E3 2021 Needs to Find a Way to Stay Relevant in Changing Times

  • Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill sequels/remakes
  • Grand Theft Auto 6
  • Metroid Prime 4
  • Breath of the Wild 2
  • Starfield
  • The Elder Scrolls 6

Maybe some of those games will appear at the show in some capacity, but we’re once again in a situation where the absence of impossibility fuels unreasonable expectations which burrow their way into even cynical minds and become the standard. What’s worse is that the hype for these potential announcements is amplified in many cases by the belief that E3 2021 will be different from the various digital events that we saw throughout 2020 which were hyped to the moon in the days leading up to their premieres but rarely featured the kind of big announcements fans hoped they would. 

The fact that there’s a semi-popular belief that E3 2021 will be substantially different from recent events in that respect already suggests that not enough people have realized the situation the video game industry faces right now. As more and more games are delayed to 2022 and beyond, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on production schedules everywhere should be much clearer than it seems to be. Digital showcases weren’t underwhelming because they took place outside of E3; they were often underwhelming because studios were trying to figure out how to finish games from home while creating digital presentations from the same place. The elements that impacted the impact of those showcases are as prevalent as ever.

Even if they weren’t, pre-pandemic E3s have made it increasingly clear that those mind-blowing reveals that defined E3s of the past are becoming much rarer. Leaks, quarterly expectations, and a constant news cycle mean we rarely see a game at E3 that we didn’t already know or strongly suspect was coming. When we do (such as the reveal of The Elder Scrolls 6) it’s often for a game that is so far away that it might as well not even be confirmed. Yet, we still have fans expecting to see those games even as developers do everything in their power to tell us that they’re years away. Even those who know better find themselves weighing what we do see against the games they really want to know more about.  

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More importantly, the fact of the matter is that the video game industry is burdened by crunch culture and skyrocketing costs that often force employees to work unreasonable schedules to complete games that more often satisfy increasingly unreasonable ROI expectations than the vision of their creators or even the desire of fans. In that dangerous environment, we’ve built this monolith to gaming that seems bright to outsiders but is being propped up by the members of an overworked and sometimes unstable industry that must constantly find ways to satisfy a yearly expectation for the big new thing. 

Yet, there may be no weaker E3 tentpole than the idea of industry competition. It’s absolutely true that E3s of the past directly played into that competition element. The very first E3 was even highlighted by Sony’s surprise PlayStation release date and price announcements which essentially ended the Sega Saturn’s chances before they even got started. Subsequent years also saw companies take potshots at each other in an attempt to steal the biggest spotlight the gaming industry had. 

Now, though, we’ve got Microsoft and Nintendo working together, Sony putting PlayStation Studios games on Game Pass, and PC players laughing as they get more games than ever. It’s not that competition in the industry is gone so much as it is that companies really aren’t interested in continuing to take shots at competitors that they’re more willing to work with than ever before. What we’re often left with in the wake of E3 isn’t a debate over the best showing but a petulant justification for outdated fanboyism that rarely amounts to more than which console will get the special DLC hoodie in the next Assassin’s Creed.


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