Was E3’s Return a Boom or Bust?

After missing out last year, E3 returned this year for an all digital event. Now that the show is over, our staff has some thoughts on how the show went this time around….

E3 2021 was a whirlwind over the last few days (blurring together with other digital events who couldn’t share), but now that the dust has settled, we wanted to take a look at how things went this year. There’s no denying that E3, in general, has been going through a number of changes over the years. While we know they’ll want to get back to in person events next year, it’s hard not to look at E3 2021 as a herald of what the future could bring.

As many on our team have had the privilege of attending a number of them in person, the switch to something all digital was definitely a big change. As such, we thought it best if each of us shared our own thoughts, good and bad, on the show.

Jordan 

There were a number of things I enjoyed about E3 2021. Being that I’m normally the one who stays home and coordinates the team on the floor, it was nice to be able to participate in some of the demos and developer chats that I normally miss out on. On top of that, the digital focus seemed to encourage more companies to dole out early (embargoed of course) press releases of announcements.

This allowed us the chance to get coverage knocked out ahead of time, rather than skipping over a bunch of stuff in the deluge that comes from the conferences. It assisted our coverage a great deal and helped alleviate some stress when the other announcements were coming in hot and heavy. Of course, it would have been nice if MORE studios would have taken part, or even attempted to make use of the E3 portal (which I barely used).

That said, the thing that stands out most about E3 this year is how muted it felt. It was fun to have the rush of announcements all in one weekend, but even so only Nintendo and Xbox seemed to really understand the assignment. Other showcases were light on content, dragged out, and generally could have been included elsewhere. Spreading it out over four days—especially without EA or Sony present—didn’t help things. In general, I don’t think the show did what it REALLY needed to do: give us a reason why E3 is still needed.

I love E3, but the various digital events that cropped up last year really showed how publishers are able to showcase their own stuff independent from E3. Hell, even before the Pandemic, Sony had already announced it wasn’t going to be part of E3 (as it hadn’t the year before), and EA has been doing its own thing for years now with EA Play. Those were noticeable absences, and even when E3 goes back to being in person, the lack of those heavy hitters would definitely bring down the experience.

That’s not to mention the digital show aspect seemed way too focused on YouTubers and Twitch personalities. I can’t think of many developer interviews held by the hosts, which allow them to really dig into the game making aspect and show their enthusiasm. Much as I loved some of the overall changes, the return of E3 didn’t wow me in the way I was hoping either.

Score: 3 Out of 5

Dustin 

One word can describe this entire E3: boring. Clearly the companies going either didn’t have anything to show, or simply didn’t take E3 serious enough to show anything. E3 is supposed to be THE show where you bring everything you got and look bigger than the person next to you. The only one really doing that this year was Microsoft, and they were punching a bear (Sony) that doesn’t bother showing up anymore anyway.

The news doesn’t come from the conferences and I’m not sure how E3 totally missed their own concept entirely. The news comes AFTER these conferences end, when Cinelinx/IGN/GameSpot/etc rush in and start asking questions, getting more details, and getting developers to spill the beans.

Why E3 didn’t cut to their hosts talking with developers immediately after showcases is absolutely beyond me. Instead they cut to skits and hosts just talking among themselves, and a bunch of “influencers” that I couldn’t care less about. I left E3 on for the most part while I worked and I couldn’t believe how much dead space that could have easily been filled with developer interviews and smaller games.

The worst thing about E3 was that signing up for it was entirely pointless. When they announced an E3 portal for media I was highly interested because I assumed it’d be like a digital convention center. Instead it was literally broken almost the entire time and it was basically just compiling lists of press contacts we could easily find on our own.

Both Microsoft and Sony offer cutting edge streaming services, we could have very easily had some type of streaming service provide demos or hands on time with games, or even utilizing Microsoft technology to create digital meeting rooms to talk with developers. The whole purpose of E3 is networking and it provided almost nothing in that regard, at all. I honestly don’t even know what the purpose was to sign up as media or, even worse, a fan. It was huge missed opportunity because it felt like almost no preparation went into this, and they had over a year to figure it out.

Overall I think E3 would have been better off just being cancelled. Make people miss it and come out with a bang when you’re prepared. Hold companies to higher standards and keep E3 on track to be THE show. This degraded E3 so badly that people are not going to care anymore because they got so hyped up and were let down, it was horrible.

Score: 1 out of 5 

Matt

In all my years of covering E3, this may have been the worst I’ve ever experienced. It felt so very uninspired and lackluster. One major reason was obviously the pandemic, which I fault no one for. That was a horrible situation for everyone, including development teams to go through.

Yet, companies still felt forced to show…something…anything, even if it was just rehashing the same footage or merely telling us something was going to happen. I applaud companies like Square Enix, Xbox, Nintendo, and indies like Devolver Digital for making the show exciting as possible. While I don’t blame other studios for having nothing to show, but I do fault them for presenting for the sake of presenting.

Another aspect of why this may have been the worst E3 so far is how the ESA handled the virtual event. There was simply no benefit of being an attendee. Virtual booths were unnecessary, there was no swag, the site itself was a mess to navigate, and with each individual developer hosting their presentations on their own personal YouTube and Twitch channels, no one really needed E3 for watching the showcases.

Speaking of watching, I think how E3 handled co-streaming was abysmal. People love co-streaming with their friends and favorite influencers during big events. They like getting their takes and adding to the conversation. This year, E3 only approved less than 100 people to co-stream the event. Why? Why not let anyone who wants to co-stream do so? It felt selected and alienated a good portion of the community, including Summer Game Fest creator and former E3 collaborator Geoff Keighley (which showed the ESA’s pettiness, as well as ignorance).

Furthermore, as media, there was even less of a benefit. During in-person E3s, media attendees are able to meet with the developers, try out the games, and even ask questions about the experience. This year, there was none of that. What the ESA should’ve done was host media sessions with individual developers to either have extended looks at games or just have them available to talk—much like the NFL and NBA do. It could’ve been a big Teams meeting where they showed things and then had a 15-minute Q&A session. This would allow more information that maybe couldn’t fit into the presentations to be conveyed to the public. The fact that they didn’t was a wasted opportunity.

Overall, last year showed companies and the public we didn’t need E3. This year, they didn’t do themselves any favors to sway that narrative, with lackluster showing. When Summer Game Fest was first announced last year, I didn’t think much of it, but after seeing how they handled the last two years, I think they’re doing it right. The shows are fun, informative, and never feel as if they’re wasting time. E3, on the other hand, feels like a shell of its former self. Perhaps E3 will be better in person, maybe next year. The in-person expo is usually a very fun experience, but it should never be virtual again, because it doesn’t appear as if they know how to handle it.

Score: 2 out of 5

SOLEB

I’m gonna make this simple, short, and sweet…This E3 was just super weird. I think we can all admit that the last two years have been hell for all of us. My first E3 was in 2018 and it was a total blast! The booths, the experience, all the games we got to play, it was everything I ever hoped it would be. When we went in 2019 it was strange not having Sony there and some of the other big companies…but it still felt like E3. This year was just, I don’t know, disconnected?

I kept hearing all these influencers and media outlets saying “this is how E3 shows should be, more social.” This did not feel social for me. Social for me is going to the event, experiencing the games hands on, meeting new people, and just having a blast. The ESA has been making the show more open to the public since I started covering the event for Cinelinx, but being just a viewer this year, the event felt very overblown for what was actually shown.

The first few days had some great games showcased, we also had two days of pretty much nothing. To my understanding, this was basically to show that E3 is still around and from what the state of California is saying, E3 2022 is set to be a live in-person event. Over the last few years, many developers have shown they can host their own showcases and it be just as successful and cost way less. I can only hope the event in person will be more exciting next year than it was digitally this year.

I totally understand the ESA only had so much to work with, but I wish it would have been more simplified instead of being stretched into a 3 to 4 day event. Have developers and companies showcase what they have back to back over a couple days rather than dragging it out over four.

We still have the rest of the summer to see games, the summer of gaming event will be going on throughout late July. EA, Playstation, and many others studios still have time to showcase what they have coming. Overall, I feel like the event just could have been much shorter and a bit more organized than what it was. Here’s hoping we will be in California next year for the return of E3 Live.

Score – 3 out of 5


Between us here at Cinelinx, E3 2021 as an event, is getting a 2.25 Out of 5. Definitely not what we were all hoping for upon the event’s return. There were plenty of great things, but the experience the ESA provided just couldn’t live up to the potential. The “virtual booths” felt barren and unnecessary, while the lack of deep dives with the developers made it feel more shallow than ever.

How would you rank this year’s E3?

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Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.