Farewell to E3 as we knew it, the Super Bowl of our video game fandom

By now we’ve all read about the effective demise of E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which fell on the calendars of serious video game fans for a week every June for the past 27 years. I doubt I’m the only one who ever told a friend, sibling, or cousin that I couldn’t have a family party because I had to cover E3, the company’s Super Bowl I’m in.

It was certainly an insider’s event; the Entertainment Software Association came up with the idea of ​​admitting the general public too late, eventually only doing so in limited numbers. Then the COVID-19 pandemic ended what was left. But insofar as it has been written about – and not just by writers like me; I mean with devoted fans in the forumson social mediaand the pinwheeling chats that accompany the YouTube streams – the news that E3 2023 won’t be happening either really feels like the World Series has been cancelled.

This was not a sudden death; E3 had been superfluous, if not irrelevant, for the past four or five years. The ESA has struggled to contain the defections of its largest members since 2013, when Nintendo abandoned the trappings of a traditional pre-E3 live press conference to devote its efforts to the smaller, taped Nintendo Direct broadcasts it was in 2011. started – a format that his colleagues copy today. It’s just a matter of changing times.

Today, the people who market and sell video games can pitch directly to the customers themselves, rather than through retail gatekeepers or other intermediaries, through avenues like Twitch and YouTube. And they can do it for pennies on the dollar compared to buying and erecting the elaborate booths that marked E3’s heyday.

E3 wasn’t really a consumer channel at its peak; it was a channel for deal makers, retail buyers, and those who had once spent the most money and moved the most product. Sure, there were always fan-driven, consumer-focused galas that drove the news in Los Angeles. But the most important ones were held elsewhere and preceded the convention itself; E3 was basically a Tuesday through Thursday expo, even though it felt like it started the Saturday before.

The publishers and platform owners continued to rent office space and private meeting rooms above South Hall, talking to GameStop, Walmart and Best Buy about stocking their shelves for the upcoming holiday season. That was the real point of E3 – it was a trade show, after all.

But over the past decade, game sales have steadily moved online and into the publishers’ marketplaces themselves – not just the PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Nintendo eShop, but also Ubisoft Connect, EA’s Origin, and of course Steam (and Valve was rarely present at E3). The hobby and building relationships, linking emerging developers and their projects with publishers? It’s up to industry functions like the Game Developers Conference to broker those partnerships now.

Still, E3’s old-school, meet-and-greet, personal nature had value. There’s a long tradition in sports journalism of going to the locker room to take on those you’ve ripped in print. E3 was that locker room. It reminded me that real people devote years of their lives to my pleasure, and that of my readers as well. Losing that connection makes me feel like my complaints are more petty, my speculations less informed. We do a lot of virtual preview events these days, and while I’m grateful to not only get the chance to play a game in development, but to play it at home, where I’ll actually be playing once it launches, it’s it’s not the same as going to a publishing company – let alone playing a series like FIFA with its executive producer, revealing to him how bad I actually am at it.

I will miss E3, even though I last personally reported on it in 2014. I actually made friends there – people I had only known online, or as a byline in a peer publication – and it was really heartwarming to meet them in person. We could do Nintendo Directs, PlayStation States of Play, developer diaries all day long; nothing can replace the personal connection of that expo.

Snoop Dogg performs at a pop-up concert outside the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles during E3 2013.
Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

My favorite memory of the Los Angeles Convention Center was in 2011, at the EA Sports booth. The publisher showed NCAA football 12, which would launch the following month. It was fully baked and viewed, a known quantity; there was no big reveal to be made. But I was there playing with EA Tiburon developers when I was politely shoved aside by a very robust gentleman who ran Snoop Dogg’s security service. Snoop walked in to see the game, sat down with producer Ben Haumiller and took on Ben, playing as Oregon, with his beloved USC Trojans. And Ben absolutely smoked it.

It’s the kind of thing that only happened at E3, but it’s also the kind of thing that hasn’t happened in the last five or six years. And now it will never happen again.

Farewell to E3 as we knew it, the Super Bowl of our video game fandom

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