Organizers of E3 and Summer Game Fest are gearing up for a head-on clash

At the end of yesterday’s Summer Game Fest stream, host and impresario Geoff Keighley announced that the show would return in June 2023 as both a digital and, for the first time, in-person event. (There’s a small physical component to this year’s Summer Game Fest, but it’s just for the media. Oh, and you could also pay to watch it in an IMAX theater, if you really wanted to.)

Keighley’s announcement came just days after the Entertainment Software Association confirmed that E3 would return in 2023, both in person and online, to the Washington Post. Stan Pierre-Louis, president and CEO of ESA, said that after skipping 2022 completely, E3 would be back, despite widespread predictions that the solid gaming industry exchange was dead for good after a few rough years. It now looks like the two events will collide head on, competing for exclusive reveals, partnerships, eyeballs, and attendees.

This can only mean one thing: the chaos and disorder surrounding the games industry’s traditional June marketing jamboree is sure to continue for another year.

Keighley’s aggressive move against his former partner — he produced the E3 Coliseum live show for a few years but pulled out in early 2020, before that year’s event was canceled — comes at a difficult time for E3, the ESA and the celebrations. of the summer games in general.

The pandemic years were, of course, tough at E3. When the 2020 show was cancelled, Keighley ducked in to claim a digital version of the game industry’s celebration with the first Summer Game Fest. It worked to an extent, but many publishers chose to distribute their own showcases over a long and exhausting summer of fragmentary disclosures.

In 2021, E3 attempted to return with its own digital event, which was an ill-conceived disaster, with few partners and few raison d’être. The way the online event was designed betrayed a poor understanding of the internet, so it made sense that most developers and publishers would eventually partner with Keighley or host their own showcases. A chastened ESA canceled the 2022 show over coronavirus concerns, though reports suggest: this was a cover for a deeper lack of appetite to host the event.

The woes of E3 go back even further than the pandemic. It had already started losing key exhibitors before 2020, especially EA and, most damagingly, Sony. Stakeholders at the big brands apparently questioned the value of an expensive in-person purse when they could address fans and the industry directly online.

Since 2017, E3 has also attempted to turn what had always been an industry-only show – albeit with a fairly broad definition of “industry” – into a hybrid trade and public event, with some tickets that the public can enjoy. to buy. This only resulted in a crowded event that didn’t seem well set up to serve any of its audience.

To make matters worse, the ESA earned deep media mistrust in 2019 when a database leak revealed the personal information of thousands of attendees, mostly journalists and influencers, exposing them to harassment.

The ESA and E3 as we know it have come an awfully long way to climb out of this position – which, it must be said, is more than partly self-induced. The E3 brand, powerful as it is, has been damaged and the organization behind it is bleeding trust and relationships. The time seems right for someone like Keighley to step in and replace him.

E3 in its heyday of 2009. Will we ever see anything like this again?
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

But it won’t be easy. By announcing an in-person feature for Summer Game Fest, Keighley acknowledges that if the Summer Games party has a future, it can’t just exist online. Without a physical event, there’s not enough incentive for developers and publishers to stick to some dates or collaborate on their reveals — they can just do it on their own whenever they want. In theory, it might be easier for publishers to make themselves heard that way, but in practice there is no focus and public interest ebbs away, as we found in 2020. There’s definitely an advantage to the industry coming together to showcase their wares, and it’s more exciting for fans too – so that means coming together in person.

But organizing large-scale physical events like this is enormous difficult. (I should know; I worked at a company that had its own games show in the UK – EGX – which was eventually acquired by ReedPop, which runs PAX.) Geoff may understand the Internet a lot better than the ESA, but the ESA has far more experience running a show floor than Geoff, whose only experience hosting a physical event is the invite-only Game Awards.

If the ESA chose not to have a show this year, it’s because they know how difficult it will be to put that show together. It’s certainly also because it takes the time to rediscover E3 from the ground up as a consumer event rather than an industrial event. Chances are, the E3 of the future will be much more like a large-scale fan event – a PAX, a BlizzCon or a D23 Expo – than a trade show. If smart (which admittedly is highly debatable), the ESA will be looking for a partner with experience in such events to host E3 next year. Despite all the challenges facing the ESA, Summer Game Fest will find it even harder to host a competitive event from the get-go.

Geoff Keighley joins Neil Druckmann, Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker on the Summer Game Fest stage for a segment on The Last of Us Part I.

Yesterday’s stream proved that digital gaming events struggle to create atmosphere.
Image: Summer Game Party

The last thing to consider as we look ahead to next year is the state of the gaming industry itself. Yesterday’s Summer Game Fest opening stream wasn’t exactly convincing. Presented in a quiet, empty studio with no audience, and with a distinctly second-rate roster of reveals, it spoke of a games industry still reeling from the pandemic — even as personal entertainment areas such as theater, cinema and sports roar again. to live. Production schedules are clearly still affected; 2022 so far has had a sudden plethora of delayed major releases early in the year, followed by a long, long dry spell.

“We don’t need E3” has been a common refrain for years. But maybe we need something like that to restore some of the confidence, focus, and showmanship that’s currently missing, and to make a gaming enthusiast exciting again. Keighley knows this, and the ESA knows it. In their hearts most publishers know it too, even if they have had a little time to spend money on it. But it looks like it will be at least another year of chaos, confusion and scattered competition before the industry can decide what that thing should be.

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