E3 2019 is now officially in the books. The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo unofficially kicked off Thursday, June 6th and ended Thursday, June 13th. The next year leading up to E3 2020, and all prospective conferences, should prove very interesting. I’m going to make an easy prediction. Change is coming to the conference. Somewhere down the line, maybe even by 2020, a Thursday start (or even earlier) will no longer be an unofficial beginning to the conference.
Around April of every year, people start foaming at the mouth knowing that plenty of big news is about to hit once June rolls around. For many, it starts even earlier since, surprises, and the official unveiling of previously announced and unannounced games, rule this time of year. During those months before the annual event, gamers start doubling down on their internet gaming news in search of every bit of info they can find about the individual keynotes. It’s safe to say that most of us have been doing this for longer than we care to remember, and will continue to do so for years to come.
This year Electronic Arts once again hosted their own version of the E3 demo floor with EA Play 2019 at the Hollywood Palladium. We, of course, watched every second of their unconventional keynote (if it can be called that) led by Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller. Why? Because that’s exactly what we all do when it comes to video games. We watch, we wait, we dream, we salivate, and sometimes we complain. Ok, that’s a lie, MANY TIMES we complain. EA continued to take things further this year, regarding their Pre-E3 plans. Just like they did for the first time a few years ago, they opened their EA Play Fan Fest event for free to the public immediately following their new style 3-hour keynote/presentation/interview show. This all happened because EA once again made the decision not to have physical floor space at the actual conference this year. But it was still E3, even if it was not within the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 11th to June 13th.
If you kept score, then you know that between Thursday, June 6th, and Tuesday, June 11th, there were 12 presentations/keynotes/showcases that took place away from E3 this year. That, of course, included only two of the big 3: Microsoft and Nintendo. It also included the other three usual suspects: EA, Bethesda, and Ubisoft. Now sprinkle in Google, Bungie, Devolver Digital, Limited Run Games, and Square Enix. Throw in two showcases with the PC Gaming Show and the Kinda Funny Showcase, and you have yourself the makings of a full E3 slate before E3 even dreamed of starting. Microsoft continued with their traditional press conference while Nintendo once again took the non-traditional approach of using their Nintendo Direct to make their big announcements. In some small way, Nintendo was the first company to boldly step outside the normal confines of the E3 conference to share their message.
Sadly, Sony skipped E3 entirely this year, but personally (and I could be wrong) I don’t believe this will be a yearly occurrence. They were sorely missed, and PR wise it may not have been the best decision considering all the E3 hype was focused on Microsoft’s official unveiling of their latest console, Project Scarlett. Throw in Google’s new Stadia platform arriving in November of 2019, and it clearly makes it a questionable decision not to attend. In gaming, the phrase “No news is good news” never applies. With Sony’s absence aside, this brings me to the main reason for writing this article. Is this growth, and apparent defection involving many in the industry getting away from E3 for a short time (or maybe permanently), hurting the conference itself?
I read a lot about gaming and over the last two years, I’ve seen a few comments here and there about more companies stepping outside the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center to share their upcoming release schedule. Developers are starting to put their focus on using E3 as more of a backdrop, than as their primary vessel for delivering their forecast for the coming year. These actions can often paint the separation from E3 as having adverse effects on the conference and video gaming itself. But I see it differently; I see it as the participants of this conference laying a larger foundation to build upon. In fact, I have no issue with this practice. I fully understand the idea that some messages can get muddled when they’re all placed together under one umbrella that is no longer large enough for the behemoth that the video game industry has become. I can even understand – although I’m not in complete agreement with – why Sony (or others) may want to take a step back from time to time due to the current structure.
The Unofficial New Normal for E3
With things kicking off early every year, it should be obvious to gamers that this is no longer just a trend. This is now officially the new unofficial normal for E3. In previous years you’d see the big names doing their showcases on the Monday prior to everything starting on Tuesday. We’ve watched as that moved up to Sunday recently, and for the past 3 years, we have EA Play starting on Saturday. Now this year we had Google’s Stadia Connect, and Bungie’s presentation take place on Thursday, June 6th. If you do the math, that’s a full 5 days before the official start of E3. But what you’re witnessing isn’t an implosion of gaming’s premier event. It’s a great sign of a much-needed expansion being driven by the participants themselves. Although this isn’t a scientific discussion the words that would best describe what’s occurring would be a paradigm shift. The question that could easily arise about the conference hype machine as we move on towards the 2020 show, and all subsequent shows, will be: Is it ever too early to start E3?
When it comes to video games, and this love we all share for the medium, I don’t care how early E3 starts. It could begin in May and I’d be just fine with that. I also don’t care how many different venues and settings are used to better share the message. Why? Because seeing new game trailers stirs something inside all of us. It feeds our anticipation of finding the next great game. This ever-growing love we share of gaming affords us the wonderful opportunity to watch the world of video games grow. So, if E3 wants to spill into the preceding week or even the week before that, then I say let it be! Especially since it continues to be expanded by developers and publishers, to add new locations around the Los Angeles area. This type of much-needed expansion is coming soon, mark my word, and I believe it will now be hastened due to Sony not participating in E3 2019.
Speaking of Sony, their departure from E3 this year isn’t solely because they want to find better ways to share their message and connect better with gamers, as they’ve claimed. I believe Sony knows that they will always be in direct competition with Microsoft (And now maybe Google too). But the current big 3 already understand that they each have their own loyal and diehard fan base. Some gamers choose one, some choose two, and some choose all three consoles. Those three core groups will never change. This makes me wonder if Sony was trying harder to appeal to the casual gamer with not attending? Because we all know what will definitely change from generation to generation. It’s the casual gamer. If that’s the actual case, then they should be smart enough to understand that even though the casual gamer is not at E3 or spending this week poring over all the news and announcements. They aren’t doing that at any time of year. To think otherwise would be bordering on the absurd.
It makes you wonder if the real reason for their absence this year, is that these three days of E3 have become too much to bear, even for companies as large as Sony. Knowing they will ultimately face backlash for some perceived slight to their fans while investing exorbitant amounts of money to cater to those same fans. Call it burn out, or just call it what it probably is, the Tower of Babel. Having only three official days of E3 means there are way too many voices screaming unintelligible information at the same moment. All in an effort to simply have their message stand out in a crowd. So what is the real reasoning? Reaching casual gamers? Facing backlash? Their message getting lost? Maybe it’s a little of everything, and they’re the first company to openly admit that E3 needs an overhaul by not attending.
This is exactly why I think it’s time for E3 to officially be expanded to 2 weeks. Not the playable demos on the conference room floor, that should still be only 3 or 4 days. I think the scope of the conference needs to be expanded so every big developer, and small indie, gets the right amount of time and space to share their story. Allowing them to get a better return on their investment in the conference. Of course, this will ultimately create fighting on who goes first, who goes last, and who gets stuck in the middle. To me the spot wouldn’t matter, it never has. What this would do, is it would be like a cup of tea that finally gets the perfect amount of time to steep. As it exists now, we are barely processing news, before the next piece of major information breaks. I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue for game fans. But this may be a major issue for developers and the outlets that send people to cover all the gaming news. Either way, it’s clear that times are changing, and something must be done to assist this expansion, and not fight it. Just look to the Olympics for a little inspiration. Think of how many venues across the host city and country that are utilized. Los Angeles can easily handle multiple sites over this proposed 2 week expansion.
E3 2020 and beyond will be interesting. Until then, our focus is on the fact that E3 2019 has now ended and we’re once again excited beyond all reason to comb through every piece of news. The end of each E3 always brings some disappointment over not hearing about certain games we know are currently in development. Thankfully there’s always plenty of pleasant surprises that ease that disappointment throughout the remainder of the year.
E3 is every hardcore gamer’s favorite unofficial holiday. A time of year that never seems to lose its magic. Sure, some years have less marquee game announcements than others, especially the year prior to new consoles launching when the key players tend to hold their cards a little closer to their chests. Even then, we know the industry we all love, and support, is doing everything it can to keep producing the content that feeds our passion. The conference that provides the platform for delivering all this news is evolving, and at the end of the day it may turn out to be a forced evolution. But change doesn’t always have to be bad. The idea of change may scare some people. I’m here to tell everyone who might be concerned, don’t be. Evolution is what will always save gaming from going the way of the dinosaurs. It always has. Which brings me to something said in jest during the conference, that sums up this whole need for change. If you happened to watch Kinda Funny’s Independent Games Showcase, there was a brief moment at the very beginning when the announcer prophetically joked. He said, “Filmed on location in Los Angeles, California. Home of E3 and a bunch of smaller events that don’t want to pay to be in the Los Angeles Convention Center. E3 isn’t a place, E3 is a state of mind.” Joke or not, this hits the nail directly on the head.
The month of June means many things. School is out for the year. Summer begins. Families take a much needed vacation. Sun, beaches, barbecues, and swimming reign supreme. As I’ve gotten older, June has taken on another meaning in my world. It signals one of the most anticipated weeks in video gaming. I once thought I’d reach a point where gaming no longer interested me, but today I know that my passion lives on, and it continues to grow. E3 continues to remain a part of that passion I have for gaming. This is why I will always say this with complete confidence, and all the optimism I can muster. Even if the conference we all know and love is currently in a state of flux.
Long Live E3.
- Tony Strothers