Credit: Los Angeles Convention Center

With E3 cancelled, what does a year in games look like without major events – who will suffer and who will thrive?

E3 has all but been cancelled. That follows GDC’s announcement of an indefinite postponement. The news cycle, in the UK and Europe at least, will now move onto the viability of local shows, such as EGX Rezzed, before building to a crescendo again over Gamescom.

I’m not here to make any rational argument on whether those shows will go ahead. The future, especially when relating to the social and economic fallout of coronavirus, is simply too uncertain. I certainly wish all such event organisers the best of luck – I planned to attend most major events this year and I still will where possible.

But with E3 gone and the rest under growing threat, it makes sense to look at what the games industry would look like without them, both in 2020, and beyond.

Now E3 is still a big deal, despite its many detractors. The loss of key meetings, and the generation of business through those meetings and deals, cannot be entirely replaced by Skype calls from our offices. The industry’s global growth will be negatively impacted by its cancellation. Although thankfully, in the digital-era, much of the busy-work of business can continue without huge disruption.

More worryingly, E3’s cancellation takes hundreds of thousands of hours of hands-on time out of the calendar and thousands of hours of video and written content based on that is lost too. And those issues will only be compounded as more consumer-related events fall, be they ones actually attended by consumers, or events that have big global press coverage, which help sell consumers in on particular titles for the post-summer release binge.

Now some of that lost coverage could be reclaimed using a number of methods. For those countries/regions where coronavirus remains relatively contained, then local press events could still be run. After all E3 might not be viable, but a handful of journalists could still easily attend an event, at present at least. But that’s lots of events.

Another possibility is that more publishers go down the console demo route. It’s become increasingly popular again in recent years, though creating (and getting certified) a public release demo is a lot more work than one that runs on dev-kits with staff overseeing it. Still it’s an option.

“It’s especially bad this year, when console details will take up time in the platform-holders shows, leaving less time for third-party games to shine.”

Finally, and most obviously, resources will be thrown into platform and publisher-specific live streams. Expect everyone to have their own ‘event stream’ to try and get their lineup seen without the need to gather all those journos and influencers.

All of those options point to one simple outcome. The platforms and big publishers, those with the resources, will cope and everyone else will suffer. Smaller players rely more on big events to pull everyone together – PlayStation skipping E3 being a perfect example of getting big enough that you can call your own shots.

If you can’t pull in a big audience to your own stream, then you’ll need to find someone to work with. It’s especially bad this year, when console details will take up time in the platform-holders shows, leaving less time for third-party games to shine. For smaller publishers who can only dream of such opportunities, then banding together with like-minded competitors, or seeing if third-parties, such as IGN or Geoff Keighley, take up the torch with virtual showcases.

The lack of actual events will test a number of presumptions. First, we’ll see how well the data-driven, analytical marketing of recent years can stand up without the softer real world stuff. And we’ll see the wisdom of the biggest players having increasingly centralised and globalised their comms capabilities in recent years.

Also, expect the cost of reaching gamers through digital marketing to rise and rise, as everyone retargets their spend online.

Looking to the future, those who have repeatedly attacked E3 will get to see what the industry will look like without it, for a year at least. I don’t think that E3 will benefit from such an enforced hiatus. It’s not Glastonbury, demand won’t grow due to a year off, the show continued to serve a purpose and the games it would have promoted won’t be around next year to play their festival set then, so to speak.

Slow improvements were what E3 needed, not an entire year’s lost income. The show may sit uneasily between consumer and B2B event, but Gamescom seems to straddle both, and E3 could do the same. In an era of YouTube and Twitch, it may never return to its heyday of keynote exclusivity, but that’s no bad thing.

Let’s just hope that this enforced experiment in an E3-less future doesn’t overly damage so many of the companies that have continued to support it, and other events, over the years.

And for comment from around the industry…

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