E3, once gaming’s biggest expo, is officially dead

E3, once gaming’s biggest expo, is officially dead

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The Electronic Entertainment Expo, which was once the gaming industry’s biggest convention and media platform, is officially dead.

“After more than two decades of hosting an event that has served as a central showcase for the U.S. and global video game industry,” the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has decided to bring E3 to a close, said Stanley Pierre-Louis, president and CEO of the nonprofit trade association that represents the games industry’s interests in the United States.

A mix of new competitors, partner withdrawals, changing audience habits and pandemic-era disruptions led to E3’s collapse, ending years of attempts to resuscitate the event, which began in 1995.

“We know the entire industry, players and creators alike have a lot of passion for E3. We share that passion,” Pierre-Louis said. “We know it’s difficult to say goodbye to such a beloved event, but it’s the right thing to do given the new opportunities our industry has to reach fans and partners.”

Those new opportunities include online video news conferences that feed information directly to audiences — without the costs associated with attending a trade show, including booth fees, travel expenses and strict deadlines for presentations. In 2011, Nintendo paved the way by creating the “Direct” format, a video news conference announcing new games and products.

In 2018, Sony PlayStation’s decision to leave the event started a domino effect of other vendors and companies pulling their attendance. Just over a year later, former E3 collaborator and journalist Geoff Keighley announced that he quit helping the ESA with the show, and since then has successfully engineered his own, separate events for showcases such as Summer Game Fest. He has also built up the showcase format in the annual Game Awards, including the one that took place Thursday.

Recent E3 shows, including the final in-person event, in 2019, allowed attendance by the general public as an effort to increase buzz. The pandemic further exacerbated E3’s woes, as quarantines forced several game publishers to adopt the online news conference format, to varying degrees of success.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Pierre-Louis seemed well aware of the circumstances that hurt attendance.

“There were fans who were invited to attend in the later years, but it really was about a marketing and business model for the industry and being able to provide the world with information about new products,” he said. “Companies now have access to consumers and to business relations through a variety of means, including their own individual showcases.”

Before E3, video games were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but the industry was pushed to the sidelines. The ESA created E3 as a trade show for retailers to meet with game publishers and creators.

“At that time, as an industry, we understood the power games have,” Pierre-Louis said, “but a lot of others didn’t appreciate the important role that our industry plays in the innovation sector, in creating serious expressions of art and contributions to economic growth.”

It grew to a massive multimedia headline-creating event. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft showcased the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, respectively, during an electrifying 2005 show.

Sometimes the show introduced the public to gaming’s biggest personalities, making household names of developers and company executives. In 2000, game creator Hideo Kojima debuted a jaw-dropping presentation for “Metal Gear Solid 2” that paralleled blockbuster filmmaking. His talent for showmanship contributed to his mythology as an enigmatic artist.

In 2004, a new Nintendo of America executive named Reggie Fils-Aimé stormed the show’s stage and brought charisma and fire to historically business-formal presentations.

The effort to replace E3 is ongoing. The Game Awards ceremony has captured much of E3’s cultural power, but it has been criticized for its focus on ads and marketing, which hampers recognition of the industry’s work.

Pierre-Louis said E3’s closure means the business of video games “has blossomed in different ways.”

“Any one of these major companies can create an individual showcase … [and] also partner with other industry events to showcase the breadth of games,” he said. “That’s exciting for our industry, and it means it’s an opportunity for them to explore how to engage new audiences in different ways.”

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