To paraphrase the old Vietnam-era anti-war slogan, suppose they gave an E3 and nobody came? We may find out next year, as the Entertainment Software Association has told the Washington Post that after three years away, E3 will come back as an in-person event in 2023.
"We’re excited about coming back in 2023 with both a digital and an in-person event," ESA president and CEO Stan Pierre-Louis told the site. "As much as we love these digital events, and as much as they reach people and we want that global reach, we also know that there’s a really strong desire for people to convene—to be able to connect in person and see each other and talk about what makes games great."
It's not an entirely new statement: The ESA made the same commitment in March, promising a return to Los Angeles for a "reinvigorated showcase" in 2023 that will also include a digital component. But it's an interesting bit of pushback against the many and varied online showcases that have cropped up in place of in-person events, like E3, that have been cancelled over the past few years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Major publishers, game sites, and Geoff Keighley have put together shows of various scopes to fill the void, and it's widely regarded to have been a very successful effort. The ESA, on the other hand, has struggled to even make that happen: It managed to put together a bunch of "official E3 streams" in 2021 but plans for 2022 were cancelled outright.
Still, Pierre-Louis believes there's a place for the old ways in this new world. "I think what’s great about all this experimentation is that companies of all sizes are trying to figure out what works best to promote the product and the content that they are looking to share with consumers," he said. "And I think there is a space for a physical show; I think there’s an importance of having digital reach. Combining those two, I think there is a critical element of what we think E3 can provide."
He may be right, but the ESA has a long way to go to prove it. Concerns about the pandemic have largely fallen by the wayside, but E3 now faces the even greater challenge of questions about its relevance. Individual publisher events and shows like the Summer Game Fest and The PC Gaming Show have very effectively staked out their territory; what does the ESA bring to the table that will make its once-legendary showcase event worth the bother, for exhibitors or viewers? The longer E3 is away, the easier it is to agree with Fraser's view that the event is dead, and should probably stay that way.