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Here’s what E3 2023 could look like without Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft

Let’s start with the good news: E3 2023 will be held in its in-person format once again after three long years of digital events necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this time with ReedPop at the helm. The bad news is that Sony, Xbox, and Nintendo — gaming’s “Big 3” — may not show up at the industry’s biggest convention this summer.

This is according to a report from IGN citing multiple sources, who claimed the companies won’t be a part of the show or make appearances on the floor at the Los Angeles Convention Center in any way. Their absence from this year’s E3, especially Nintendo’s, may come as a shock to the gaming community, but it’s not such a surprise when looking at the past few iterations of E3. Even before the pandemic locked everyone down in 2020, Sony and Xbox had been hosting their own E3-style livestreams, so it was more likely they would do it again this year anyway. Nintendo, on the other hand, managed to show off its upcoming games via Nintendo Direct streams and at its booth, console kiosks and all.

The report already has some fans writing eulogies for E3, but other gaming conventions have shown us that it’s entirely possible to run a massive trade show without the biggest players. E3 2023 might not be as much of a blowout as fans are used to, but there’s still room for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which runs the event, to deliver a show that can satisfy fans’ hunger for world premieres.

The Big 3’s independence from E3

Going back to E3’s very first shows, when it was exclusively a conference for developers and publishers, Sony, Nintendo, and Xbox always appeared at the event to promote their upcoming games and hardware. Nintendo was an especially important figure in the show due to its first-party exclusives and often revolutionary hardware. It also knew how to put on a proper show, weaving watercooler moments between its big trailers. Remember when then-Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aimé and then-Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata fought in the Mii announcement trailer for Super Smash Bros. Wii U at E3 2014?

Nintendo was a no-show at E3 in 2013, opting to host two exclusive events for press and distributors. It broadcasted a Nintendo Direct stream to announce new games around the duration of the conference instead of doing a live presentation. At the time, Iwata said those moves would help improve communication between the company and its fans. It was the first gaming company to pivot from live conferences to digital shows, though it did continue to have a show floor presence at E3 prior to the pandemic.

Playstation character wall at E3 2018
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sony more decisively jumped ship in 2019 out of a need to “look for inventive opportunities to engage the community,” as the company said in a statement to Game Informer. The company wouldn’t hold a traditional press conference at the 2019 show and it opted out of 2020’s show long before it was canceled. Instead, the company would opt to host State of Play streams to announce new PlayStation games and consoles on its own time rather than waiting for E3.

Xbox has held the closest relationship with E3 over the years, but even that bond has dissolved with time. While it self-hosted streams that were associated with E3 over the past few years, it didn’t have a booth at E3 in 2018 and 2019. However, it did host a live presentation at the Microsoft Theater in 2019.

The writing on the wall was clear even before E3’s pandemic years. The top players realized they had the power to message out their biggest announcements whenever they wanted rather than waiting for one week in June. If the reports are accurate and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo won’t be in attendance this year, iy will simply be a logical conclusion based on the last decade of the show.

Now what?

Despite the ESA’s best efforts to revamp the show, E3 may look vastly different without Sony, Xbox, and Nintendo present — in-person and online. That’s left fans to question its relevance as the Super Bowl of the gaming industry. Despite anxieties that their absence could be the final nail in the coffin for E3, it’s entirely possible to run a big show without them by leaning on third-party AAA studios and indie studios to take the reins.

E3 2023 logo
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When Digital Trends attended Gamescom in August, Xbox was the only “Big 3” member on the show floor, but it had a relatively small booth compared to other publishers. Microsoft’s minimal involvement at the German gaming convention gave way to other big names like Sega, Bandai Namco, THQ Nordic, Ubisoft, and Embracer, who got to use the spotlight to highlight games like Sonic Frontiers, Metal: Hellsinger, One Piece Odyssey, and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake. That was still more than enough to fill a massive convention hall.

You can expect E3 2023 to have a similar makeup if the Big 3 sit it out. The show floor will likely be dominated by publishers like Square Enix looking to market their holiday releases. The power vacuum will also allow rising AA publishers to step in and make a name for themselves. Embracer Group could capitalize on the event to establish itself as gaming’s new superpower, while Tencent could roll out the red carpet for its Level Infinite brand. Meanwhile, indie labels could stand to benefit the most here. Publishers like Thunderful Games had a notable presence at Gamescom and companies like that could stand out more at a less competitive E3.

Even if the Big 3 aren’t on the floor, that doesn’t mean E3 week will go by without them making a sound. Xbox CEO Phil Spencer says that while the company won’t have a booth at E3, it still supports the event, as it sits on ESA’s board. Xbox confirmed that it will host a physical showcase somewhere in Los Angeles” at a time where hopefully it’s convenient for press and consumers that are going to the E3 event.”

Don’t expect everyone to time something to that week, though. IGN’s report notes that Nintendo may skip the show because it doesn’t have enough games to show off aside from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, which is slated to come out this May. Though Nintendo traditionally hosts a summer Direct around the same time as E3, it might sit out this year due to the logistics of its release schedule.

Will other game companies and studios fill the void at the convention or will their absence dampen the show’s importance? Whatever this year’s show ends up looking like, it’s safe to say that the Big 3 don’t need E3 in the same manner E3 needs them.

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Cristina Alexander
Cristina Alexander has been writing since 2014, from opining about pop culture on her personal blog in college to reporting…
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