Both Nintendo and Microsoft remain committed to the effectiveness of the E3 video game expo held each year in Los Angeles, despite news first reported by Variety that PlayStation’s decision to not attend next year’s show.
“E3 is an outstanding opportunity for us to share new games and experiences with fans and business partners from across the globe,” Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America President and COO, said in a prepared statement. “Every year, we discuss what will be the best way for us to take advantage of the next E3 show in order to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, said, “E3 is an incredible platform to showcase the vibrancy and creativity of the video game industry. The ESA continues to expand the event’s reach to fans and the industry, both in attendance and online, and we look forward to what’s ahead at E3 2019.”
This year’s show generated more than 2.9 million concurrent viewers on Twitch, 15 million tweets, 55 million Facebook interactions and 69 million views of video game trailers from the show on YouTube.
While the show’s online presence continues to grow, it’s physical footprint shrinks in some ways and changes in others. The evolution of the show isn’t new, it’s been changing slowly since it launched in 1995. Initially held at the L.A. Convention Center, the second year of the show saw a Japanese version, and in 1997 and 1998 the show moved to Atlanta, Georgia.
The show stayed in L.A. from 1999 to 2007 when concerns about the escalating cost and one-upmanship of the show lead to a drastic downsizing and move to Santa Monica. That show was so poorly received that the ESA moved it back to LA in 2008 but still tried to maintain a summit approach, which also failed.
In 2009, a smaller E3 returned and the show continued to slowly grow again. Where attendance started at 40,000 in 1995, peaked at 70,000 in 2005 and then was deliberately cut to 10,000 for the summit years, it returned to the 40,000 range in 2009. By 2016, the show was up to 50,000 and in 2017, the ESA’s board — made up of many of the major developers and publishers of the game industry — decided to open the doors to the public. Attendance jumped to 68,000 that year and nearly 70,000 last year.
The major difference, though, was where the original E3s were mostly focused on a single convention center packed with booths and meeting rooms, the new E3 now has events in locations around the convention center and the show floor, once the crown jewel of the tradeshow, continues to dwindle.
Last year, Ubisoft has for a number of years held an offsite side event for fans. EA, last year, held a fan-focused event away from the show, but during the same week. And Microsoft took over the nearby Microsoft Theater at L.A. Live. The ESA also created a series of talks for fans to attend, that doesn’t take place at the convention center. The result is a show that feels smaller and more spread out and a show floor that seems almost empty compared to the show’s prime days where booths became so boisterous — one year featured a fire act from Burning Man — that companies filed noise complaints against one another with the association.
In deciding to not attend E3 in 2019, PlayStation seemed to lean on Nintendo’s announcement year’s ago that it was changing its own approach to E3. While the company behind the Switch does attend E3, its showing is a much more focused affair developed around a stronger online presence and less on-site fanfare. Instead of packing its booth with a library of games, the company often creates wonderous set pieces built around a single game meant more to entertain than sell gamers on its creations.
Sony seems interesting in exploring its own options after last year’s press conference which was viewed by many to be anemic and slightly confused.
“As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community,” according to its statement. “PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.”
The decision also creates some concern about the company’s short-term library of games for the PlayStation 4. It announced earlier this year that a lack of playable titles was why it wasn’t going to host a fan event in December. One strong possibility is that PlayStation is preparing for the roll-out of the next console, something that would lead to a drop in current-gen development internally and perhaps a decision to hold their cards back for a major reveal event outside of E3, when the news can get all of the attention.
The Entertainment Software Association, the board of which includes PlayStation, remains optimistic about its trade show.
“E3 2018 broke records, and we sold out of both exhibit space and attendee badges,” said Stanley Pierre-Louis, interim CEO of ESA. “We are confident that, through the continued creative innovations delivered by our participating member companies, E3 2019 will deliver the same kind of excitement and energy. This year, we’re looking forward to expanding E3 beyond the walls of the LACC and connecting gamers and attendees with incredible video game content throughout the entire LA Live complex.”
While the show is certainly going to continue for the near term, the landscape of media has changed so dramatically that even providing a gathering place for the press seems increasingly unnecessary and using the event to draw national attention to video games during a time when that happens organically feels forced.