Matt has been following the video game industry since before he could afford his own Nintendo Power subscription.
The End of an Era
For the first time in its 25 year history, E3 is canceled. On March 11, 2020 the hammer fell, driving the final nail into E3 2020 when the Entertainment Software Association, organizers of the annual trade show, released the following statement:
"After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry – our fans, our employees, our exhibitors, and our longtime E3 partners – we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020, scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles.
Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation. We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today."
The news did not come as a shock to the gaming community, as indie developer Devolver Digital had delivered an ominous warning about the event on Twitter just a day earlier. An article confirming the cancelation was also published on Ars Technica before ESA's official announcement.
Coronavirus was the official reasoning behind canceling E3 2020, but the infamous trade show had hit several planning speed bumps. In January, Sony announced they would not be attending E3 for a second year despite the Holiday 2020 release of PlayStation 5. Among other scandals, Sony's seemingly permanent departure spelled trouble for the expo well before any public health concerns.
Such high profile exits are not uncommon in the show's storied past. Nintendo famously pivoted to the web with their Nintendo Directs and Digital Events in lieu of a traditional E3 stage presentation in 2013. Electronic Arts took this approach a step further in 2016 by eliminating their presence at E3 entirely, and to host their own EA Play event in Hollywood at the same time. Similarly, Devolver Digital has been setting up shop just across the street from E3 for years in protest of costly booth expenses.
February brought another notable exception in press attendance when famed games journalist Geoff Keighley publicly broke ties with the event for the first time since its inception, citing differences of opinion with the event's other creative partners. Turns out that E3 2020 was planned to be a very different beast from previous years' shows, with the creative directors describing their vision as a "fan, media and influencer festival" rather than a traditional trade show. Unfortunately, the show's directors who sought this vision resigned in early March, just days ahead of E3's official cancelation.
While public health concerns were certainly the final straw in the matter, E3 had been in a downward spiral for months, if not years. In a world where publishers can communicate directly to their consumers around the world, year-round, big-ticket trade shows like E3 may become a relic of the past.
Winners and Losers
Most large publishers who planned to attend E3 in June will be hosting their own digital events later in 2020. Unfortunately, Microsoft likely had big plans for the show with the upcoming Xbox Series X and its launch titles. Many resources were surely spent preparing for whatever Microsoft had in store for the stage, and their planned digital event to take its place will likely receive less attention than a headlining performance at E3.
Publishers Ubisoft and Devolver Digital have both confirmed that they will be presenting digitally in June. Unfortunately, Bethesda has announced that their showcase presentation that is traditionally held along with E3 is canceled for 2020.
Nintendo and Sony also had their own plans already, but many independent studios rely on large trade shows like E3 to make their mark on the industry and gain press attention. Some of the year's greatest indie titles may be lost to time if these large industry trade shows continue to be canceled.
The direct-to-consumer marketing strategies of Nintendo and Sony may be harbingers of a new era. They focus less on trade shows and physical events, and instead opt to make announcements in online video presentations while attending or hosting community focused events.
While the Entertainment Software Association initially planned to transform E3 2020 into an online event, a report from PC Gamer states that any such plans have been abandoned in order to double-down on organizing a "reimagined" E3 2021. A representative from the Entertainment Software Association clarified these claims:
"Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June. Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on www.E3expo.com, in the coming months.
We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences."
Were you looking forward to E3 2020? Are digital events replacing traditional trade show presentations? So many questions, so post your answers in the comments below!
Matt Pietropaoli (author) on March 13, 2020:
I think there's still a lot to be said for what the expo does for indie developers, and the sorts of back-room deal retail stuff the regular consumer doesn't hear about as much. I think it's very cool how these trade shows and especially E3 have evolved over the years; from being focused on retailers, to being press only, and these modern celebrations of fandom and media.
John Roberts from South Yorkshire, England. on March 13, 2020:
You beat me to it! I wanted to have a snarky take on E3's crippling blow but to be quite honest, in answering the final question you pose at the end, I think E3 will return. I think E3 will return for a few more years as a physical, tangible event, and I think E3 will return long afterwards as a digital only show, while GDC, PAX and newer events rival them. I think the reason is because E3 has name value. Nobody's doing cynical live podcasts about GDC reactions partly because Game Developer Conference is good and appeals only to a single audience. The same with Penny Arcade Expo, because they're both tightly controlled events and respect the wishes of their attendees.
An interesting read, thanks for your report on it!
Also, I wish you and yours safety against the covid-19's outbreak! Let's hope it blows over soon enough! ^^