E3 has always been a real highlight. Traditionally, it’s a time where all the big names roll out their most anticipated releases, as well as plenty of surprises to keep fans happy. I have fond memories of many presentations over the years, such as getting told we are all awesome by Keanu Reeves, a stage invasion led by the Just Dance panda, or pretty much any occasion when Reggie was on stage, which all really added something a little special to the show.
However, over the last few years there have been rumours that E3 would cease altogether. Despite remaining a regular fixture after surviving much uncertainty, the Coronavirus pandemic has come along to throw a fairly hefty spanner into the works. In fact, it caused 2020’s event to be cancelled altogether. If nothing else, it has accelerated the shift to developers updating fans directly as and when they have announcements to share, instead of waiting for E3 to deliver a showstopping on-stage presentation.
Sony’s absence from E3 for the last few years is the best example of this. Nintendo have also been blazing this path, with their regular Nintendo Direct presentations replacing any sort of on-stage presence at the event. However, so far they have continued to stream their presentation as part of the E3 schedule, unlike Sony and EA whose briefings are set to follow.
Indeed, 2021 has seen a fairly muted build-up in terms of hype, with opinion around the event seriously polarised. Coronavirus has inevitably caused many delays to upcoming games, causing much speculation that this year’s expo would be a dud, with very little in the way of announcements.
My favourite part of E3 has always been the unknown. You could pretty much guarantee there would be surprises from everyone attending, leading to some amazing moments. Reveals such as Metroid Prime 4, Half-Life 2 and BioShock Infinite over the years have given fans plenty to talk about and look forward to.
Unfortunately this is happening less and less. We live in an era where updates come little and often in the form of developer streams, and games are continually getting delayed. This is most obviously due to Coronavirus but quite possibly affected by the chaos that engulfed the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, which over many years had snowballed into one of the most hotly anticipated releases of all time.
E3 also has more competition than ever these days. Veteran games journalist Geoff Keighley has taken the helm of the Summer Games Fest, Opening Night Live (which kicks off the Gamescom event) and The Game Awards (which has grown into a huge occasion to not only celebrate those in the industry, but to deliver huge announcements also). Where there was once one main focal point for announcements, they are now spread across numerous events which naturally diminishes the impact of E3. I don’t believe this is bad for the industry, but it does mean that we all need to adjust our expectations of E3 going forward.
If you are brave enough to delve into social media on a regular basis, you’ll more than likely see many claim this E3 was “the worst ever” (I’ve cleaned that up a bit for you). Another common accusation is that there are no games coming out, with many citing announcements they wanted but didn’t get. Of course, this claim is absolute nonsense.
What really doesn’t help the narrative, is that the event is endlessly pitched as a boxing match between each of the big players, with speculation rife about who will “win” the event. It’s exactly this element that has overtaken the celebration of games themselves in many cases, fuelling the toxic opinions and debates. In extreme circumstances, developers have received death threats in response to delays to their games, which is utterly ridiculous and unacceptable behaviour.
Call me old fashioned (I am 30 now), but I’m very much of the opinion that games of any ilk, made by anyone, can only be a good thing for the industry, and most importantly the players. I remember when I used to religiously read every issue of the Official Nintendo Magazine cover to cover, and could list the releases for that month on the fingers of both hands (less in the summer drought). Today there are so many games to play, which are released all year round and span a huge variety of genres. The simple fact is, it’s never been a better time to be a gamer.
On balance I agree that E3 2021 was the weakest showing I can remember, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it and more importantly understand why. Comparatively it may not have impressed as much as previous years for some, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a fantastic show. Those involved have clearly worked really hard to bring their projects to us, even if some ended up being underwhelming. Of course it’s disappointing to see a presentation mainly built around updates to existing titles, rather than lots of shiny new ones. But how can you not get excited by the amount of games that are releasing this year? Whether it’s Metroid Dread, or the Xbox big hitters of Halo Infinite or Forza Horizon 5 that takes your fancy, there’s plenty to get excited about. Let’s take a minute to stop and be grateful for what’s coming, instead of constantly demanding for more.
It’s easy to forget, E3 has long been the largest trade event for the industry, and usually that means those in the business, and more recently the public, getting their hands on games and hardware before its general release. Announcements and updates are a big part of the event, but outside of the pandemic it’s been so much more than that.
I can’t help but look forward to the excitement and buzz which surrounds E3 every year and I am genuinely hoping that we see a return to on-stage presentations backed by a live audience. There’s something special about seeing a room full of people hit peak excitement over the announcement of a new game. It’s that feeling, encapsulated in that moment, that expresses the magic of E3 better than words ever could.
Despite my pro-E3 stance it would be remiss of me to not recognise that it is struggling to live up to its reputation, and the expectation from gamers around the world. The last thing I want to see is the death of E3, but with some big hitters stepping away and more events in the gaming calendar than ever (which may well be poaching big announcements), it will inevitably have to change.
Like many commentators I can’t claim to have all of the answers, but ensuring that games journalists have good access to the event and those attending, along with a potential rebrand to better meet expectations, would be a good start in my humble opinion.
The fact of the matter is that with E3 2022 already pencilled in, whatever the solution is, as with so many elements of modern life, the pandemic has accelerated the need for change, and forced organisers to face the problem sooner rather than later.
But what do you think? Did you enjoy E3 2021 as much as usual or should a whole revamp be on the cards? Let us know in the comments below.