Annual events are among the best parts of any entertainment-based industry. Conventions, tournaments, festivals, trade events and more: they’re the all-important bursts of energy which keep an industry vibrant and our calendars interesting. We know that many of you are turning to online hotspots like Penn Bets to keep your routine exciting, places where you can feel the thrill of blackjack, slots and the roulette wheel from the comfort of your own home. Over in videogame land, though, we're always looking forward to the next big event to look forward to. These events generate buzz, cause discussion and bring people together. That is to say, they’re incredibly important to the health of their respective industries.
We’re still figuring out what’s going to happen to our beloved industry events in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world was already heading in an increasingly digital direction; major companies were already leading the charge away from centralised gaming events, but the pandemic seems to have accelerated that dramatically.
E3, for example, possibly the most well-known trade event in modern gaming, was cancelled last year and could be going virtual this year. While this will make it more accessible for members of the public, there’s no denying that something will be lost in the digitisation process. Something will be missing without the energy of crowds, the sight of grand displays and the allure of extravagant theatrics that made up the spirit of E3. The way I describe it makes the whole thing sound like a show, and that’s because, in many ways, it was. The “wow” factor of the Half-Life 2 reveal, the shock of Keanu Reeves walking into the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation and the endlessly quotable Reggie Fils-Aime appearances are looked back upon by gamers with the same warm emotions that are evoked by thinking back on classic pieces of fiction. It was theatre, there are no two ways about it.
Of course, none of that magic, none of the unique appeal is worth putting lives at risk. There’s a reason 2020 saw the cancellation of just about every physical event under the sun: human lives are simply more important than flashy videogame announcements, or anything else for that matter.
And that’s not the only reason physical events are going the way of the dodo: major companies are seeing fewer and fewer reasons to invest millions of dollars into them when they receive the same benefit from hosting their own modest digital events. Just look at the aforementioned Nintendo Direct showcases. Nintendo still generates massive amounts of attention all over the globe with those streams. What’s more, it doesn’t have to compete with any other company and only needs to pay a fraction of what it shells out for a typical E3 appearance.
So, will E3 suffer by going digital? Most likely. Will the industry suffer? That’s not such an easy answer. Small developers may struggle to get noticed without a physical event in which they can shake hands and make genuine connections. Likewise, creative partnerships may never be formed if developers are kept from mixing in one central location. On the other hand, huge physical events do feel less necessary than ever. Major publishers will never struggle to announce and promote their games as long as the internet is around. Plus, with digital events like the Steam Game Festival, there are still places where small developers can make an impression with little-to-no upfront cost.
The future isn’t clear for the games industry in this digital age, but I’m inclined to think that things are looking bright. At any rate, now isn’t the time to start opening trade show doors and welcoming in huge, densely-packed crowds—that much I’m sure of.