Image: Kobe / Pexels

Yesterday the news came that E3 2023 is officially cancelled.

The writing had been on the wall for a couple of months. Despite the ESA and ReedPop's stated intentions to "reunite the industry" with a new vision of the hallowed yet ailing industry event, hopes of a "return to form" were arguably dashed the moment the big three — Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo — confirmed that they wouldn't be attending the revamped expo this year. [Full disclosure: Nintendo Life and its Hookshot Media sister sites are partnered with ReedPop.]

Plans would continue — however notionally — but to any industry onlooker, E3 2023 was pretty much dead in the water from that moment. How can you hope to 'reunite the industry' when the three main platform holders turned down the invitation?

Ubisoft then decided to "move in a different direction" shortly before Sega and Tencent confirmed they were skipping. With a lack of big publishers on the books, the outcome was all but inevitable. You know you're in trouble when even Ubisoft declines to dust off the Just Dance Panda suit for your show.

All the while, Geoff Keighley has been sitting back, phone in hand, not believing his luck, with his best pal Reggie joining in on some gentle E3 ribbing. Keighley's Summer Game Fest alternative to the ESA's offering has been building momentum and becoming more refined over three years now. And it was in desperate need of refinement; the 2020 debut was an interminably bloated, season-long mishmash of semi-affiliated shows and overlapping announcements that was tough to parse even if you had your finger on the pulse.

E3 Crowd
Image: ESA

However, given the logistical issues of the pandemic, Keighley did a fair job of wrangling disparate digital showcases under one banner in a hectic period. More significantly, he laid the groundwork for subsequent years. Responding to criticism, the 2021 event was shaved down to six weeks, and the 2022 version took direct aim at E3 (which was cancelled again, of course) with a four-day event running from 9th June featuring an impressive lineup of publishers. SGF 2022 also catered to industry and media with a dedicated in-person event, Play Days, that gave journalists the chance to play and report on many of the announced titles.

With Summer Game Fest juxtaposing nicely with The Game Awards in December — which nominally feature awards, but increasingly just feels like 'Winter E3' — and having partnered with Gamescom in late August, you've got to hand it to Keighley. He's done a tremendous job of wrapping up the gaming calendar for himself while the ESA fumbles on the floor with its trousers around its ankles. He's an enthusiastic and, crucially, competent MC for the industry.

Speaking with, ESA president and CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis acknowledges that the industry's marketing needs "started evolving even before the COVID-19 pandemic" yet the ESA was exceptionally slow in responding to those changing times. He talks about "providing a platform that works for the needs of the industry" if E3 is to continue, needs that are "evolving." Asked directly if there is a plan for E3 to return in 2024, Pierre-Louis responds:

"We're committed to providing an industry platform for marketing and convening but we want to make sure we find that right balance that meets the needs of the industry. We're certainly going to be listening and ensuring whatever we want to offer meets those needs and at that time, we will have more news to share."

Evolving landscapes, changing habits, new consumer engagement models, yadda yadda. In truth, this has been the case for a decade or more at this point, and it's the ESA's failure to evaluate and evolve the show years ago that's arguably to blame for its demise now. Ironically, it was Nintendo that blazed the trail in demonstrating how an online, tailored presentation targeting your audience Direct-ly could engage and communicate with customers without the expense and logistical headaches (or the risk of embarrassing on-stage gaffes) that come with a live presentation to a conference room of journalists.

E3 needed a total overhaul, one that offered a unique and compelling opportunity for ESA members to make the investment worthwhile. Sony has had rocky relations with the ESA for several years, and sheer timetabling must have factored into Nintendo's lack of enthusiasm. If Tears of the Kingdom was coming in July, say, a June blowout may have made more sense. Much as we like Pikmin, it simply doesn't have that kind of mainstream draw and Nintendo isn't going to be hurried into announcing something else until it's good and ready.

And with the gaming calendar already bulging with in-person events, a simpler consumer-focused expo (a 'Summer PAX' if you like) would never have gotten off the drawing board, certainly not with Keighley Fest going on just down the road.

The 'death' of E3 has been a protracted one, then. It was in very poor health back in 2020, but there was always a glimmer of hope in our hearts — fueled by nostalgia for the most part — that there was a path back to relevancy for this particular event. Right now, that seems impossible, and with Summer Game Geoff grabbing the wheel, perhaps that's just fine.

Image: ESA

However, somewhere deep in our gaming hearts, there will always be a tiny spark of excitement whenever that letter and that number are mentioned in unison.

Farewell, E3.

Do you think this is the end of the line for E3?