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E3 won't have a replacement "online experience" this year after all

The organisers of E3 are not planning to host an official online replacement this year after all, though I don’t think that will be much of a problem. When the Entertainment Software Association announced E3 2020’s cancellation in March, due to the ongoing sitch, they did say they were considering arranging an “online experience” to fill in with announcements and that. Well, now they’ve confirmed that they decided not to. They’ve also this week reportedly confirmed dates for the E3 2021, when they do plan to return to sweaty meatspace.

The ESA had said in March that they were “exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020.” Turns out, that didn’t pan out.

“Given the disruption brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June,” the ESA told cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer. “Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on www.E3expo.com, in the coming months.”

If you enjoy all the announcements of E3 week, good news: those can all happen anyway, without anything branded ‘E3’. The week of E3 is useful as a focus for year’s big announcements but there’s no reason many can’t happen without the ESA’s involvement – and they likely will.

Electronic Arts, for example, skipped E3 2019 but still blasted their announcements in that week during their own event, EA Play; they still seem to be going ahead with another this year too. Microsoft are planning to put on their own Xbox digital event. Ubisoft are considering their own digital event too. Devolver Digital’s wacky livestream was never part of E3 in the first place, and they’re continuing this year. (Bethesda aren’t planning a digital replacement, mind.) Then you have folks like IGN planning a replacement marketing frenzy with numerous publishers. I’d expect the industry to cluster all their newsblasts together because a focused frenzy can be handy, but so what if it’s named E3 or not?

I do suspect E3 2020’s cancellation might be the final push for many publishers who’ve already started turning away from E3 and running their own marketing events across the year. I don’t think E3 will necessarily end, but its role will be diminished. The ESA have already seemed to turn the trade show into more of a public event in recent years. They had planned to sell 25,000 E3 public passes this year, up from 15,000 in 2019. That might not sound huge but E3’s total attendance in recent years has only been 66-70 thousand.

Still, the ESA added in their statement to PCG that they “look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences.”

GamesIndustry.biz reported on the weekend that the ESA privately confirmed dates of June 15-17 for E3 2021, though they haven’t yet confirmed that publicly. This year was meant to be their big revamp of the expo, with plans afoot to “reinvigorate the show and, frankly, to shake things up.” They gabbed about having “a large, super fun floor experience that celebrates gaming culture in exciting new ways” including “surprise guests” and “experiential zones that delight the senses.” It sounded like they were planning to continue shifting E3 from a trade show to more and more of a public event.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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