I Am Not Ashamed to Admit I Miss E3
The writing has been on the wall for some time now. E3 was just no longer the beast of PR, announcements and hype that it used to be. Then the pandemic showed up and suddenly a show that was already struggling to prove its worth was forced to adapt, to evolve with the times. That change seems to have been a bridge too far with the cancellation of the 2022 E3 seemingly the nail in the coffin for the once all-singing, all-dancing, unstoppable mecha of gaming that was E3. Sure the organisers promise that E3 will be back in 2023 but it takes a brave (or naive) person to think that it will be the show it once was. It seems that the sun has set on the expo we once knew.
The thing is, that makes me sad and it isn’t easy to explain why. I have been writing about video games for just shy of 15 years at this point. While I am hardly a dominant or far-reaching voice, I have been writing for three generations of games consoles and countless PC upgrades and as a result, have seen a thing or two in the industry. During that time E3 was always an unalterable fact. June would come, sleep would be lost and excitement would be had. I knew that I would sell a 7 day period of my everyday life each winter to the gods of hype and dive into all the wonderful game announcements and news, eagerly lapping up the pure PR being fed directly into my cortex. E3 has always just been taken for granted and now I realise the old saying, you don’t miss what you have until it is gone, holds true.
So why was E3 so special? It is hard to point a fine point on it. Partly it was because it was just a big old melting pot of potential. We, as gamers, got the chance to see what the future of play looked like, we got to dream big, and imagine new worlds that we would one day be able to frolic in. It was partly because the entire industry seemed to get together and celebrate. Sure there was some healthy rivalry between major console manufacturers and publishers, but generally there was the prevailing theme of “Hey, how cool are games?” The big shows, all jammed together over a 3-4 day period, created this constant wave of nerdy euphoria that when you step back and think about it, is nothing more than PR induced impulses to buy, but in the moment is wonderful to simply bathe in.
For me though, the real joy of E3, the real reason I think I miss this circus of promises, spin and technological wonders is the chance to let go. Now I want to make this very clear from the outset. I love what I do as far as games writing is concerned. I find it rewarding and engaging and it is a huge part of my life. The catch to living and breathing video games however is a generally cynical nature. Writing about games gives one a somewhat jaded view of the industry as a whole and for 99% of the year, I approach things with a healthy dose of scepticism. During E3 however, that is all put aside. I allow myself to just enjoy. I am no longer Matt Hewson, Games Writer, I am Hewso, the 41-year-old nerdy dad who has loved games since he could play them. I allow myself to be excited, to be wowed, to be impressed. I am not looking for faults, for framerates or for falsehoods, I just want to enjoy the spectacle and leave the cynicism for another day.
Now we had some pretty decent filler shows this year. The Summer Game Fest, Devolver, Xbox and PC Gaming Show, all tried to fill the hole left by E3 and gave us some great looks at upcoming titles, but it wasn’t the same. The fact it wasn’t all lumped into a few days and spread over 2 weeks meant that the game journo inside me had time to reassert itself in between shows and I just couldn’t let go. I was reporting on the news, not basking in gaming glory. I realise that this is very much a niche problem. That it is a very specific issue for a very small group of people, but it is hard not to lament the loss. E3 was always seen as a goal for aspiring games journos. I know there was a bit of a blase attitude taken by people who had attended the show a few times, but for those of us yet to experience it in person, it was always the try line, something we aimed for. Now it has gone and is unlikely to return in the way we once knew is one of the biggest signs that the traditional way of doing games coverage has gone for good.
I get it, I really do. A digital event hits more targets for the publishers than any show ever could. Instead of just a hall of people, you have direct access to everyone, everywhere. It makes much more sense from both a demographic and value-for-money point of view for future announcements to be done this way. Still, I can’t help but feel we have lost one of the best annual events of the year in the process. E3 always had its problems and its issues, but one thing was undeniable. It celebrated video games like nothing else on the planet did and for that reason alone, I mourn its loss. The world of video games, to me a least, seems just a little more boring now and that is a giant shame.