With E3 2020 now officially canceled, we may very well be looking at the first-ever fully online E3 2020 conference this year. This is due to the coronavirus outbreak that has been canceling conventions left and right. That’s surely a disappointment for the general public (nevermind the press, developers, and publishers), but shifting to an online-only E3 could also be the best move for the digital age.
What is the E3 2020 conference?
If you’re only casually familiar with the gaming world, you’d likely still have heard of E3. Simply put, it’s like the Superbowl for gaming. Originally, the Electronics Entertainment Expo was a closed event. Only game developers, publishers, and members of the press had access to the show floor; they would take what they learned there and write about the upcoming games for gaming magazines.
The dawn of the digital age saw each company’s presentation broadcast over the internet, and it wasn’t long before the show was opened to the public. Previously only open to exhibitors, press, and notable individuals in the gaming industry, E3 has been a public (albeit paid) event since 2017, but we may soon see things shift back to a closed event in a sense.
The coronavirus makes an online E3 2020 conference the best choice
If you’re wondering why this year’s conference is canceled, it’s all due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus. Without going into extreme detail, it’s a virus that is akin to the flu but a little more severe.
As a result of the high level of contagiousness of the virus and the growing mortality rate attached to it, large events have been canceled worldwide in order to prevent it from spreading. E3 is the latest to go after GDC and PAX East were also both canceled.
However, considering E3’s shift away from its origins in recent years to a more public-focused event, the shift to an online show in general might not be so much of a bad idea.
The Nintendo Direct way of doing things
As anyone who has used their web services can tell you, Nintendo hasn’t been the best at adapting to the digital age. Its “friend code” system is an annoyance compared to simpler social media settings in other gaming ecosystems, and its digital offerings and websites have taken some time to get better. But the one online area in which Nintendo has excelled is in its Nintendo Direct presentations.
Nearly ten years ago, the very first Nintendo Direct was held and former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé spoke directly to the consumer. Since then, Nintendo (and other companies) have made many of their biggest announcements through videos or live streams, often working with the press to simultaneously launch a wave of news pieces, opinions, and hands-on features.
Granted, sitting at home and watching doesn’t quite have the same spectacle — but what are we missing, really?
In-person events are largely unnecessary
I’ve been to my fair share of conventions and hands-on events, both as a regular attendee and a member of the press. I’m not fond of traveling or big cities as a general rule. I often find myself thinking, “Do I really need to be here?”
Chatting with developers or publishers can easily be done with video conferencing. Time-limited game demos can be provided via every modern digital gaming service, so that’s covered, too — note how The Game Festival let players try unreleased Steam games during last year’s The Game Awards.
Really, the only thing that can’t be done at an online E3 2020 conference is trying hardware hands-on — but that can just as easily be handled at a smaller, press-focused conference or through a series of private events.
When it comes to playing upcoming games and getting the latest information, an in-person conference has been effectively unnecessary for a while now. There is only one thing that can’t really be replicated in an online E3 2020 conference: socialization.
As the coronavirus crisis grew in the gaming world, I noted several trends amongst industry professionals. Of course, many of them were upset or disappointed that they couldn’t show off their newest game, but many were just as upset that they wouldn’t get to mingle with their friends.
That goes for the regular public, too. I fondly recall my “con friends” that I would see once every year at Otakon. Sometimes, the best way to bring people together is a party, and a convention (of any type) is effectively that: one big party centered on some kind of professional or entertainment theme.
An online E3 2020 conference will be disappointing for people hoping to get a drink with their professional colleagues or see their friends. But when it comes to the games and the latest news, I don’t think we’ll really miss out on much.