There’s buzz about a theoretical E3 2022.
First, let’s face facts: It’s not happening. The rumor that’s floating right now around is mostly based on some chatter from GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb, who mentioned during a recent podcast that Microsoft is planning for an “E3-style” event in June. But even if something called “E3” gets announced, it’s not the in-person exhibition that was already cancelled back in January.
The show has suffered in recent years, and not just because of the ongoing pandemic. The proliferation of high-quality video streaming has made it easy for publishers to share news with the public on their own terms, removed from the all-consuming buzz of gaming’s biggest U.S. trade show. Electronic Arts has been doing its own event near E3 but not at the show itself since 2016. Other major names like Nintendo and Microsoft have also scaled back their presence in other ways.
The show’s organizer, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has also had its share of troubles. The industry group has struggled to regain the trust of the press and influencer community after a shockingly careless leak of attendee data in 2019. And new competition from the likes of Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest and IGN’s Summer of Gaming has joined old standbys like PAX and Gamescom, giving publishers more places to go to make waves with their news during the pre-holiday summer months of what is traditionally trade show season for video games.
While all of this has been going on, however, cloud gaming capabilities have leveled up repeatedly. Stadia has had its share of struggles as a business, but Google’s cloud gaming service, along with competitors like Amazon’s Luna, capably deliver on the promise of high-end gaming streamed straight to your device (bandwidth permitting).
There’s no reason that cloud-based game previews can’t be opened up for a wider audience.
For someone like me who works on the press side of the industry, I’ve had closer experiences than most with the true power of this technology. Multiple major publishers rely on cloud gaming services like Parsec to bring me the hands-on preview experience at home. It’s fantastic.
From my perspective as a full-time remote worker, streaming a game preview to my home computer is a welcome alternative to shlepping off to meetings that are a two-hour commute away. And from the publisher perspective, the security benefit speaks for itself: No one can pirate a playing experience that is managed remotely, by the publisher. They flip a switch and it’s game over, literally.
There’s no technical reason that cloud-based game previews can’t be opened up for a wider audience. Even if it’s not under an “E3” banner, publishers have lots to gain and little to lose by letting you and your friends check out the kind of polished gameplay demonstration that gets trotted out at trade shows.
At the behind the scenes level, lots of demo experiences are projects unto themselves that stand apart from the ongoing work of building whatever game. If all that extra work is happening anyway, why not put it in front of more people? Reading a preview that someone else has written isn’t nearly as instructive as playing the polished demo that write-up is derived from yourself.
Publishers have often shied away from showing off unfinished work to people who aren’t industry professionals. Which is totally fair: Games that aren’t finished are usually a hotbed of bugs and unexpected issues. Those who work in the industry understand and make allowances for that before forming a judgment.
But as loud as the community can sometimes be, gamers are a pretty plugged in bunch. The proliferation of “early access” games — which is to say, titles that are released unfinished, often at a reduced price, and developed as feedback comes in — and public beta tests in recent years has helped people better understand the process that unfolds as a game comes together.
In 2022, you don’t need to be an industry professional to “get it.” Game makers have been implicitly teaching their audiences how the development process works for a very long time. They’ve even monetized it in some cases, turning something like access to a public beta test into the stuff of pre-order bonuses.
Now, bring that thinking to the trade show circuit. Anyone can stream Electronic Arts’ slate of reveals in the publisher’s annual EA Play broadcast. But what if you could, for a small fee, sign up for some kind of “VIP access” that would open the door to hands-on opportunities as well?
The premise I’m attacking this from is “publishers should do this,” but truly, I think it’s only a matter of time before it actually happens. Cloud gaming has already changed the landscape for preview access in the press, with the switch away from in-person meetings opening them up to a wider range of people. It’s not a far leap to imagine similar opportunities being offered to the general public, especially in a world where things like Steam Next Fest already exists.
Don’t forget, E3 was never a public event… until it started transforming into one in 2016. So whether or not that specific trade show comes back, the thinking that’s always guided it — a festival of video game reveals and previews — can now be extended from insiders-only to outsiders as well in a way that hasn’t been possible before. Here’s hoping our favorite publishers seize the opportunity sooner rather than later.