E3 – PRESS F TO PAY RESPECT

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Understanding the ESA’s decision to shut down E3, the largest and most prestigious gaming expo of the year.


 

In the early 90s, gaming enthusiasts wished there was a way to gather and connect with other gamers with the same interests, share experiences, and celebrate their love for video games. This idea of immersing in the gaming culture was brought to fruition with the introduction of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3.

E3 History and Hay Days

E3 was first held in 1995 in Los Angeles by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). It was a convention, traditionally taking place annually in June, where gaming companies and developers gathered to unveil their latest projects, like promoting their new games and announcing significant updates to all the gamers attending the event. During E3 presentations, game trailers, demos, and announcements were showcased using video footage or live performances, generating enormous excitement within the gaming community. After the show, summaries of the event’s key highlights were published on their website for those who could not attend the convention. Stanley Pierre-Louis, CEO of the ESA, said, “We hope to create an event that stimulates excitement and allows those partners who want to showcase their products to have a platform that outshines everything else. Putting a show of this caliber together, whether physical or in-person, requires months of planning and scheduling.”


While E3 events soared in popularity, garnering tens of thousands of attendees every year, some game developers started experimenting with the idea of showcasing their products on their own platforms.


With a strong head start of over 50,000 audience members in their first event, E3 was able to muster up a large following over time. The main reason was that hosting a convention catered to gaming enthusiasts was a novel idea. Hence, large gaming companies like Nintendo wanted to utilize this to disclose exclusive content at the convention, believing it would help them boost their sales. In 2001, E3 revealed Nintendo’s latest video game, the ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee’, generating significant excitement and anticipation among the gaming community. Upon release, it became a bestseller for the GameCube, signifying the profound impact of E3’s platform. Afterwards, other companies used this event to their advantage, being recognized as an influential platform and becoming one of the gaming industry’s largest and most influential annual events.

Nintendo’s Initiative

While E3 events soared in popularity, garnering tens of thousands of attendees every year, some game developers started experimenting with the idea of showcasing their products on their own platforms. Digital platforms had already been on the rise by the mid-2000s, so it was only a matter of time before some major game developer took a shot at replicating their E3 success in-house. A good example of this is Nintendo Direct, a personalised broadcast that Nintendo uses to communicate directly with its target audience, providing announcements, updates, and news. It is a pre-recorded digital presentation broadcasted on YouTube, where Nintendo showcases its latest developments in the gaming world. These broadcasts are usually scheduled every few months, where they reveal the launch date and gameplay footage of highly anticipated games.

In 2021, Nintendo Direct garnered over 5.2 million views during the live broadcast alone, with millions more watching later. Furthermore, when ‘Splatoon 3′ was released, it prompted over 100,000 tweets within hours, showcasing the fervour and engagement among gaming enthusiasts. This illustrates these presentations’ massive reach and impact on gaming communities worldwide, where viewers can engage in live chats and discussions while watching, adding to the overall experience.

They even announced collaborations with other companies on their platforms, like in 2016, when Nintendo planned to work with Universal Parks & Resorts to build Nintendo-themed parks in Osaka, Orlando, and Hollywood. This gained so much popularity that it was on the trending page on social media platforms such as Twitter for a week, letting Nintendo believe that they did not need E3 to bring in publicity for them.

Sony Tagging Along

Due to how well-received Nintendo’s initiative was, other key players in the market, like Sony, created their very own platform called PlayStation’s State of Play, akin to a personalised showcase. It also operates as a pre-recorded digital presentation broadcasted on YouTube, offering glimpses into the future of PlayStation gaming. This event occurs sporadically throughout the year, where Sony also unveils gameplay footage and release dates for highly anticipated games and provides insights into the game’s development.

PlayStation’s State of Play showed some potential to boost Sony sales. In 2020, it was evident when they announced the long-awaited sequel to one of their established intellectual properties, ‘God of War.’ It sold more than 11 million units worldwide in the first ten weeks after its release, and as of November 2023, the total unit sales of God of War: Ragnarök sit at 15 million units, reflecting the direct correlation between these broadcasts and consumer interest, which E3 could never do for Sony to this degree.

Twitch’s Consumer Engagement

In 2011, Twitch entered the market, taking away a substantial portion of E3’s influence on the gaming community. Twitch is a digital platform where people can broadcast themselves, referring to themselves as streamers, play video games, share live content, and interact with viewers in real time.

Viewers can watch these streams for free and interact with the streamer and other viewers through a chat feature. Streamers can customize their channels, engage with their audience, and build a community around their content. A great example was shown in 2020 by popular Twitch streamer Pokimane, who showcased her gameplay experiences on a game called ‘Fall Guys.’ With the help of Twitch, her live streams encouraged immediate interaction with the audience, which helped build a direct connection with her viewers that extended beyond what E3 presentations could foster. This created a significant opportunity for gaming companies, opening a new form of customer engagement focused on real-time connection to their target audiences through digital creators.

One gaming company that took great advantage of this was ‘Riot Games’ with the release of their new game, ‘Valorant’. They sponsored popular streamers like Shroud with the agreement to stream their new game extensively during its closed beta, providing immediate feedback to Riot Games based on their experiences. Their interactive streams allowed for real-time discussions with viewers and developers, influencing changes and creating a buzz around the game that a traditional E3 presentation could not achieve. This led Twitch to evolve into a dedicated hub for companies to generate buzz for their games and for gaming enthusiasts to engage closely with their beloved franchises.

E3 Bids Adieu

It was clear to the gaming community that E3, once the paramount gaming expo, could not compete, with the shift in digital showcases like Nintendo Direct and PlayStation’s State of Play gaining traction. It becomes evident when assessing the number of E3 attendees, which ranged from around 40,000 to 50,000 gamers yearly. The highest E3 attendance was 70,000 in 2005, a mere 20,000 more than the debut turnout. Despite various efforts like opening E3 to children under 12, dedicating an entire segment to PC gamers, making the event open to the public, and even adopting an online format, E3 turnouts could never match Nintendo and Sony’s view counts, typically reaching around 784,000 to 1,100,000 views yearly. The reason is that these personalized online presentations offer direct engagement and frequent updates without having to invest in large stages and deal with complicated paperwork. Even Twitch’s real-time engagement through streaming services has supported this claim by emphasising direct connections and community building by introducing real-time broadcasts. Hence, it altered how companies can rack up viewership, proving that online platforms could generate immense excitement cost-effectively without having to be involved with E3.

Things would have looked differently for E3 if they were more responsive to how their target market changed their way of consuming gaming-related content. For instance, the organisation should have realized that the gaming community wanted something other than an annual event with jam-packed information. They preferred a hybrid year-round engagement platform by combining physical and virtual experiences. It would include regular updates, online events, or smaller regional showcases to keep the community engaged throughout the year. However, it was already too late for them as competitors in the gaming industry had invested in that opportunity and established themselves, stealing away E3’s influence over the gaming sphere.

Having to throw the white towel into the ring, E3 posted a farewell message on social media on December 12, 2023: “After more than two decades of E3, each one bigger than the last, the time has come to say goodbye. Thanks for the memories.” It was a bittersweet ending, signalling a new era of consuming content. Gamers around the world, even those who had lost interest in E3 long ago, leading to its eventual shutdown today, resonate with Stanley Pierre-Louis’ closing thoughts on E3: “While it is difficult to say goodbye, it is the right thing to do given the new opportunities the industry has to reach fans and partners.”

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