E3 Gaming Show Needs to Change, Experts Say

Not just continue

Key Takeaways

  • The ESA reportedly is planning an all-digital event for E3 this year.
  • Experts feel that conventions like E3 are still valuable, but some things need to change.
  • On top of figuring out who its audience is, E3 needs to be more inclusive of all types of people and game developers.
Welcome signage from main entrance of Annual E3 Event Showcases Video Game Industry's Latest Products on June 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
Martin Garcia / ESPAT Media / Getty Images

Despite a canceled show in 2020 and plans to go digital this year, experts say physical conventions like E3 are still valuable, but they need some changes.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was once the biggest yearly event in gaming. Now, though, as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) plans for the future of E3 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some are questioning whether the show should continue or finally call it quits. Experts say it should continue, but there are some caveats.

"The draw of these events is having the entire industry in one place," Patrick Shanley, the games editorial director at Venn, told Lifewire on the phone. "I still think that’s valuable. If they can still offer that, then I’d love to see them continue it."

Sizing up the Competition

While once the biggest gaming-centric event of the year, E3 has changed quite a bit. Publishers like Sony, Nintendo, and Electronic Arts (EA) used to appear on the show floor at E3, attracting thousands of press members—and even fans in later years—to their booths. Now, they’ve opted for more direct methods, holding their own live streams and digital events, all while eliminating air travel and paying thousands of dollars for booth space in the Los Angeles Convention Center

One such example of this, and perhaps one of the biggest events to come out of the cancellation of E3 2020, was the Summer Game Fest, a series of live streams led by Geoff Keighley to help showcase various developers—indie and AAA alike. It set a new precedent for revealing big games, while also highlighting smaller studios.

"E3 has been around [for] 25 years. That goes a long way. But, if there’s no reason to tune in and watch it, then why would I tune in?"

Going Consumer

Of course, finding an audience isn’t the only problem the ESA has when it comes to E3. If the show wants to move forward and take back its crown, it needs to become more inclusive—not only welcoming people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities, but also welcoming developers of all sizes.

"E3 is a reminder that the gaming industry is about ‘business first,'" Jessica Woods, a longtime gamer, told Lifewire via email. "Other events, such as PAX, do a much better job at nurturing and showcasing the stuff that really matters to me as a gamer."

Now that publishers like Sony have direct live streams like its State of Play series, fans could be less inclined to attend an event like E3, since they already can get information from the comfort of their homes. And, if an all-digital E3 happens, what’s to make people tune in?

"These online conventions just to do a convention aren’t adding any value," Shanley told us. "E3 has been around [for] 25 years. That goes a long way. But, if there’s no reason to tune in and watch it, then why would I tune in?"

Shanley says the ESA has to figure out its audience if it wants to maintain the reputation it's built for E3 over the years. This is something he believes the convention has been struggling to identify for a few years now.

Safety First

Even if the ESA can turn it around and make a more consumer-focused event, it still has to solve the problem of inclusivity and safety for attendees.

"For the big conferences, I wonder, why even go? Why leave my family—where I belong—to go to a conference where I’m going to feel the whole time like I shouldn’t be here," Dr. Karen Schrier, associate professor and director of games and emerging media at Marist College, told Lifewire in a phone interview. 

"These online conventions just to do a convention aren’t adding any value."

Schrier noted that she attended other conventions earlier in her career, like the Global Developers Conference (GDC), but said most made her feel like she had to prove she belonged there.

It’s these problems that she and others at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology & Society are working to solve. Together, they’ve created a deck of cards that includes simple questions developers, community managers, and even event coordinators can ask themselves to determine how inclusive they are for marginalized groups.

Members of Team Dignitas react during the CS:GO World Finals on Day Two of the Girl Gamer Esports Festival at Meydan Racecourse on February 22, 2020
Christopher Pike / Getty Images

There’s currently no release date for the deck, but Schrier said it will be a free resource available to anyone that wants to use it.

These events are a major part of the industry, and if used correctly, could help push forward change industry-wide, something Schrier hopes we’ll see happen for the next generation. Until real change comes, until we finally accept and welcome everyone into the fold, the divide in the industry only will grow, and we’ll see more and more would-be developers or storytellers move on to industries that are more inviting.

"It’s hard to push past that," Schrier said. "All the talent and all the amazing, aspiring minds that we’re losing because we’re just not seeing their humanity and accepting and fully including them."

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