E3 2023 is cancelled, and the gaming industry is mourning. Like my colleague Ash Parrish, I’ve always wanted to go, but don’t think I’ll ever get the chance; the industry has changed enough that it’s probably not coming back.
Even E3’s organizers don’t seem optimistic. The Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) president and CEO completely dodged when GamesIndustry.biz asked if the event would return in 2024.
“We’re committed to providing an industry platform for marketing and convening but we want to make sure we find that right balance that meets the needs of the industry,” Stanley Pierre-Louis told the publication. “We’re certainly going to be listening and ensuring whatever we want to offer meets those needs and at that time, we will have more news to share.” Compare to 2022, when the organizers were already talking about 2023 when they cancelled that year’s show.
A press release from event organizer ReedPop did give a tiny ray of hope, saying that it and the ESA would “continue to work together on future E3 events.” But I just don’t believe that future E3 events will happen at all.
The pandemic proved that gaming could survive without E3. The last year E3 took place in person was in 2019; the event was cancelled in 2020, held as a digital show in 2021, and bounced from in person to online-only and finally to fully cancelled last year in 2022. Yet even without E3 as an anchor, developers and publishers have found ways to make a splash that don’t include the investment required for a big booth on the expo show floor.
And when the pandemic arrived, the industry already had a playbook to follow — a playbook written by Nintendo. Since 2011, the company has seen enormous success with its Nintendo Direct video presentations, letting anyone in the world watch big game reveals without attending a physical show.
Since then, nearly every major gaming company has adopted the format to create newsworthy moments of their own, and they’re pre-recorded ones that can’t break down on stage or might embarrass in front of a live audience. The videos can be published whenever suits the company instead of cramming them all into June, letting them create their own news cycles about upcoming games without having to share a spotlight with anyone else. Then, they can send journalists software over the internet, no need to wait for a locked-down demo console.
The pandemic also proved that companies can launch entire console generations without significant hands-on opportunities ahead of their debut. Both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X / S were released in November 2020, and while constraints created in part due to the pandemic made them nearly impossible to find for years, these consoles have proven to be hits. Why bother to show new hardware at E3 in the future?
Now the suits know how to Zoom and Slack and Teams, who still needs an expo?
For years, one of the remaining arguments for E3 has been that it’s a place for companies to do business in person, get face-to-face time, and shake hands on stage to promote their brands. But even execs have been forced to figure out how to do those things remotely during the pandemic, and may not need it anymore.
The big console makers have generally moved away from E3 as of late, anyway. PlayStation skipped E3 2019 in favor of hosting its own video presentations at different times throughout the year. Nintendo had already said that it wouldn’t be participating in E3 this year, and while that doesn’t preclude the company from making news in June, it might be content to let The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom do the talking. As soon as Nintendo pulled out, I really started to worry that E3 2023 might not happen. But after Microsoft opted out of this year’s show floor in favor of its own showcase in Los Angeles around Starfield, it felt like the writing was on the wall.
And in the absence of E3, Geoff Keighley has stepped in to fill the void. He launched his first all-digital Summer Game Fest in June 2020, and he’s since hosted one every year as a venue for E3-like gaming bombshells. Sure, some years were better than others, but with E3 now entirely out of the picture for 2023, it seems likely that this year’s Fest will suck up some of what was planned for the convention.
I’m not saying in-person conventions are dead. E3 actually hasn’t been the biggest video game convention for years — it’s one-sixth the size of Gamescom, held in Germany every year, and other overseas conventions are larger too. Even in the United States, last week’s Game Developers Conference had news and January’s Consumer Electronics Show was surprisingly fun, just to name two recent examples.
E3 just doesn’t seem to fit the needs of the gaming industry anymore — and so the industry has moved on.