AS you’ve probably read by now, the annual E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles is toast this year, with the event officially cancelled by the organisers earlier today in the wake of the COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic.
In an a statement on their website, the Entertainment Software Assocation (ESA) said it had made the difficult decision to cancel the event – originally set for June 9-11 – due to health and safety concerns for fans, staff, exhibitors and event partners.
“Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation,” the announcement said.
“We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.
“Our team will be reaching out directly to exhibitors and attendees with information about providing full refunds.
“We are also exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020. Updates will be shared on E3Expo.com.
“We thank everyone who shared their views on reimagining E3 this year. We look forward to bringing you E3 2021 as a reimagined event that brings fans, media, and the industry together in a showcase that celebrates the global video game industry.”
This is the first time the event has been cancelled since it launched in 1995.
Despite E3 being in Los Angeles, the impact of its cancellation will be felt in Australia too, with Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) CEO Ron Curry saying COVID-19 is having significant effects on most industries including games, and many of the major games expos and shows being cancelled or postponed responsibly to ensure the safety of participants.
“Alternative arrangements via online delivery are being made to ensure that smaller developers can still connect with larger publishers and investors, while consumers are able to watch and receive news on product announcements and releases,” he said.
“It is important these activities continue and we applaud all of these efforts that have been initiated under these difficult circumstances.”
Microsoft – who have been one of the anchor presences at E3 for the past few years – are among those opting for the online approach, with Xbox head Phil Spencer announcing they will be holding an “Xbox Digital Event” in the wake of the E3 cancellation, with more details – including on the timing – to be announced in the coming weeks.
Ubisoft, who are also a significant E3 exhibitor, have indicated they will likely be pursuing the digital option as well, saying they were “exploring other options for a digital experience that will allow us to share all the exciting news we have planned”,
The ESA have said they intend to host an E3 in 2021, although there are some in the industry who question where the event will still be viable, citing a feeling amongst some in community industry that E3 has lost its lustre in recent years and that a year off might convince some publishers to do their own thing instead.
The event also came under fire for a data breach in 2019, when the details of more than 2000 attending media were stored in an unsecured online location and leaked as a result.
Sony were notably absent from E3 last year and not intending to attend this year even if it had gone ahead, EA have been running their own EA Play event in Los Angeles alongside (but separate from) E3 for some years now, while Blizzard does not attend E3 at all and instead runs their own convention, BlizzCon, in November each year at the Anaheim Convention Centre.
In that vein, I would be very surprised if Bethesda did not use the lack of E3 this year to ramp up their own QuakeCon event, held in August in Dallas.
While it’s certainly true the big announcements from E3 could easily be made in the form of a livestream of some sort, as someone who has attended E3 for the past few years, I can say a lot of the experience that makes it so valuable comes from actually meeting and networking with people in person.
It is also highly likely that GamesCom, held in Cologne in late August, will become more of a focal point for the major publishers (assuming Coronavirus has either run its course or been mitigated enough to not be a major public health risk) too.
Even more importantly, much of my time at E3 is spent in “behind closed doors” sessions playing early preview builds of games, interviewing developers and producers, and so on.
The insights I’ve gained from those experiences have been absolutely invaluable as a journalist, and it’s going to be a shame to miss out on them this year – even for an understandable reason.
If nothing else, having essentially a week of gaming celebration right in the middle of the year was something to look forward to, and helped set the stage for games coverage and news for the rest of the year.
Regardless of what happens now – or whether E3 2021 goes ahead – it’s very clear 2020 is going to be an unconventional year for the gaming industry.