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Talking Point: A Digital-Only E3 Makes Sense, But In-Person Events Are The Goal

© E3When E3 revealed that it would run a digital event this year, it drew interest because of some notable participants – in particular, Nintendo and Xbox – but also plenty of weary sarcasm to match the buzz. E3 as an event arguably only has itself to blame if some feel jaded or downright indifferent…

E3© E3

When E3 revealed that it might run an electronic event this year, it drew interest due to some notable participants — in particular, Nintendo and Xbox — but also lots of weary sarcasm to coordinate with the buzz. E3 as an event arguably only has itself to blame when some feel excruciating or downright indifferent to it, as it trended towards ridiculous false hype with each passing season. In 2020, together with world events taking center stage, the entire thing was cancelled and no’digital’ equal managed to come together.

Of course, E3 2020, prior to its economy, was shaping up fairly badly anyhow. Back in 2019 that the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) had outlined strategies to rebrand it like a celebrity and influencer-led’festival’, instead of a business event that also catered to the general public. It’d been slipping away from becoming an’industry event’ in the typical sense for a number of years, but the strategies and various senior executives and prominent characters walked away; let’s not overlook Sony was long gone, too. So, before the world got turned upside down, E3 2020 was in trouble.

It'll be interesting to see whether Nintendo opts for a 'Direct', 'Showcase', 'Treehouse Presents' or something else entirely at E3
It’ll be interesting to check whether Nintendo opts for a’Direct’,’Showcase’,’Treehouse Presents’ or anything different completely in E3 (Image: Nintendo)

With that in mind it is understandable why the answer to E3 being’back’ this season is drawing a mixed reaction. That said, from a Nintendo fan perspective it means we’ve got a fantastic idea of when we’ll get some form of Direct / Showcase / Treehouse presentations, and that is no bad thing. There are enough large publishers taking part to suggest that, in the minimum, E3 week may once more bring some shows, buzz and showcases.

Of course, the notion of carrying an expo entirely online was performed by events of different sizes last year, and will continue through 2021, at least in part. As things level out in our real lives, however, it’ll be interesting to see how real-world expos come back, and whether they get to the popularity and value that they once held.

A big portion of it will rely upon the desire of gamers. The meat and drink of this expo business is that the tens of thousands of lovers that descend on the halls to see and play demos of the most up-to-date and greatest games. Then, of course, the events rely on relatively hefty fees from the exhibitors themselves, from the massive booths of their’big three’ right down to single display displays.

Gamescom kicked off a major online event in 2020, recruiting the ever-present Geoff Keighley as host
Gamescom kicked off a significant online occasion in 2020, recruitment the ever-present Geoff Keighley as host (Image: Koelnmesse / Gamescom)

There’s very little doubt that the bigger events with significant corporations supporting them, for example PAX, EGX, Gamescom, respectively , will return in a more traditional form when permitted. This may also be particularly good news for Indie publishers and developers, as in-person occasions could be lifechanging minutes.

Often you simply have a meeting, and as soon as the connection is strong it is a springboard. A few emails later and suddenly people who just met in a sweaty hallway per week earlier are going into business together.

Though 2020 brought us various’online expos’ and individuals naturally fulfilled in video calls, LinkedIn and so on, it needs to be remembered that face-to-face meetings in market events are — or were — a huge part of the business enterprise. Games, collaborations and publishing deals frequently come together at the industry-specific GDC (Game Developers Conference) and ‘consumer’ expos. Sometimes deals are rather literally achieved at the events but often you just have a meeting, and as soon as the relationship is strong it is a springboard. A couple of emails later and suddenly people who only met in a sweaty hallway per week earlier are going into business together.

These events are also a huge part of strengthening existing partnerships; an expo week is full of dinners, drinks and parties, all with the goal of getting to know colleagues and business partners improved. Whether you’re a’client dinner’ or’industry party’ person likely is dependent on your age and approach to media.

And naturally, events like this give small companies enormous chances — after securing a coveted appointment — to pitch and talk to the big fish. Indie publishers may get to exhibit their merchandise to Nintendo / Sony / Microsoft execs, and Indie developers may have noticed and picked up by a powerhouse like Devolver Digital, Team17 or even Thunderful. This will have continued to a level’virtually’ in 2020, but this author would bet some real gems are still waiting to be noticed that, in a ordinary year, could have been snapped up and financed.

Devolver Digital has a major presence in the 'business section' of many events
Devolver Digital includes a significant presence in the’business section’ of several events (Image: Devolver Digital)

All this activity often occurs in corners of bars and cafes, or in different’business halls’, where there’s actually room to breathe and the required passes have eye-watering rates. It is a slightly greyer, more boring side of this industry — people sitting around tables referring to development expenses and earnings shares — but so many of the coolest games we play have been born out of gifted small teams getting vital backing and support from such meetings.

Soyes, it is going to be interesting once we can all visit expos again and participate in certain mass hype regarding the largest and best games. More to the point, however, gifted Indies with wonderful games to share will probably be in wall-to-wall meetings, and new games will be born.

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