During its decades long history the Electronic Entertainment Expo went through a number of transition phases, some related to industry changes, some to carnival barkers, some to Zombie surviving, some to complete vaporization. In 2021, E3 went digital with a streaming event that appeared well-adjusted in its timing but unadjusted in its setting.
As a streaming event, virtual E3 successfully maintained the show’s traditional time slot for game promotion, close to the upcoming sales lift for the summer holidays and still in reach of the following sales peak for winter holidays. E3 effectively combined several branded streaming events under its timely umbrella without adding more to the sum of all parts.
As a business event, virtual E3 basically did not take place, except for the media coverage of the general promotion activities. There was not much business exchange going on, and the digital expo only offered links to the respective company websites. The floor for trades was absent. E3 became a consumer show, following up last year’s Gamescom online event, which now sits in a better promotion position for the year’s end rally.
As a showcase of the interactive entertainment industry, virtual E3 was utterly disappointing, not because the industry had nothing to show – there were interesting announcements and line-ups to be seen! But all these endless presentations of cinematic trailers ignored interactivity for the sake of window displays. They also ignored all exciting new formats for online activities we have experienced throughout the year of Non-E3, like Game Carnival, Devolver‘s playable game exposition or social VR meeting platforms.
In sharp contrast to E3‘s own promotion trailer, where a gamepad transforms into motion controls, an entirely cinematic presentation framework is a depreciating environment for gameplay innovations or immersive technologies. Upload VR‘s showcase had a difficult standing among all these shiny graphics, and better plays it alone. Nintendo easily winning the streaming competition over inflation spiraling service models should also ring a bell to Hollywood mindsets about what really counts in interactive entertainment.
E3 may have succeeded virtually as a Timekeeper for its promotion slot this year, but it needs to transform again by reconnecting to more substantial groundings of the industry. Especially, if this interactive entertainment industry promotes a great leap forward into the Metaverse while constantly crawling back into last century’s cinematic universe. Otherwise, this precious time slot may turn into the game industry’s Memorial Days for seasoned veterans of the screen.