I have deployed the hallowed Michael Cera GIF several times this week. Mostly it’s been prompted by the long-overdue collapse of the UK government, culminating in the even-more-overdue sort-of-resignation of the man pundits are correctly calling the worst prime minister our sorry kingdom has ever known.
But I whipped it out (the GIF, that is, calm down) again on Thursday at the news that E3 2023 will be run by ReedPop. If that name means nothing to you, it is the events firm behind the likes of PAX, Comic-Con and EGX, and the parent company of websites including Eurogamer, Gamesindustry.biz, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and network partner of VGC.
This is very promising news, I think, for the future of videogame Christmas. ReedPop has a proven track record in events, and deep game-industry expertise in its ranks. It promises to give the biggest show on gaming Earth the kick up the backside that even I, one of its most devout supporters, will admit it has needed for some time.
I spent a while pricing up flights and hovering over the ‘confirm booking’ button on the websites of Los Angeles hotels, exploring whether I can afford a trip under my own steam. Perhaps, if Hit Points’ remarkable recent growth continues (in the last 60 days, both total and paid subscriber numbers have grown by around 30%) and my consultancy work holds at its current pace (I am so busy I could die), we just might make it, you know. Heavens. Hit Points does real-E3. Imagine!
When I saw the news, my initial plan for this edition was to put on my Clever Consultant Hat and lay out the challenges that ReedPop faces in reinventing the show. Then I realised that GI.biz big man Chris Dring, who actually is consulting on the future of E3, had already done it (and very well, I must say, through only slightly gritted teeth). So, never mind. Let us take that as something of a jumping-off point, and see where we land.
The most encouraging thing in Chris’ piece is the recognition that E3 is so much more than a three-day event in the LA Convention Center. It is not a single show but a festival-style collection of them, spread all around Los Angeles. Indeed, over the years, as the focus has shifted from a primarily in-person event to a shindig attended via browser window by millions of people worldwide — and as companies that had been E3 fixtures for years started drifting away to do their own thing — the convention itself has felt less and less like the defining part of the week, and just another part of it instead.
Recognising that EA Play, Devolver’s nonsense in the Hooters car park and all the other sideshows should be seen not as E3’s competitors but its collaborators suggests a mindset shift I’m not sure the ESA would ever have arrived at by itself, and it being long overdue does not make it any less welcome. Good stuff.
“Over the years, as the focus has shifted from a primarily in-person event to a shindig attended via browser window by millions of people worldwide… the convention itself has felt less and less like the defining part of the week, and just another part of it instead.”
The awkward consequence of that, however, is that this reinvention is not entirely within ReedPop’s control. It will only work if everyone else is on board. To observers like us, things have simply not been the same these last few years. The hype levels have fallen through the floor as our traditional week-long celebration has been replaced by a drawn-out series of showcases, livestreams and trailers that are shown not when the schedule demands and fans expect them, but whenever their makers feel like it.
This is not just about the pandemic, either. The final few pre-Covid E3s were as much defined by which companies weren’t there, and had decided to do things on their own terms, as those that were.
I want E3 back, sure, but does Sony, or Activision, or even Microsoft? E3 is an enormous expense for such companies — not just the millions spent on show floor space, booth construction and staffing, but in the resource commitment involved in getting demos ready in time. And when everyone is clustered together in the same place, at the same time, there is naturally a battle to be heard above the din.
As such I’m not sure these folks miss E3 as much as we do. Sony announced God Of War: Ragnarok’s release date the other day, in a 30-second video. On the main PlayStation YouTube channel alone it already has almost four million views. Last year’s Horizon Forbidden West gameplay unveiling has over 10m. How inclined will Sony be to spend millions on returning to the new-look E3, when the organisers are already talking about broadening the show’s focus, and diluting viewer attention even further?
This is the greatest challenge facing ReedPop as it sets about reinventing the greatest show on planet videogames. It is far from the only circle in need of squaring, sure. But whatever ReedPop does in rebalancing E3’s trade-show component with the desire to open elements of it to the public, or in broadening the show’s range beyond triple-A blockbuster console games, will count for little if the major players aren’t involved.
Chris makes a great point in his piece, about that timeworn post-show question: who won E3? “It’s a fun question to answer as a journalist, but not as an event organiser,” he writes. “Because if the answer isn’t ‘everybody’, you’ve probably not done a good enough job.” Quite. Couldn’t have put it better myself (ugh).
Obviously I hope, for reasons both professional and personal, that they pull it off, but the more I think about it, the harder a job it seems. But yes, fingers crossed it gets done, and that I’m able to get on a plane and see it for myself. Should probably start pushing paid subscriptions a bit harder, eh. Apologies in advance.