E3’s current condition
Every year the Electronic Entertainment Expo is one of the most anticipated events on the gaming calendar. It has been this way since its inception in 1995. Game publishers such as Activision and Ubisoft have always made use of the show to appeal to the gaming press and public. While other events in the industry have bigger guest numbers, none quite have the mindshare of E3.
During the E3 week of 2019, the event boasted 4.5 million hours watched on Twitch’s main channel. Without a doubt then, it can be considered the ‘biggest’ gaming event of the year. At least in terms of online viewership and discussion on social media channels. But despite all the excitement and talk surrounding the event, it is becoming less relevant than it used to be. Publishers have been moving away from E3 and the industry has clear issues with it.
In part, this is due to their struggles with the Entertainment Software Association (the organisation that runs E3). In recent years the ESA has opened up E3 to the public. Gradually more days of the event have been allocated towards this, instead of for members of the gaming press. This has made it harder for both the press and the public to get hands-on time with new games.
Due to the volume of people at E3, large queues have become the norm. As a knock-on effect, smaller developers have found it even harder to get their games noticed. On top of this, it’s been reported that there are large fees involved with setting up a press conference, and floor space at E3.
Most recently, the ESA has reportedly proposed a rebranding of the show for 2020, becoming even further geared towards fans and celebrities. This includes plans to let a further 10,000 members of the public to attend. It also features slightly out of place ideas like the Los Angeles Lakers playing a basketball game for attendees to watch.
As a result, publishers and platform holders have been separating themselves from E3, in favor of their own live streams and events. Nintendo began this trend, by streaming the pre-recorded Nintendo Directs. The success of Nintendo Directs has shown that E3 may not be necessary to advertise games.
While not adopting the same format as Nintendo, other big publishers have followed their pattern. For example, Electronic Arts moved their conference to a different location with EA play. More recently, Sony saw fit to make no appearance in 2019 and has since created its own live-streamed show, State of Play. In an interview with CNet, former Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios head, Shawn Layden had this to say: “The world has changed, but E3 hasn’t necessarily changed with it”.
Whether or not the moves away from the show are for the better, is up for debate. However, some members of the industry still see E3 as a necessary event for gaming. Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Bethesda’s Pete Hines mentioned: “We can’t have everybody deciding to go off in their own little directions – they need to participate. I want it to be something that all of us, as an industry, get together and support”.
Microsoft however, may still believe in the value of E3. Despite moving to the nearby Microsoft Theatre, Microsoft continues to hold the Xbox E3 press conference each year. Simply put, this could be because they still wish to take advantage of the large viewership only possible during the week of E3. In a similar vein to Nintendo, Microsoft still holds its E3 event during the same day as when they were part of E3 proper. While neither company is on-site, they both see the value in showing off their content at a time when the gaming industry is paying the most attention.
After Sony’s absence from E3 2019 due to a lack of new games to show, they could make a return for 2020. Though this is not a sure thing, and with the assumption of an Xbox Scarlett blowout at E3 2020, Microsoft is in a prime position.
Next-gen on the horizon
So not everything is sunshine and roses with gaming’s biggest event. However, the next generation of consoles looming on the horizon is sure to change this. As we now know, Xbox Scarlett and PlayStation 5 are due to be released during holiday 2020.
If the past trends are anything to go by, we may already know how this could pan out. Both Microsoft and Sony may hold events to reveal their respective consoles. Followed by a blow-out of information and the launch line-up of games at E3 itself.
New console unveilings typically make for the most exciting E3 years for fans to look forward to. Naturally, this is due to the excitement around the unknown games and hardware to be revealed. History has shown that these E3’s can potentially make or break the launch of a new console.
Infamously the reveal of the Xbox One turned many gamers away from the console. Unclear messaging about what the console was trying to be, anti-consumer policies, and a higher price point than the competition did not help Xbox. Much time has passed since this reveal and as a result of Phil Spencer, we now have a very different Xbox division. Bearing in mind the failures of the Xbox One reveal, Microsoft needs to prove it has learned from its mistakes. Although we will only know for sure once Phil Spencer takes the stage at E3 2020.
Xbox poised to take advantage?
In 2019 it was notable that Microsoft had a traditional press conference. Out of the three platform holders, they were the only company to do this due to the absence of Sony and the online Nintendo Direct. With this in mind, all eyes should have been on the Microsoft stage for E3 2019. As mentioned earlier, this turned out to be the case. In fact, the Xbox press conference was the most-watched E3 conference for the third year in a row.
With this in mind, Microsoft dominating the E3 2020 limelight will depend on factors that are in their favor. The ESA’s increasing focus on consumers could potentially draw more eyes to Microsoft’s stage. Especially with fewer publishers holding their own conferences.
The potential absence of Sony grants an opportunity for all eyes to be on Xbox, and the Twitch numbers support this. Additionally, Sony typically scheduled their conferences after Xbox. In the past, this gave them time to react, such as with the tongue in cheek ‘used game‘ video, during E3 2013. This favor was later returned with the ‘backward compatibility’ video. While this was a lesser-known video, it indicated that Microsoft had learned from the past. I’m hopeful that this will carry forward into their E3 showcase.
The Xbox Scarlett launch line-up is promising. Phil Spencer’s reveal that Halo: Infinite will be a Scarlett launch game, already puts Xbox on solid footing. It can also be assumed that after taking an extra year off, Turn 10 might be ready to talk about Forza Motorsport 8.
We may likely get at least one more new game reveal too, courtesy of the new studios Xbox has acquired since 2018. This could also include the much-rumored Fable reboot, by Forza Horizon developer, Playground Games. If this wasn’t enough, the promise of each of these titles being released onto Xbox Game Pass only sweetens the deal. To top it all off, the rollout of Microsoft’s game streaming service, Project xCloud, will be underway shortly.
Emphasizing the ease of accessing games through Project xCloud and Game Pass, could be the silver bullet Microsoft needs to make a real E3 impact. So the ingredients are in place for Microsoft to come out swinging at E3 2020. We can only hope they deliver on the promises of a next-generation reveal.