E3 is like the prom of video game presentations. The who’s who is there, the music is charmingly dated, and the show floor has barely been updated since the summer of ’98. It has the exact same energy as prom where one could say “I wasn’t there, but I got all the updates and it definitely happened!”. Most events pull out the stops here; the set pieces are swinging, the lights are aflame, and the sound is…desynced? It’s no secret E3 is a hotbed of gaffes and awkward silence uncomfortable enough to make even the most hardened extroverts turn face. Like accidentally opening a bathroom door when your grandparent is occupying it, it can be heinously memorable, cringe-inducing, and somewhat makes you view grandma Gertie in a new light. For notable examples, Shigeru Miyamoto wielding the Wii remote like a lethal weapon in the presentation for Wii Music or the great Kinect failure of ’09 are the sauce gamers discuss in meticulous detail to this day.
Even still though, I personally feel the experience is hollowed without these temporary brushes with Lady Embarrassment. The modern day may be more streamlined and “convenient” with Nintendo’s use of pre-recorded announcements in the form of Nintendo Directs, but the gravity is lost, I say, when Phil Spencer is revealed to be mortal in that moment of vulnerability on stage. Indeed, even Microsoft and Sony have tried their hand at this attempt in lieu of a live, accident prone performance. As more companies adopt this model, the art form of accidental comedy is obscured in favor of the pittance of (eugh) a smooth show.
As 2020 rolled around like the inclement and volatile fireball it is, it became apparent E3’s sweeping halls would become a thing of the past (or at least, more limited in scope). The venue itself is a veritable hunting ground for disease and an easy spread of contact-based illnesses. For example, the yearly PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) event has a specific name for the sickness that arises from their proximity. The “Pax Pox” is a form of the flu that is particularly viral given the close quarters. Knowing of complications like this, it is understandable why E3 would shy away from a live event, the nation being gripped with COVID-19 and all. Given the safety of its patrons and ideally for the sake of “social distancing”, E3 2020 is being touted as a digital only event rather than in person.
As the first of these events came to pass (Sony’s Playstation 5 reveal conference), the debut was met with optimism. As of writing, we still don’t know the price, the storage, or the specs so that may be subject to change. The games shown off looked great and were met with excitement (if a bit of expectation). Overall, it was safe; no “Riiiiidge Racers” or “Giant Enemy Crab!” quips to be found. This was the ideal, silky presentation to be anticipated from an event like this. Many other companies are soon to follow suit, and the eyes fall on Microsoft and Nintendo to adhere to the same path. E3 took it’s projected adoption of a digital only format in stride.
However, in my opinion the experience from announcement/hands on display to retail product becomes diluted along this new format. The biggest evidence towards this lies entirely in the “cringe moments” to begin with. Cyberpunk 2077’s infamous Keanu Reeves segment may have been a topic of negative discussion behind our silver screens for the last few years, but that development only happened because of there being a live show (and Microsoft’s strange insistence of irrelevant celebrity star power to boost the talking point of games, a tactic that actually worked in the long run). If we never got Jamie Kennedy calling the audience “virgins”, those image macros and memes would have never spawned. The point is, E3 is a focal point that sets social media ablaze each year, and part of that component is the live moments that could be lost as we enter a purely digital age. Without Reddit and Twitter never letting Ubisoft’s attempt to meme be lived down, E3 becomes less of a social event and more of an expected news outlet at a given time each year. I say let the ridicule and memes stem from these live events; after all, everything here is a product of passion.
2020 continues to be a curse and a blessing… scratch that, it’s just been a curse. I’m certainly feeling the blues from the absence of social events like E3 and Comic-Con and hope one day for that culture to reappear. The same holds true for movie theaters, where it could be years before we get an Endgame-sized event again. Movie theaters are struggling, and though AMC hopes to open theaters up again in the coming months, the hurt is there. Will people still find it in them to go to public places again? Well, just go to your local Walmart and you’ll find the answer to that. See? There is hope.
The future of movie theaters are an interesting point of discussion. Believe me, I wrote a whole article about it. To add to that topic, the annual film festival SXSW also got Corona’d. But rather than cancelling the event altogether and bringing down the hopes and dreams of indie filmmakers, SXSW released all films on Amazon Video for a limited time event. It worked out well, with many people unable to make it to the festival now able to independently watch these movies in the comfort of their home.
So what’s the takeaway here? Well, to turn the topic back to gaming, I’d say, given the success of the PS5 reveal stream, that more and more companies might take advantage of this. New marketing techniques could arise without the risk of heckling and breaking social distancing laws. Whenever COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past, I expect digital press events and reveals to be the norm. But there is a culture to places such as E3. “Gamer Culture” sounds quite ill, but it also holds true. E3 and the Game Awards are good fun, but are simply just marketing ploys. That doesn’t make them less important, but showcases the behemoth that is gaming culture. If we move on to more and more of a digital age, can we ever go back?