“A biblical plague sweeps the planet, sporting events have been suspended world wide, the stock market is tanking, international travel has come to a stand still, riots have erupted across the country, Y2K might yet still be on the table, and yes, E3 has been canceled… still we carry on. A new way of life is being ushered in upon the world and it will be forever changed, but don’t fool yourself, the change was coming regardless.”
A Fading Symbol
This summer hasn’t exactly gotten off to the best start, but ultimately will be even more unique not having E3 take place. It has been traditionally such a big annual happening for the industry every year since its debut show in 1995. For me personally, E3 has always been the event I looked forward to as a kid growing up, because it’s 3 days of nonstop video game unveiling. On top of that, I’m out of school for the summer by the time it came around allowing me to watch every second of it. This showcase has consistently been where everyone looks to year after year for the huge reveals from all of the game developers in order to give us a glimpse into the future of the industry, and help us build the hype that drives their sales. After each showcase ends you get online and go talk about all the amazing things you’ve just seen with your friends and continue to build the hype even more.
Growing up, E3 was never open to the public, and all I could ever do was dream of maybe some day getting a press pass and attending these showcases in person to experience that incomprehensible atmosphere that surrounds those stages. How cool would it be after that point to also get hands on gameplay experience with the demos of upcoming titles? Additionally, after that meeting the developers of my favorite games in person and shaking their hand just to be able to say, “Thank you for an experience of a lifetime”. This is what E3 was for me growing up. It was a culmination of my childhood bliss, the roots of a life long dream, and pure hype building for the coming years of gaming experiences that will stick with me forever.
This is why the cancelation of E3 2020 originally had hit so hard for so many people, obviously before everything else that has managed to pile on top of us this summer. Not only does E3 show us what to expect from the industry in the the near future, but for the actual people with the press passes that get to attend, it is often at E3 where the handshakes happen that begin lifelong careers. That is an opportunity too great to lose for many people. Many of them may be similar to me, having a small audience, trying to build something from nothing, sharing the same dream of shaking the hand that’ll launch a career. This is what we really lose with the cancellation of E3, because the reveals will still happen. The internet gives us the freedom to do those. Maybe this is just the beginning of an inevitable conclusion to a life changing event. If not now then when? The growth of the internet has brought down so many others, perhaps it’s fate that a permanent cancellation of E3 is soon to come, or at very least the mass public gathering aspects of it anyway.
Personally, I think the event itself has become too much of a spectacle to just discard it after all this time, even after seeing the lackluster E3s that have taken place in recent years. The event itself may just need a new direction of sort. It could also just be time for another good thing to come to an end, so new great things can be allowed to prosper. The growing popularity in the individual companies doing online reveals and conferences by themselves might become too much for E3 to endure. The frequency of Nintendo Directs mixed with Sony skipping the past couple E3 events have already taken away from the monumental theatrical experience E3 offers, and you’ve felt the fall off in quality recently because if it.
Where is the Desire to Inspire?
The real message that is materializing from these lackluster showcases being sent across the aisle to community, intentional or not, is that these big conglomerates like Sony and Microsoft either no longer wish to put in the effort at E3 to make it great, or that they are so hopelessly out of touch with their fan bases they simply don’t even know what we’re looking to see anymore. This can be shown as an example with the latest PS5 reveal event that has just taken place. Many could say that this event was tone deaf in terms of what the community actually wanted to see. We didn’t need an entire 15 minute block dedicated to Ratchet & Clank, even though it is classic PlayStation throwback. We absolutely did not need GTA 5 relaunched, free or not, on yet another generation of consoles and thrown around like it’s a big selling point for the PS5. It’s just like what Nintendo did with Skyrim with the launch of the Switch. Give us something new that we can be excited for. This event is supposed to showcase the next generation, make it special. These companies need to stop regurgitating nostalgia and instead create something fresh that will throw people into a hysterical excitement for the release of these new consoles. Most importantly to be noted however, not a single person, not ONE in the entire PlayStation fan base needed to see the reveal of Bugsnax in this very moment during this event that had 7 million viewers according to Sony.
This event was supposed to be huge, full of in depth discussion about the PS5, maybe even a price reveal seeing as how we’re just 6 months away from the launch. Viewers expected a bunch of new games to be revealed that will demonstrate the great power of the next generation following various rumors leading up to the event. While that in part is what we received, easily half of the games list left many wanting more. It became more of an exhibition of their new brand PlayStation Studios that was announced in days leading up to the event. While I agree that it is important for companies like Microsoft and Sony to share their immense resources with indie gaming developers, there is a time, place, and specific audience to present these games within. You simply don’t waste half of your prime time event encompassing 7 million viewers on these titles that, frankly would be lucky to make a montage on an actual E3 event stage, because there the companies know how precious their time is. At E3 you throw your best punches, you don’t pussyfoot around the ring giving feelgood nods to everyone you possibly can.
This is what I mean when I say that the companies just don’t seem to put forth the effort anymore. They just seem to take years off between their really massive AAA launches. I’m not sure what has shifted in their minds of late, but they never used to take years off in mass like they have been, and everyone is doing it. If Bethesda doesn’t have a new Fallout or Elder Scrolls to roll out all they do is rework, remaster, and repackage their greatest hits in a new, flashy wrapping. Sony hasn’t had a great, or even solid outing at E3 since their massive 2016 event where they revealed exclusive titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, Death Stranding, and God of War. Microsoft hasn’t had anything of note take place at their events in years besides having Keanu Reeves come out for his Cyberpunk character reveal. The difference with Microsoft is that they have put forth the effort to, if nothing else stay consistent and put forth the effort, however minimal in attempting to represent the embodiment of E3.
Obviously every year can’t be like Sony’s 2016 showcase, however the community isn’t stupid and can tell when the effort isn’t there. The gaming community has shown to be many things; we’re friendly, patient, loyal, adventurous, nostalgic, and even forgiving at times when there is a demonstrated pursuit to right past wrongs. Be that as it may, we can tell when you stop trying and take years off. All we require from the developers of our games is effort. We forgive failures. We can look past shortcomings with the promise of continued support and improvement. We can even wipe from our memories the complete flops, showing our support for your next title as long as you show us you’ve learned from the mistakes. The minute you stop trying to make greatness and settle for a placeholder to balance the books until your next blockbuster is when you lose our support.
A Change is Coming
It could be that this era is to be remembered as an elongating plateau of innovation. The only gaming industry that seems to be truly moving forwards is virtual reality. Sure the new generations of consoles are too, but looking at the big picture they’re just baby steps. Maybe we have reached the pinnacle of what can be achieved in our current structure. We could be living through the transition between the era of games being an escape from reality, and the era where games merge with reality. Traditionally, transitions between eras are famously stale and uneventful, because the space for advancement is continuously shrinking eventually dwindling down to nothing. I have often said to my friends in recent years that I think I was born 10 years too early. Being born in 1995 I have already missed the magnitude of the console wars between Nintendo and Sega. In addition to at this point missing the jump between the 8 and 16 bit games to the universally three dimensional gaming generation that kicked off with the launch of the original PlayStation. Not being there and living through the transition I naturally am incapable of truly appreciating what followed.
The opportunity is surely there to appreciate the massive advancements in computing power and visual quality of games, but there just hasn’t been that colossal advancement take place like the switch between two dimensional and three dimensional games… talk about first world problems right? My point is that I could’ve easily been born in 2005 and not really missed out on much, even though thinking about it now I would be remiss not mentioning my brief encounters with the Nintendo 64 and living through the fast evolution of the Pokemon games from the GameBoy Color to the Switch. That being said, I would be 10 years younger and really be hitting my peak in gaming by the time we surely make the jump from the standard handheld controller, sitting in a chair setting to the virtual reality, Ready Player One-esque gaming suits with haptic feedback. By the time that era gets here I will already be living through the twilight of my gaming career and not be able to truly enjoy an absolutely magnificent final evolution of gaming. When that time arrives my eyes will be failing me, I’ll look like I could star in a Just For Men commercial, my body will be slowly decaying, I’ll likely have children distracting me from the what truly makes me happy, and everything will be moving to a close. It would be a true tragedy to not be able to fully experience such an advancement in the escapism that games offer. As morbid of a perspective as that may be I can’t help but think it may be true. So if you happen to see me going through a nasty divorce in the future because I decided to abandon my family in order to throw myself into that experience then all I ask of you is don’t show this piece to my wife’s lawyer, she’ll surely get away with the house.
Overall, it may be said that skipping E3 this year could be one of the biggest missed opportunities ever to be seen. Everyone trapped at home, nothing to do besides quickly depleting our stockpile of games that we never intended on actually playing, but were always just there in case a drought came around. Imagine the record numbers of viewers that would show up for those three days even to see subpar showcases for a dwindling number of games that are only there to bridge the gap between generations. Obviously, significant circumstances arose in order to bring the event to be canceled, but if it was ever to happen any year I’m sure the execs wouldn’t mind it fall during the gap between the death and birthing of console generations. I can imagine that the next E3 will be a record setting event, especially taking place during the first year of a new generation of consoles with many possibilities of new games to be announced. All I can say is that if the large game companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo continue to show a lack of interest in putting forth the effort to amaze and inspire the community during their showcases E3 could see a bleak future come to pass. That is my prophecy, and as you will come to see, my prophecy is truth.