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E3 needed to end, but its demise is a net negative for the gaming industry

It’s official: E3 is dead.

For over two decades, the Electronic Entertainment Expo was the video game industry’s most important event. For enthusiastic gamers, it was Christmas and the Super Bowl rolled into one trailer-full event. It served a more important role on the business side, as it was a key way for smaller developers to get their games seen and make deals with publishers. Now, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced it’s formally retiring the once powerful event for good. It is, quite literally, the end of an era.

The news will surely elicit a range of emotional reactions from the industry. For players with fond memories of watching press conferences, it’s sure to be somber news. Members of the press who hated crunching through a week of fast-paced meetings scattered across a crowded show floor may celebrate. Game makers and publishers may find themselves torn, as they’re losing a critical venue to showcase games but also one that charged an arm and a leg to do so.

All feelings on E3’s official demise are valid. It was the right time for it to go, but it’s OK to feel sad about it.

How did we get here?

For anyone who has been following E3 for the past few years, the news of its end should come as no surprise. While the event was the center of the universe from the 1990s to the mid-2010s, its relevance has been on a slow decline for nearly a decade. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when that started, but a few key events led to its eventual demise. The birth of digital Nintendo Directs would turn out to be a devastating blow to the show, as publishers slowly gained the confidence to broadcast announcements on their own terms — and dime — instead of putting on spectacular press conferences. The move would eventually snowball into companies like EA and Sony ditching the show altogether, a loss the ESA would never recover from.

The expo would struggle to retain its importance through the late 2010s. To cap off a rocky decade, it would lose the support of press when it accidentally leaked a spreadsheet containing the personal data of over 2,000 journalists in 2019. That news would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for reporters, drawing skepticism over the ESA’s ability to safely run a show of that scale anymore.

Crowd of E3 attendees in front of the E3 logo and various game posters.
ESA

The real breaking point came in 2020 when multiple worst-case scenarios took place at once. Design team iam8bit, who had been tapped to help create the show, announced they were no longer working on it just months before it in March 2020. Sony said it would not be part of the show that year, cutting out a main attraction. Geoff Keighley, who had been a key part of previous years, decided to part ways with E3.

And then, of course, there was that whole pandemic.

Lockdowns would force the show to shut down, and the ESA determined that it didn’t have enough time to figure out a digital alternative. Unfortunately, Keighley did. 2020 saw the creation of Summer Game Fest, a future-facing live-stream event that the ESA never saw coming. It would allow publishers to show their games on live streams instead of paying absurd booth prices. The ESA would try to compete in 2021 with a reimagined digital E3, but the result was a disaster. Participation from publishers was slim and the show was hosted on a half-baked web portal that was virtually useless. The writing was on the wall when the show canceled its 2022 event, all while Keighley expanded his own show with a live press event that got games like Street Fighter 6 and Sonic Frontiers on a smaller show floor.

After months of radio silence about its 2023 plans, the ESA would announce it was formally shutting down the show on Tuesday, December 12 — just days after Keighley’s Game Awards, another event that has the importance and gusto of an E3 press conference. It was a logical conclusion considering the years of struggles, one many had been calling for years.

Goodbye E3

It’s easy to send E3 off with a firm “good riddance.” The show had shown an inability to evolve to a changing digital landscape to the point that it couldn’t protect its attendees’ security. Its high cost of entry had grown unsustainable, and the ESA didn’t seem willing to meet game makers halfway. Its demise wasn’t unearned, but it still comes with its downsides.

The nostalgic part of me will simply always remember how important it was for me growing up. It was a true water cooler event for my friend group at home, as we’d gather around computers every day during its run and obsessively refresh websites like IGN. I have fond memories of anxiously waiting to see new information on Killer7 one year. When screenshots finally arrived, my friend Jamie was so excited that he kicked a soccer ball inside his house and obliterated a lamp. The hype was real, and it would eventually snowball into an interest in games journalism for me. I owe my career to E3, and I’m sure many journalists, game makers, and artists are in the same boat.

Vice President of Bethesda Softworks, speaks during the Bethesda E3 Showcase
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

But E3’s retirement isn’t just a personal blow; it’s bound to be a loss for the industry at large. While those of us on the outside think of it as a show where fans get to see a bunch of trailers, the in-person side of the show was crucial for developers. It put everyone in the industry in one place, making it a key business and marketing event for attendees. It was a way for independent developers to land deals with major publishers or get on a company like Nintendo’s radar. That networking is also crucial for gaming in a year full of devastating layoffs; an event like E3 can help developers line up their next opportunity. Summer Game Fest has yet to replicate that key aspect of E3, as Keighley hosts a more private event attended by select publishers and press. It creates a void that is imperative to fill for the health of the industry.

For fans, there’s a sort of existential problem. One major benefit of E3 was that it organized a deluge of news together into just a few days. A casual gamer could tune in once a year, get all the information they needed at once, and go back to gaming. It was a healthy way to digest a complicated industry and one that came with a social component that brought players together. We’ve already seen how E3’s absence will change the way players get news. The past few years have seen a flood of live streams from publishers, with a new one seemingly happening every week or so. Nintendo Directs, Sony State of Plays, Xbox Showcases, Day of the Devs, The Game Awards … the list goes on and on. It’s become much harder to be a casual fan who wants a general overview of the gaming landscape; following game announcements is a full-time job now.

For all its faults, E3 regulated our relationship to games in an important way. It was a pressure valve that released all the hype at once. It instilled a sense of patience in rabid fans as they always knew June was right around the corner. Gamers seem to be more ravenous in recent years, begging to see games like Grand Theft Auto 6 or Hollow Knight Silksong at every live stream and whining when they no-show. When Christmas is every day, you’re bound to become spoiled.

While E3 is dead, I hope the spirit of it isn’t buried. The industry needs that one water cooler event where everyone can come together — albeit one that’s better organized. Summer Game Fest isn’t at that scale yet, and The Game Awards’ problematic mix of awards gala and E3 showcase doesn’t work at present. Whatever formally takes E3’s place, I hope it can unite a fractured industry and inspire people to chase their dreams just as it did for me nearly two decades ago.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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