The Rise and Fall of E3

Rest in peace, E3. It may be easy to understand why you wasted away, but you will be missed.

Posted By | On 14th, Dec. 2023

The Rise and Fall of E3

Well, it’s finally happened. The slow demise of E3 has reached its inevitable end. What was once the be-all and end-all of the games industry, an event that everyone and everything the medium touched flocked to, had clearly been on its last legs these last few years, and after a few floundering failed attempts to revitalize itself, it has, sadly, drawn its last breath. The Entertainment Software Association, the United States’ primary trade association for games and the organizing body for E3, recently announced that the event has been officially and permanently cancelled, which means the unsuccessful attempt to get a reimagined E3 2023 off the ground was the last time we would ever hear about E3 in an official capacity.

In many ways, for anyone who’s been paying even the slightest attention these last few years, an obituary for E3 has felt unavoidable, but though it’s easy to understand why the event has fallen by the wayside and why the necessity for its existence has diminished so drastically in such a short amount of time, at the same time, it’s also hard not to look back at the twenty something years where E3 was an unshakable and ever-present pillar of the games industry and feel at least a little bit of sadness about how it has wasted away.

Even when it made its debut back in 1995, it was clear to everyone that E3 had instantly become the biggest event of the gaming industry. From Sony’s historic announcement of the original PlayStation’s price and release date, a moment that will forever be regarded as one of the industry’s most iconic, to Sega shadow dropping not a game, but an entire console in the form of the Sega Saturn, a decision that, in hindsight, was just plain foolish, in its very first year, E3 played host to some of the most momentous gaming moments we’ve ever witnessed, and it continued to be the place to be for such moments and announcements for years and years to come.

The list of unforgettable moments that existed at and because of E3 is a never-ending one. From Keanu Reeves on-stage with Cyberpunk 2077 to Peter Moore announcing Grand Theft Auto 4 for Xbox 360 with a tattoo on his arm, from spectacularly planned surprises like the reveals of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, God of War, and Resident Evil 7 to reveals for entire consoles and handhelds over the years, from excellent showings of games that we’ll always remember, like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Fallout 4, to disastrous showings that will also stick out in memory, if for the wrong reasons, like Wii Music and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Reggie Fils-Aime announcing himself on to the industry, Super Smash Bros. Brawl stealing the show with its Solid Snake reveal, Kevin Butler’s speech shining as the highlight in an otherwise dull Sony press conference, Microsoft tanking itself with the shockingly poor Xbox One reveal, Konami’s famously disastrous 2010 presser, Ubisoft’s groan-inducing annual Just Dance performances, Sony taking shots at Microsoft with its instructional video on used games sharing, Killzone 2’s controversial “gameplay” reveal, Microsoft announcing a string of studio acquisitions- honestly, we could go on and on and on about all the E3 moments over the years that have been etched into stone by this point.

sony e3 2016

Make no mistake about it- when E3 was on, during that week, it was the one and only thing the entire games industry was looking at. And when it wasn’t, it still constantly loomed large in the background, always as something that demanded your attention through the sheer weight of its presence, and the shadow it cast over everything even slightly related to games. Months and months in advance of the annual showcases, speculation and rumours and questions would kick into overdrive. What new games would be announced? What gameplay showcases would stand out? What new hardware and console reveals could we look forward to? Which company would stumble over itself in making a series of embarrassing (and live) blunders? So often, E3 was the focal point of so many important (and otherwise) conversations related to games.

But of course, recent years have been entirely different. And while the sudden turnaround in E3’s fortunes has been shocking on a surface level, when you look at just how many problems have contributed to that downfall, that surprise slowly turns into understanding. The ESA itself has been hugely responsible for that- from its misguided decision to open up the trade show to the public, causing a litany of organizational and management nightmares, to the exorbitant fees it used to demand for having E3 booths, something that drove an increasing number of companies away from the show as time went on. Hell, in 2019, the ESA even accidentally published an unsecured document containing the private information of thousands of press and influencers who had attended the event, which was emblematic of all the frustrating organizational deficiencies that had plagued E3 with increasing prevalence as time went on.

Really, 2018 was the last time we got an actual, proper E3, where all the major companies were in attendance at an actual, live trade event. In 2019, Sony confirmed that for the first time in E3 history, while the following year, Geoff Keighley – who had been working with the ESA on E3 for as long as E3 had existed – confirmed that he was stepping away from his role as well. He would go on to create, produce, and host Summer Game Fest, which – in conjunction with his annual Gamescom Opening Night Live and The Game Awards events – has also had a significant role to play in rendering E3 redundant.

summer game fest

In 2020, meanwhile, things only got worse. Shortly after Sony confirmed that it would be skipping the event once again, it was announced that E3 2020 had been cancelled altogether. Given the circumstances of that year, where the entire world at large was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the cancellation came as no surprise. But when E3 did return in 2021, it did so in severely underwhelming fashion. The continued impact of the pandemic meant that E3 2021 had to return as a digital-only event, and it quickly became clear to everyone that for the most part, the companies who were attending didn’t actually have much to show- or if they did, they didn’t see E3 2021 as a suitable stage to show those things.

And from then on? It was further downhill still. E3 2022 never really got off the ground, and when it was cancelled, it came as no surprise to the majority of people. The following year, however, was supposed to be a revitalization of the event, with the ESA partnering with ReedPop – a company known for PAX events, Comic-Con events, and more – to bring back as a physical, in-person event, but that never really came to anything. By that time, E3’s stock had already plummeted so low that when E3 2023 was also officially cancelled, the majority of us had seen it coming a mile off.

It didn’t help E3’s case in the slightest that the industry hadn’t really felt its absence in any tangible, material way. In fact, in its absence, it grew and adapted to models that, as it turned out, were far more efficient and cost-effective. In 2019, when Sony announced that it would not be attending the event, then-PlayStation boss Shawn Layden very publicly questioned its importance, raising questions about why companies couldn’t just hold their own shows. That was, of course, something that Nintendo had already been doing since 2011, while EA, too, had stepped away from E3 to hold its own showcases. And since then, it’s grown significantly more prevalent, with the likes of Sony, Microsoft, Capcom, Ubisoft, and many others having preferred to host their own showcases and streams rather than having to pay obscene amounts of money to have a presence at a poorly managed event sticking to an increasingly archaic model.

PlayStation One_PS One

In 1995, E3 began with the emergence of PlayStation and the drubbing of Sega. And over the last few years, it has ended with a drubbing of its own. For over two decades, the event was the face of the industry, for better or for worse, so its demise comes as sad news to all concerned. Sadly, however, looking at how things have gone in the last few years, it hasn’t exactly been a surprise.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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