Action Audit: Thoughts On E3 2021

By | 07/05/2021

E3 2021 is over and I’ve had some time to collect my thoughts. The normally in-person event was virtual only this year (due to Covid-19 concerns) but all things considered, the show went off without being dragged down by technical challenges. In all likelihood, E3 2022 will be an in-person event (with broadcast/stream options), but let’s take a moment to ponder the future of this event. Note: This is “surface level” analysis. I reserve complex analysis for my full articles.

  • Over the course of the year leading up to E3 2021, I predicted Microsoft would take full advantage of Sony’s absence, and that appears to be the case. In PlayStation’s absence, it created an information vacuum that Microsoft was eager to fill. The highlight of the show was arguably the Microsoft & Bethesda showcase. Sony certainly didn’t need to be at E3, and it likely won’t have any long term impact on their business, but Microsoft was able to use the space effectively.
  • The overlap with Summer Game Fest kickoff was confusing, and the blame doesn’t fall 100% on the ESA (E3 organizers). A quick browse of social media shows I’m not the only one who thought the scheduling of the two events created unnecessary questions, not to mention the folks that thought SGF’s kickoff event was part of E3 2021 (note: it wasn’t). If these events occur in 2022, I hope the two parties can work out a less conflicting schedule. I have no time for this awkward competition between Keighley and the ESA, and these events are better served by avoiding it.
  • I’m glad they dedicated time for the Indie Games Showcase. The more that the ESA and their partners can highlight the “independent” (outdated term) side of the industry, the better. That said, they should give small developers a bigger platform (more on that later).
  • The show / broadcast was fine for the most part. We saw keynote presentations from Ubisoft, Microsoft, and Nintendo, with other ESA partners & companies filling in the gaps. The “zoom meeting” panel (by Take-Two) highlighted important aspects of the industry (e.g. diversity, inclusion), but I fear much of the message was lost in translation. It would have been better served as a recorded event (edited for flow & pacing). We need to hear these points, but the way it was presented didn’t have the impact I would have liked to see.
  • I don’t think anyone blames the ESA, or publishers, for presenting a slimmed-down show this year. That said, this brings me to the biggest “problem” with E3 in general: What did the ESA (E3) bring to the table that couldn’t be done effectively, and perhaps more efficiently, by publishers (or developer livestreams)?
    • We’re already in an environment where publishers are scheduling their own events (e.g. EA Play Live, Blizzcon, Sony). There are so many events that even the galactic money pit of perpetual fundraising (sounds like the name of a church) that is Star Citizen has its own event. Again, what does E3 do that makes it unique or can’t be better served by individual events?
  • Here are a few of my ideas when it comes to the future of E3…
    • Perhaps E3 should shift to a investor & technology related event? Why does E3 need to be a player focused event when there are dozens of other ways companies can relay that information? The ESA has been talking about reforming E3 for years. I think it’s fair to say that trying to become a player-focused event, without really dedicating their resources to that cause, makes E3 look redundant. As it stands right now, E3 looks like an aimless event that essentially reserves stage space for vendors to fill in the gaps.
    • If they want to stay player focused, rarely do we see them connecting with the consumer, or giving the gaming audience a new way to interact with the show. They could use their resources to do something with streaming tech (e.g. live demos via cloud gaming). They could set up virtual interactions via VR. They could make E3 an industry demonstration in player friendly technology. There are many avenues here. I am disappointed that the ESA hasn’t explored these options (or similar).
    • The ESA might want to consider being an exposure solution for smaller developers (non-AAA). I don’t care what we’re calling it at this point (the term “indie” is outdated in terms of function), but with the games industry continuing its growth trend, it’s going to be harder for small / medium developers to find sources of exposure. I can imagine an E3 that lowers the event fees for companies under a certain revenue threshold and help them develop a presentation.

Despite the challenges, the show went on (virtually) and people still tuned in. Despite the critics & negativity surrounding E3, games media still covered it, and some companies took advantage of the moment. In that manner, you might even consider E3 2021 quiet success. If the ESA is going to continue with something known as E3, I’d like to see it become something of an industry showcase. I’d like to see it promote the direction of the industry. I’d rather it not be confined to a handful of publisher conferences that the publishers can do themselves.

What did you think about E3 2021? Do you believe that the ESA can improve E3? Do you think it can grow into something else, or will the ESA continue to allow it to survive on the backs of their partners? Carry on the conversation at our Twitter page. The header image at the top of the page is from https://www.theesa.com/.