The biggest video game industry event of all is opening its doors to the public in a way it never has before, and it’s exactly the sort of thing the ESA needs to do to keep E3 relevant moving forward. This year, the ESA announced a “reimagined” E3, one with new badge-levels for the public, and an increased focus on the show as a celebration of gaming.
It’s a move it needed to make. With Sony making the call to skip the event entirely once again (during the year it plans to launch the next-generation PS5), and with more and more publishers making big announcements on their own time, a la Nintendo, it’s understandable that there have been so many recent questions about E3’s future, and what it could possibly evolve into.
For years, E3 was the event that fans looked forward to, but it remained adamantly a ‘trade show’ (though many people bypassed this austerity with small enthusiast sites and channels). Starting in 2017, E3 made a small attempt to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the event by issuing public badges, allowing members of the general public to walk the hallowed halls of the Staples Center. The number of public badges has increased each year since, but the Entertainment Software Association – the body in charge of running E3 – never fully embraced the fans knocking on its door.
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Yes, E3 is a place where people in suits meet with other people in suits in back rooms to do things like hash out how many copies of Konami’s PES soccer they’d sell to a Malayasian retailer. But to everyone outside the industry with a love of video games, it also serves as a magnificent celebration of our favorite hobby, the one week of the year when all eyes are on us and the industry we support.
In the meantime, other shows were gaining traction with their inclusion of fans. Gamescom in Germany attracted 373,000 attendees last year, and the Tokyo Game Show had 260,000. E3, in the meantime, stayed relatively stagnant: in 2019 attendance was 66,100, down about 3,000 from the year before.
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But it seems like the ESA has finally turned its thinking around. In September, the ESA said it hoped to turn E3 into a “fan, media, and influencer festival,” (even though the details of which still aren’t completely clear). From its press release about the new direction of E3, the ESA stressed that E3 will now feature “special guest gamers, celebrities, and digital programming on the show floor,” as well as “extended live streaming” and the “debut of an all-new floor experience that will be streamed to bring exclusive conversations with leading industry innovators and creators to attendees and fans worldwide.”
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Whatever that might look like, it’s a positive. E3, as a brand, is still strong. By leaning into the show as a community celebration and showcase rather than a walled-off event largely for the benefit of the industry itself, the ESA can turn the “Is E3 dying?” narrative around. Yes, Sony bowing out for the second year in a row is a huge blow, but if E3 is able to reinvent itself as the most important video game fan event of the year, Sony will have no choice but to join back in.
Because, for a lot of us, getting to E3 has always been – and still remains – the goal, whether through a job in the industry or saving up the money and vacation time to make it on your own dime with a public pass. At E3 2018, I happened to be walking to an appointment at the exact moment they opened up the doors for day 1 for public pass holders and caught the wave of excitement. One attendee fell to his knees and shouted his joy to the heavens – the energy and enthusiasm is still there. I just hope it’s not too late for E3 to realize that.