The Rise And Fall Of E3

VOICE OVER: Ty Richardson WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
E3 was once a momentous event to be looked forward to, but that time has passed. For this essay, we'll be exploring the rise and fall of E3. In this video, we'll take you from the expo's origins up to how and why it has struggled over the last few years.
Script written by Ty Richardson

E3 was once a momentous event to be looked forward to, but that time has passed. For this essay, we'll be exploring the rise and fall of E3. In this video, we'll take you from the expo's origins up to how and why it has struggled over the last few years. Do you think E3 is dead? Share your opinions in the comments below!

The Rise and Fall of E3

All good things must come to an end, and in the case of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, that end went through a slow and grueling death. What was an annual event for developers and publishers to congregate, make deals, and announce new projects eventually became a faulty convention no different than PAX or Tokyo Game Show, a troubled pastime that grew more stale and monotonous every year, and a screaming desperation for hype and attention. E3 has been in trouble for several years, and with the event being canceled for the third year in a row, we must be honest with ourselves - E3 is dead.

Welcome to MojoPlays, and this is The Rise and Fall of E3.

Once again, E3 has been canceled, which means we have now gone without the event for three years. Before 2019, E3 had never missed a show since its debut in 1995. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has signified the end of an era where E3 was the primary Video Game Christmas. Was it always good? Well…no, but even at its worst, hundreds of thousands of folks would tune into streams, waiting for the announcements they’d dreamed about. Although, hype and social media was not typically the primary focus of E3.

The Electronics Entertainment Expo was started by the ESA, the Entertainment Software Association as a means to focus on another facet of the tech industry. Prior to this, developers and publishers were lumped in at other tech expos like the Consumer Electronics Show, yet investors there were not interested in video games. To the CES and its attendees, video games were still a children’s plaything. For the first time with E3 ‘95, devs and publishers could finally meet together under one roof to strike deals, demonstrate projects, and more.

Throughout the late 90’s and early 2000’s, E3 was very much an “insider only” type of event. Only those hardcore fans and those in the business really knew about the show’s existence, and the atmosphere was way more different than how we left the expo in 2019. It was more business-y, straightforward, and primarily tailored to potential investors. Stages were nothing more than basic platforms with projectors and screens. However, more public eyes started taking note of E3 when niche networks, like G4, began broadcasting conferences and interviews live from the show floor. Finally, hardcore fans could get a glimpse at the future without waiting an entire month for a new issue or refreshing pages online.

Of course, as the public paid more attention, so too did the companies that attended E3. As we marched forward through the 2000’s into the early 2010’s, shows were getting a little more flashy. The massive success of the Wii and Xbox 360 had shown game companies that the industry had become significantly bigger than it used to be. With more eyes glued to their conferences, it was time to show customers the future of their consoles and investors potential blockbusters. Who could forget the moment where Satoru Iwata pulled out the DS from his coat pocket? Or how about when Sony rolled out a life-sized Sweet Tooth truck to announce a new “Twisted Metal”? These moments, to this day, have stayed with viewers from back then.

Unfortunately, the early 2010’s was also a sign that the spectacle of E3 was going a little too far. Ubisoft’s Mr. Caffeine was a conference we all try to repress. Konami’s 2010 conference was completely plagued with confusing stunts and jokes. And what ever happened to that thing “Battle Tag”? Regardless, E3 was certainly being taken down a strange route. Not that awkward moments never happened years prior to Xbox’s TV and sports-obsessed conference in 2013, but as social media became more and more prevalent over the years, so too did the outlandishness of conferences. Just to shed some light on how bad this got, allow me to pull up some behind-the-scenes WatchMojo lists. Every year, we usually did a Top 10 Best E3 Moments and a Top 10 Worst E3 Moments. When compiling these lists, our Worst Moments always had more contenders than Best Moments.

But are bad showcases and attempts to go viral enough to kill off E3? No, there were several other factors at play in the 2010’s. In 2013, Nintendo and EA made a surprising decision to not attend E3 and instead began hosting their own events - Nintendo Direct and EA Play - outside of the convention. A shocking move to many at the time, but understandable today. Why pay for the venue and traveling expenses when we can make all of our announcements through a video presentation for everyone to see at a substantially lower cost? This would even prompt Sony to skip E3 in 2019, several years after Nintendo and EA bounced from the expo. The conglomerate has since opted for their own video presentations

Another damaging move was one many thought would have been beneficial for the expo and its vendors. In 2017, E3 would be open to the general public for the first time ever. While the ESA would rake in profits in its ticket sales, selling all of its public passes, the show turned into a madhouse. Both developers and media outlets noted how insanely crowded E3 suddenly became. Appointments were missed, queue lines grew longer, and floor management was a disaster. This led to some outlets questioning if the insanity was really worth the travel expenses and mental health impact. It wouldn’t be long, though, until they found their answer.

In August 2019, less than a couple of months after E3, the ESA suffered an embarrassing security breach. Discovered by journalist Sophia Narwitz, the ESA posted a sensitive document on their own website containing a list of the personal information of countless media outlets and influencers who had attended E3 in recent years. More than two thousand of the ESA’s own partners and customers within the video games media had been doxxed. All across the internet, outlets and influencers began posing the question about E3’s importance. The ESA, on the other hand, offered no apologies or compensation to their partners, vendors, nor attendees, but would reassure everyone in January 2020 that they had improved security measures.

This “improvement in security” would prove fruitless as E3, along with several other events, was forced to cancel their 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No organization wanted to be the one to increase infection rates, and governments quickly enforced lockdowns, curfews, mask mandates, and more across the globe. Though, what would have been E3 Season felt no different, as we still got a Nintendo Direct, a Sony State of Play, and several other online presentations about upcoming game releases. While E3 would return in 2021, it was only in online form and felt no different than scouring news articles and YouTube for the latest announcements. Only difference was that E3 kept it all behind a paywall…even though media outlets offered coverage through free articles.

And now, here we are with E3 2022 being canceled entirely. While other organizations, venues, and events have reopened with few problems, these last couple of years of online presentations have left us wondering if we really need the expo to make a return. While everyone was under lockdown, video game companies made more money than ever before while putting together showcases for a fraction of what an E3 showing costs. No announcements have gone amiss. Media outlets can access preview builds from developers through streaming services like Parsec. No one has to travel anywhere anymore. No one has to waste time waiting in line for five minutes with a game and squeezing between mindless patrons to get to the next booth. What is E3’s purpose anymore when everyone has found their own way to fulfill their needs?

At this point, E3 is very much dead. At least in name. The industry as a whole has figured out how to work from home. Has it been easy? Not entirely. But as more and more studios choose to work remotely and drum up hype on social media for new announcements on their own accord, what exactly is the point of conjuring up monumental budgets for venues, having to plan for developers to fly in and out of the country to TALK about their game, hire embarrassing hosts and presenters, and constantly worry about being the conversation, or at least be a part of it, when you can hire an editor or two, cut together a video, and upload it in very little time? Publishers look for cheap alternatives, and this has been the best one for them. Sure, the big boys may retain the season and drop huge announcements every June, but E3 2019 may as well have been the last E3 ever.