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Fischer: E3’s End

This may be the end of the line for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, fondly known as E3.

Since the mid-90s, E3 has been the gaming industry’s premiere event. The Super Bowl for video games, but more honest because paying attention to it just for the commercials is the point.

Fischer: E3's End
Travis Fischer

The expo has ebbed and flowed in popularity and relevance over the years, struggling to balance its identity as a serious trade show for stuffy corporate investors and a celebration of gaming for millions of consumers.

Sometimes it’s been open to the public, sometimes it’s been limited to industry professionals. Regardless, it’s always been the yearly focal point of the biggest gaming news.

Or, it used to be.

Last week it was announced that the 2023 E3 was being canceled.

Not because of pandemic related logistical issues, but because they simply couldn’t get enough people to commit to showing up.

The last in-person E3 was held in 2019. The event was canceled for the first time in 2020, for obvious reasons. They attempted an online-only event in 2021 but efforts to bring the show back in full for 2022, and now again in 2023, have failed.

One could blame the COVID-19 pandemic on E3’s decline, but the writing has been on the while for quite a while now as the primary pillars of the gaming industry pulled away from the event.

The centerpieces of E3 are the press events where the industry’s biggest publishers showcase their commercial offerings for the upcoming year. It’s where the hottest new games are announced or given an in-depth look.

Traditionally these presentations were limited to the industry’s hardware developers; Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Along with games, it’s where they would often reveal the next generation of their respective video game consoles.

In the last decade though, E3’s main stage opened up to publishing giants that don’t make their own hardware. Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Square Enix, and Bethesda all had their own time in the spotlight to highlight the games they were working on.

However, that level of participation has been on a steady rate of decline. While Nintendo has maintained a physical presence at the show’s exhibition hall, it has been a decade since their last live-stage press conference, instead timing the conference with the release of one of their pre-recorded Nintendo Direct videos.

Other publishers have followed suit, taking advantage of the overall media buzz generated by the event but holding their own presentations independently of the convention.

The mortal blow to E3 probably came in 2019 when Sony pulled out of the event all together in favor of running its own programs.

It’s impossible to say if other publishers would or would not have dropped out in 2020 had the COVID-19 pandemic not made the decision for them, but the lack of interest in returning for 2023 is pretty telling.

What does a post-E3 world look like?

Even without E3 there’s nothing stopping industry publishers from coincidently scheduling major presentations in the middle of June. In fact, I fully expect them to do just that. It might make things a little messier to not have it under the E3 umbrella, but I’m sure that the annual deluge of video game trailers will continue in one form or another.

And hey, maybe E3 will return someday. Give them a few years to reorganize and wait for nostalgia to kick in a bit. Everything else gets rebooted. Why not conventions?

Travis Fischer is a news writer for the Charles City Press and wishes he could have attended an E3 before it ended.

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