or spokespeople from the main console manufacturers and major gaming publishers had to show up on stage and show trailer after trailer of not just upcoming games, but entire new consoles. Hosts would range from company CEOs to actors and actresses, like Whose Line Is It Anyway host Aisha Tyler (whom Ubisoft trusted as spokesperson from 2012 to 2016).

The flashier, the better, and the bigger, the weirder. Fans would often wonder just why Microsoft would always bring a car onstage to discuss the new Forza, yet the utter nonsense of that logic did truly feel E3. This led to wonderful moments, both great and terrible. Sony’s 2016 showcase was instantly considered a new gold standard, between the stellar presentation of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy announcement and finally giving a release date for The Last Guardian after a decade of silence. But then you also had the cringe hosts like Mr. Caffeine (Ubisoft 2011) and the bizarre failure of Wii Music’s presentation (Nintendo 2008).

Pokemon x and y starter selection chespin Fennekin and froakie

But in 2013, Nintendo decided to strike it out on their own. Their E3 showcase would instead be a purely online event named Nintendo Treehouse. The snowball started rolling. Nintendo’s Treehouse style meant they could and would showcase trailers whenever they wanted, and they wouldn’t be forced to compete with everyone else in the same week. Sony would create State Of Play in 2019, as well as leave E3 behind, just as Nintendo did.

E3 was often called “Gaming’s Superbowl”. The Superbowl has flashy musical numbers and tons of fun commercials, but there are also two teams of football players in a competition. When the showcases happen whenever the publishers wish, the flash and fun is still there, but the competition is not. At E3, Nintendo and Sony and Ubisoft and Microsoft all had to convince you they were the ones worth giving your money; to forget about everyone else. That element is missing from Treehouse and State Of Play. And while Summer Games Fest and The Game Awards do feature trailers from all parties, they all have the same third-party spokesperson who makes sure to treat all parties equally and friendly. The competition aspect is completely missing.

The Showfloor: A Lost Art

E3 2018

Mostly for the press (until 2016 opened tickets to the public) was the showfloor. This was where demos for the upcoming games were open, letting the gaming press get their fingers on the buttons and their ears full of fancy words from publishers and spokespeople.

As simple as that all sounds, this was just as much a draw as the showcases. This is where the articles came from, the big boosts in engagement and public chatter. E3 showcases weren’t always big Twitch audience pulling events, but anyone following video games knew what was played on E3’s showfloor.

Xbox New Stellar Shift Special Edition Controller

And yet, how demos during showcases have evolved is much different than the logical steps Nintendo and Sony found. Summer Games Fest does not have a showfloor for the press to play games and report their experience. However, free demos become available for those at home, regardless of if they were even watching. It’s a bit odd; disconnected from the experience.

The Game Awards has no demos at all. However, Gamescom and PAX have demos just meant for people in-person. That said, they have no showcases. The showfloor aspect, despite being crucial since E3’s inception, is now either forgotten, or the only part. I’m not sure why, although reports have suggested costs are a factor. This holds weight, as the costs include more than just a demo, they also include showfloor space, presenters, and in E3’s case, the infamous situation of “booth babes.”

Again, with Summer Games Fest, a third-party can tell the public to just try the demo for themselves. Gone is the press conveying their thoughts. While sounding good on paper, there is a massive point that journalists and tech people understand the demos better and how to convey thoughts that the average gamer may not. Gamers know when a game feels good, but not always why. And without booths, there are no extra words from affiliated parties in the player’s ears, which results in players losing some experiences under the short time limit.

A graphical representation of Xbox Game Pass offerings

The games industry is different. E3 could not catch up. That much is clear, and the death of E3 was predicted. But it wasn’t as accounted for as it seems.

With Gamescom, The Game Awards, PAX, and Summer Games Fest, the games industry still has its metaphorical football games. But without E3, there is no Superbowl. Only E3 managed to mix it all; to be the event everything else led to. Summers (or winters for Australian gamers), have gotten a little darker.

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