This Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake pulls apart the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, she reflects on E3 and what it means for the industry – and for us – if it no longer takes place.
It’s the third year in a row the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has cancelled its video game trade show, E3. That means it’s the third year in a row the video games industry has shown that it doesn’t really need E3 anymore.
Though once a coveted annual pilgrimage for gamers and game makers alike – a twinkling, cavernous place where you could be amongst the first in the world to play new games and meet the talented people behind your favourite adventures – E3 no longer wields the cachet it once did.
Instead of a single trade show with off-shoots from a handful of the world’s biggest publishers, E3 is now a diary marker more than an actual event, a time where publishers and developers pull out the stops to convince us that their next big release is the one we won’t be able to miss this coming Christmas.
Today, E3 is still called E3 – even though ESA has nowt to do with it these days (its website seemingly hasn’t been updated since 2021) – and it encompasses an entire week. The biggest publishers and even media outlets have branched out on their own, putting on individual live shows or, in some cases, pre-recorded presentations like PlayStation‘s State of Play, to showcase their latest titles.
That’s not even a given anymore, by the way. Both EA and Ubisoft – both hugely influential megacorps, developing and publishing some of the world’s biggest franchises – have bucked tradition and opted to step away from E3 this year, albeit placating fans with vague words about sharing more “when the time is right”, as EA diplomatically puts it.
On the face of it, it’s never a bad thing when centralised power is broken up and redistributed and I suspect E3 was both a blessing and a curse for some. Where once it was the only place for publishers to announce their new titles – a place where developers and publishers had to compete for room and recognition, and where the sweaty money and shiny allure of AAA/blockbuster development always seemed to trump that of smaller, independent titles – increasingly, the industry was already quietly breaking away from E3, splintering into several smaller shows where individual companies have full control of their narratives.
The problem with that, though, is that I’m not convinced it’s best for us. It’s already hard enough for gamers to get a real sense of what a game entails, and we’ve learned – mostly the hard way – not to trust the slick cinematic trailers.
Whereas before, a developer’s brief on-stage presentation was the only thing they could control, now it’s everything, all the way down to the number of people applauding and hollering maniacally in the front row. Generating early hype is critical not just for share prices, but also investment, too, so the bigger the fuss a reveal generates – no matter how intangible the concept or gameplay may be – the easier it is to attract new investors (I mean, just look at the clusterfuck that is Abandoned).
It’s not all bad, of course. I suspect that part of the disconnect between how games look when they’re announced and how they look on launch day comes down to publishers pressing devs to reveal eagerly-anticipated sequels and remasters before they’re ready. And while the industry traditionally releases around the holidays – yes, that’s why so many AAA games release in October and November – these days, with so much competition, some publishers are learning that it may be better to release outside this usual window to get some space and stand out from the crowd.
That’s better for us, too, naturally; I (and my wallet) would prefer four brilliant games release evenly across the year to eight all released at once in the six weeks leading up to Christmas. Narrative games can be picked up and played anytime, of course, but for games that include multiplayer and levelling up? Maybe it’s just me, but even a couple of weeks’ delay feels too long if I’m never going to be able to catch up to the power and abilities of my fireteam.
I’d even go so far as to posit that a move away from the E3 model is better for the people who make games, too. “Crunch” culture – the term given for pervasive, exploitative working practices that often mandate intense overtime to meet deadlines – remains rampant, and I’ve no doubt that the pressure to complete a demo slice or compelling cinematic trailer for E3 is intense, especially if you want the whole gaming world watching your reveal. After all, we’ve all seen what happens when games are announced too soon (looking at you, Cyberpunk 2077) or when a demo ends up looking drastically different to the final product (ahem, Alien Colonial Marines).
Moving away from crunch to appease an industry crowd in a single week in June, however, should give studios the time they need to polish their work… and that, in turn, could help ensure we’re no longer disappointed by games that fail to live up to their E3 hype.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look back at the rest of this month’s biggest gaming news here.