Allow me to push my glasses up the bridge of the nose and murmur that, technically, the annual video game conference E3 begins June 13th, when the games industry, press, and (for the first time) paying members of the public will file into the loud and gaudily festooned halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center. But conceptually, E3 has already begun. And though, yes, you can drop hundreds of dollars on tickets, you really don’t need to be at the convention or even in LA to enjoy the spectacle.
Those who care deeply about the video game marketing machine know E3 always begins slightly before its official “start date.” In the days ahead of the convention, the industry’s biggest publishers — Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, EA, Ubisoft, and, most recently, Bethesda — host invite-only showcases in downtown Los Angeles’ remodeled theaters, auditoriums, and college stadiums. These corporate performances — not the convention itself — are the delivery method of the week’s big announcements.
These press events have an ever-shifting purpose. Originally, they were designed to impress retailers who will eventually stock and promote the newly announced games, and the press, who will report on them. But over time, publishers have pushed more sales to their own digital storefronts, and then boxed the press out of the paint, delivering unvetted corporate messaging direct to consumers via flashy streams.
In recent years, every major press event has been streamed live. And with its streams, each publisher has attempted to establish E3’s media narrative before the doors open at the Los Angeles Convention Center, encouraging fans to watch online and help influence the week’s messaging by sharing trailers and images and, yes, hashtags over social media.
Publishers are racing to own the E3 hype cycle
Each year, the publishers do a little dance around each other, hoping to give their keynotes the best chance to dominate the E3 hype cycle. They change theaters. They move the pressers a little earlier or later. They spice them with celebrities, popular bands, and Cirque du Soleil. They litter social media with teases and rumors.
But the newest method is to simply beat the competition to the punch. Have you noticed a number of video game leaks, announcements, and “key art” hitting in the past few weeks? Years ago, these announcements would happen at E3. In 2017, they happen ahead of time, establishing a rhythmic thump of anticipation.
Some of this is accidental; most is intentional.
You can learn a great deal about Nintendo / Ubisoft crossover, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, even though it hasn’t been officially announced. Speaking of Ubisoft, the publisher has revealed the title, setting, artwork, release date, and trailer for Far Cry 5, while confirming the existence of the long-rumored Assassin’s Creed Empire.
Microsoft has vowed in the past to focus on games at E3. So in April, it collaborated with Eurogamer subsidiary Digital Foundry to introduce the nitty-gritty details of its upcoming hardware, Project Scorpio.
From leaks to standalone events, E3 is extending into spring
Later that month, Electronic Arts announced Star Wars Battlefront 2. And earlier this month, Activision held a massive press event dedicated exclusively to Destiny 2, one of the year’s biggest releases.
This push deeper into spring shouldn’t be surprising. Industry elder Nintendo established the precedent in recent years, one that operates on a smack-your-forehead-obvious premise: jostling for attention in one week in June isn’t necessary — and is probably detrimental — when your focus is an audience online, rather than the press and retailers of the past. As a result, Nintendo has spread its reveals across all 12 months in the calendar, dedicating many prerecorded live-streams to individual games.
As a result, E3 will become increasingly about the lead-up to the convention, and decreasingly about the actual experience in Los Angeles. As the announcements diffuse across the year and publishers switch to a direct line of communication with fans, the press and retailer charade will become less significant. Which is to say that, yes, this E3 will welcome the paying public, but it may be best enjoyed from the comfort of one’s own laptop, where everything will be revealed, demoed, and celebrated in real time days, if not weeks, before the doors open at the Los Angeles Convention Center.