The most obvious immediate routes for those who were scheduled to attend E3 lie in two directions. The first is Gamescom. The German show is already the world’s biggest games event by footfall and comes with its own slate of (albeit smaller) conferences. Gamescom also has a major developer, publisher, and retailer presence – E3 has traditionally had a side-function of acting as a useful meeting space for companies, leading to future deals between them. Gamescom could provide a similarly useful space, leading to companies pivoting towards it. Set over two months back from E3, it might be seen as a safe bet in terms of the trajectory of the spread of Coronavirus, while retaining some of the sheen and prestige of an E3 announcement. It wouldn’t be hugely surprising to see a far more announcement-heavy Gamescom 2020 (should that show go ahead, of course) – particularly as Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live (which began last year, and is due to continue this year) has already helped galvanise Gamescom-centric announcements.
The second is to follow Nintendo’s lead, and take those announcements in-house and online. The Direct model has been successful enough for the world’s biggest console manufacturer to adopt it, and Sony’s State of Play has been joined by the likes of Xbox, Devolver, and Blizzard, who have all taken digital announcement events in their own directions. It feels likely that some of E3’s major players will now attempt to create their own schedule, with the benefit of making big announcements entirely on their own terms, and with less possibility of being drowned out by someone else’s mega-news arriving on the same day.That comes coupled with the fact that AAA game release dates themselves have become increasingly scattershot in recent years, led by the likes of Capcom’s recent moves to January and March releases for its major games. Where E3’s June placement has always made sense for publishers teasing a lucrative Holiday release, it may be that companies begin to prefer to handle their own announcements, simply because the timing lines up more neatly with their respective releases at different times of year.
What’s truly interesting is what happens if those approaches prove successful, and perhaps more successful – at least in potential savings – than a traditional E3 announcement. E3 might have been seen as something like an industry safety blanket for some time – companies announce there just because. Removing that marketing beat from the equation might push publishers to reconsider strategies and their traditional reliance on E3 — a lot of companies may be about to realise that it’s simply better for them to handle their announcements in a different, more personalised way.
We know that E3’s organisers, the ESA, are now exploring the idea of an ‘online experience’ to replace the show, and are likely already scrambling to secure announcements, attempting to make sure that E3’s main event being canceled doesn’t equate to E3 shutting down as a whole for the year. It may already be too late — corporate E3 attendees have surely been making contingency plans for some time, and will probably move to make those a reality (placating worried potential customers) rather than wait to hash out a new plan. There’s a chance those deals have already been made with the ESA, but the organisers’ insistence that event planning would go ahead – even as E3’s host city declared a state of emergency – could well have forced some hands. It may have worked for a few ticket sales at the time, but in hindsight it may have been a step too far, forcing companies to think beyond E3.
All of which leaves E3 itself in a precarious position. It’s entirely possible that, come 2021, more companies than just Sony will see the event as something of an unnecessary formality, and make the decision to skip the event. That could leave us with either a smaller, perhaps more specialised E3, a digital-only E3 (retaining the brand and tradition, with fewer overheads), or no E3 at all.
All the Big Games Coming in 2020
From a fan perspective, all of this could lead to a mixed bag of results. E3 has traditionally acted as ‘game announcement Christmas’, an event the industry and fans alike flock around. The potential loss of that focal point is, apart from anything else, just a bit sad. From a more pragmatic position, the need to be a part of E3 has more than likely led to companies trying to outdo one another, leading to wilder and wilder shows and a marketing calendar that pushes for big announcements to drop under a universal deadline.
Atomising game announcements into company-specific shows could lead to a toned-down approach to game reveals – while we might see a more regular turnout of new games and new gameplay, there’s less of a pressure to simultaneously reveal a game and have it available for hands-on opportunities after the show, allowing press and, at recent E3s, consumers to form their own opinions outside of the marquee conferences. E3 was by no means a perfect event but, if it did disappear or diminish, its benefits could vanish too.
Most worrying for the ESA right now will be the fact that disappearing or diminishing is not really its decision. The future of the world’s most important gaming event lies in the hands of those who usually attend it – and the next few months will be critical in seeing how that pans out.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News, and he’s sad today. Follow him on Twitter.
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