Back in January, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced that it had canceled plans for the return of an in-person E3. The news came as Omicron concerns lingered following the end of the holiday season. Today, the organization confirmed reports that the 2022 version of the gaming show is not happening in any form.
The ESA insists that another setback doesn’t spell full disaster for the show, which has traditionally been held at the Los Angeles Convention Center every June. Rather, it insists that a year of retooling will serve to improve next year’s planned hybrid event.
“We will devote all our energy and resources to delivering a revitalized physical and digital E3 experience next summer,” the organization said in a statement. “Whether enjoyed from the show floor or your favorite devices, the 2023 showcase will bring the community, media, and industry back together in an all-new format and interactive experience.”
Prior to the pandemic, interest in the show has ebbed and flowed over the years. After significantly scaling down in 2006, the show returned to the LA Convention Center in 2009. In 2017, the traditionally trade-only event opened to the public. Three years later, Sony announced that it would not be keynoting at the show, years after EA and Nintendo had made similar moves — though the latter has stuck to a virtual presentation to coincide with the event.
COVID-19 shut down the show altogether in 2020, while the following year found it hosting a scaled-down, online-only event.
“Our members look to the ESA to deliver an experience that revitalizes the event in a new and exciting way,” the ESA adds. “That’s why we are using this time to shape plans for 2023 and are working with our members to ensure that the revitalized showcase sets a new standard for hybrid industry events and fan engagement.”
As companies continue to focus on their own launches and a public warms to virtual events, it remains to be seen what form that will take.
If you’re like me, you spent the weekend longing for the mixed bag that is downtown Los Angeles during E3. I’ve got fond memories of fish tacos, The Last Bookstore, watching playoff basketball in garishly lit hotel lobbies and, of course, video game press conference after video game press conference.
For a second year in a row, the show’s gone all virtual, owing to…well, you know, that pesky virus that has defined the past year and a half of our lives. Last year’s show was canceled altogether (though a handful of companies still kept to the schedule). Show organizers simply didn’t think they would be able to pull together a digital event — and frankly, it’s probably for the best that they understood those limitations.
The 2021 event, which kicked off on Saturday, marks the first all-virtual version of the event. For the time being, it’s also the last. Mayor Eric Garcetti kicked off the show by announcing that E3 would return to the LA Convention Center in 2022.
Gaming had a banner 2020, and while growth has slowed, as parts of the world look forward to a post-pandemic life, things are still growing. Some well-timed numbers from NPD this morning point to a 3% year-over-year growth for May 2021, as spending on gaming rose to $4.5 billion. Year-to-date, things are up 17%.
The timing of last year’s canceled event was certainly unfortunate from a hardware standpoint. Console refreshes are massive events at E3. 2020 gave us the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Announcements were relegated to Sony and Microsoft’s own events. That meant the companies were able to draw things out — revealing small details, piece by piece, rather than saving everything for the big show. It’s a strategy that lends itself much better to virtual presentations and blog posts than it does big conventions.
Congrats to @XboxP3 and the whole team on a great showcase. Great time to be a gamer
Sony is sitting this one out, too. While it’s entirely possible the company will be holding a big, virtual State of Play event at some point this summer, it won’t be tied to E3. Still, some Sony execs like PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst used the opportunity congratulate Microsoft on “a great showcase” on Twitter. So that’s a nice thing.
Thus far, Microsoft is the only one of the big three to present at the event. Nintendo will be holding a Treehouse event tomorrow. The Switch Pro could be on tap for the event, with an upgraded OLED display and internals. That would likely also mean a bunch of upgraded content for the new version of the four-year-old console.
Microsoft, meanwhile, went big on games. Understandable, given the recent launch of the Series X. And, let’s face it, these virtual events are perfectly suited for playing a whole bunch of trailers. The company showcased 30 games (and a fridge) in all. Of those, 27 will be part of the Xbox Game Pass, in case you had any doubt about what the future of gaming on the Xbox will look like. The event was framed as a combination Xbox and Bethesda showcase, having acquired the publisher earlier this year.
“Our growing family of 23 studios is devoted to advancing the medium we all love,” the company writes, “so we were happy to share that now through the end of the year, you can look forward to back-to-back monthly releases coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one, led by a record five new titles from Xbox Game Studios this holiday, including Halo Infinite.”
Halo Infinite got a trailer and some in-game multiplayer footage. The latest version of the beloved Xbox mainstay is arriving this holiday season.
Starfield will be arriving November 11 [deep breath] 2022. The expansive space title will be an Xbox exclusive at launch.
Forza Horizon 5 will arrive in November. The latest installment of the popular racing series is set in Mexico.
In a no-brainer crossover event, Sea of Thieves will be teaming up with Pirates of the Caribbean for gameplay featuring Captain Jack Sparrow and others.
Age of Empires IV got an extended trailer and release date: October 28.
Battlefield 2042 got its first gameplay, including a sweet new wing suit.
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator will be hitting the new Xboxes on July 27th, along with a Top Gun expansion pack. That’s in honor of Top Gun: Maverick, which is apparently still coming out at some point.
Square Enix also held its customary big showcase on Sunday. The publisher will be releasing a bunch of new Marvel titles. Highlights include:
The long-awaited Guardians of the Galaxy. The adventure title is set to launch this October.
Marvel’s Avenger, meanwhile, will be getting the Black Panther-themed expansion pack, War for Wakanda. That’s arriving in August.
It wouldn’t be a Square Enix event without a Final Fantasy spinoff, right? The perennial favorite RPG is birthing Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, which arrives on a slew of different platforms next year.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, made waves on Saturday with a first look at the new Avatar adaptation, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Extraction is due out on September 16. Originally titled Rainbow Six: Quarantine, the name was changed for obvious reasons.
Capcom and Take-Two will showcase tonight, followed by Nintendo Direct and Bandai Namco tomorrow. On Thursday, EA is set to hold its own Play Live event. Meanwhile, here’s some video of that new Xbox fridge. Who said there wasn’t any new hardware?
Another major tech show has fallen victim to COVID-19 concerns. Rumors around E3’s cancelation began swirling around last night, with a number of publications reporting from sources close to the show.
Governing body the Entertainment Software Association made the news official. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, the ESA noted,
After careful consultation with our member companies regarding the health and safety of everyone in our industry – our fans, our employees, our exhibitors and our longtime E3 partners – we have made the difficult decision to cancel E3 2020, scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles.
Following increased and overwhelming concerns about the COVID-19 virus, we felt this was the best way to proceed during such an unprecedented global situation. We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event for our fans and supporters. But we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have today.
Our team will be reaching out directly to exhibitors and attendees with information about providing full refunds.
Held in Los Angeles during the summer, E3 continues to be one the world’s premier gaming shows. But struggles roughly a decade ago found the event transforming into a far leaner trade show, opening the doors to a number of competitors in the process. While it has managed to rebound to some degree, thanks in part to the decision to open its doors to the gaming public, E3’s bottom line. Such a move could ultimately have a profound effect on the show’s future, moving forward.
Even with Sony’s decision to skip the show being announced back in January, 2020 was shaping up to be a big year for the event, with next generation versions of both the PlayStation and Xbox due out by year’s end.
E3 is just the latest in a long line of tech shows that have closed up shop for the year, beginning with Mobile World Congress last month. Likely many will following Nintendo’s longstanding tradition of making announcements via webcast. The question for E3’s organizers, is whether those companies who move to an online approach will ultimately return in 2021.
The ESA is “exploring options” around offering elements of the event online.
Sony Interactive Entertainment will skip E3 again this year and participate instead in “hundreds of consumer events across the globe,” the company told GamesIndustry.biz today. The company, which is preparing to launch the PlayStation 5 before this holiday season, missed the show for the first time last year, after two decades of being one of its biggest exhibitors.
A Sony Interactive spokesperson told GamesIndustry.biz that the company has “great respect for the ESA as an organization, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.” Instead, it will “build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of of consumer events across the globe.”
As TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey noted last year, Nintendo hasn’t held a formal E3 press conference in years, but still has a booth where attendees can play their games and hosts a live stream. Before skipping the event last year, Sony used E3 to debut new consoles and flagship games, though focusing on other events gives it more flexibility for when it announces major news.
TechCrunch has contacted Sony Interactive and ESA, the organizers of E3, for comment.
The Entertainment Software Association issued an apology of sorts after making available the contact information for more than 2,000 journalists and analysts who attended this year’s E3.
“ESA was made aware of a website vulnerability that led to the contact list of registered journalists attending E3 being made public,” the organization said via statement. “Once notified, we immediately took steps to protect that data and shut down the site, which is no longer available. We regret this this occurrence and have put measures in place to ensure it will not occur again.”
It’s not clear whether the organization attempted to reach out to those impacted by the breach.
In a kind of bungle that utterly boggles the mind in 2019, the ESA had made available on its site a full spreadsheet of contact information for thousands of attendees, including email addresses, phone numbers and physical addresses. While many or most of the addresses appear to be businesses, journalists often work remotely, and the availability of a home address online can present a real safety concern.
After all, many gaming journalists are routinely targets of harassments and threats of physical violence for the simple act of writing about video games on the internet. That’s the reality of the world we currently live in. And while the information leaked could have been worse, there’s a real potential human consequence here.
That, in turn, presents a pretty compelling case that the ESA is going to have a pretty big headache on its hands under GDPR. Per the rules,
In the case of a personal data breach, the controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it, notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority competent in accordance with Article 55, unless the personal data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons. Where the notification to the supervisory authority is not made within 72 hours, it shall be accompanied by reasons for the delay.
There is, indeed, a pretty strong argument to made that said breach could “result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.” Failure to notify individuals in the allotted time period could, in turn, result in some hefty fines.
It’s hard to say how long the ESA knew about the information, though YouTuber Sophia Narwitz, who first brought this information to light publicly, may have also been the first to alert the organization. The ESA appears to have been reasonably responsive in pulling the spreadsheet down, but the internet is always faster, and that information is still floating around online and fairy easily found.
VentureBeat notes rightfully that spreadsheets like these are incredibly valuable to convention organizations, representing contact information some of the top journalists in any given industry. Many will no doubt think twice before sharing this kind of information again, of course.
Notably (and, yes, ironically), the Black Hat security conference experienced a similar breach this time last year. It chalked the issue up to a “legacy system.”
Hey, weekend readers. This is Week-in-Review where I get hopped up on caffeine and give a heavy amount of analysis on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.
Last week, I railed on Google’s new Stadia game streaming platform. The injection of competition into the tired PlayStation/Xbox gaming rivalry is certainly welcome, but Google is making such a concerted play into a tight niche that it’s hard to imagine them following through. I got some great emails and DMs with a lot of good back-and-forth, most notably pointing out that I didn’t give Google credit for some of the details they did give on multi-player, I also got some less helpful responses, but hey, I guess I’m the one that asked for the feedback.
Alright, onto new things. Actually, let’s dig into my week at the E3 gaming expo. I swear this isn’t only a gaming newsletter, but let’s talk forever franchises…
I spent the past few days on the show floor of the conference checking out what the latest and greatest gaming trends were, what I saw looked pretty familiar though.
Entrenched franchises are a special kind of force in the gaming industry.
Walking around it was wild how so many of these studios are coasting off of 20 or 30-year-old characters and storylines. Sega had a massive booth this year showing off some reskinned Sonic the Hedgehog shit. Watching the Square Enix keynote was a special kind of hell, I admittedly do not have a very religious connection to the studio, but their announcements were all related to reboots, rehashes or remasters. Nintendo, which I dearly love, dug into the success of Breath of the Wild by promising a direct sequel for the title, something that’s a bit unusual for the Zelda series, Jesus, even Animal Crossing is nearly a 20-year franchise at this point! Every large booth dragged gamers’ attention to something derivative.
This obviously isn’t some sort of breaking news, but as the years stretch on from the gaming industry’s conception, it’s fascinating to see how the founding franchises are keeping their shine.
What’s fascinating is how this impacts the boom and bust life cycles of game studios and massive publishers. While larger movie studios need to constantly be vetting new tentpole franchises, once game studios find a hit they join this club of mainstays where the marks of success become more dependent on creative execution rather than creativity itself. This can make life pretty profitable for studios like Rovio that strike gold and can spend a decade milking their former glory and fading out, but it’s still fascinating.
It also makes the introduction of new IP such a nerve-racking, high stakes process. You look at someone like Hideo Kojima and the buzz Sony has been trying to build around Death Stranding and you just realize how insanely complex it is to craft a hit with nothing but marketing and talking head hype. Word of mouth and network effects build these franchises over time, but there’s so much invested beforehand and for new IP, it’s hard to guarantee a winner.
Why does Toy Story fade after a few films but a singular piece of gaming IP can suck hundreds of hours out of a gamer’s life over several releases? I’d imagine being able to hold a role in the progression of a character fosters a closer bond with the user, gameplay can be dozens of hours long but more often than not the storyline is pretty straight-forward leading you to fill in the blanks, which can be powerful. Games are fundamentally more than just stories.
But then, as I walked around and watched gameplay and cinematic trailers, I was left with the takeaway that so much of the dialogue in some of these games is garbage. When are the writers behind the “golden age of TV” going to trickle down into crafting some of these single-player campaigns? But then are more rich and rewarding storylines going to cause these franchises to have shorter shelf lives because we’ll get to know the characters too well? I don’t really know, if you work in the games industry I’d love to pick your brain.
Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
On to the rest of the week’s news.
(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Trends of the week
Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context.
Salesforce buys Tableau
Marc Benioff is known to signal Salesforce’s future via its M&A, so the company’s largest acquisition to date is probably worth taking a closer look at. Read why Salesforce is spending $15.7 billion on Seattle-based Tableau.
Samsung gets ready to re-release its Foldy phone The Galaxy Fold has had a pretty raucous life in the press and it hasn’t even successfully been released yet. Read more about its coming launch.
Musk’s Tesla submarine
It wouldn’t be a Tesla shareholder meeting if some bizarre headlines didn’t surface. Apparently Musk claims that the company has vehicle designs for a submersible Tesla based on the aquatic car from the James Bond movie. Musk said it’s technically possible to make a functioning version, but added, “I think the market for this would be small — small, but enthusiastic.” Read more here.
How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of awfulness:
Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr chatted with some venture capitalists that are investing in female fertility startups and tried to get to the bottom of what signals they search for.
“…Longer term, women’s health has a special interest: a new understanding of women’s reproductive health will generate novel insights into other domains, including longevity…”
Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week TechCrunch writers talked a bit the future of car ownership, and whether people raising venture capital should even bother dealing with associates at the firms…
Microsoft kicked things off on Sunday, and while Sony’s sitting this one out, Nintendo’s up to its old tricks. The company is once again skipping whole in-person thing in favor of its livestreamed Nintendo direct.
We don’t expect any major hardware news for the show this year, but there’s some possibility that the company may finally offer a revamped version of the Switch. More likely, however, is info on some key titles, including a new Animal Crossing game.
Mario Maker 2 and Pokemon Sword and Shield have already had their moments in the sun with their own Nintendo Direct events, so expect focus on games like the new Fire Emblem and Luigi’s Mansion 3. More information on all of the E3 2019 rumors can be found here.
E3’s just over a month away, and per usual, the news in the lead up has offered more insight into what we won’t be hearing about at the big gaming show. Late last year, Sony announced that it would be skipping its big annual press conference at the event. The move marks a key absence for the gaming giant for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, as the company will instead be “exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019.”
The sentiment should ring familiar for those who follow the gaming industry. Several years ago Nintendo made a similar move, eschewing the in-person press conference for the online Nintendo Direct “Treehouse” it uses to showcase new trailers. It’s a method Nintendo has held to ever since.
Game publisher Square Enix this week happily slid into Sony’s prime-time slot, leaving Microsoft the last of the remaining three major console makers with a press conference at the Los Angeles event. The death of shows like E3 has been overstated throughout the years, of course. These things tend to move in cycles, with much of the hype tied specifically to new system reveals.
Microsoft took the wraps off its disc-free Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” this month, leaving many wondering what the company could still have up its sleeve for the June event. Earlier this week, meanwhile, Sony batted away suggestions that the PlayStation 5 was coming soon. Details are, not surprisingly, still vague, but the company says the next-gen console won’t be arriving in the next six months.
On its earnings call, Nintendo similarly dismissed recent rumors that it would launch a low-cost version of the Switch. The console has been a wild success for the company on the heels of the disappointing Wii U, but slowing sales have pointed to Nintendo’s longstanding tradition of offering modified hardware. Rumors have largely pointed to a lower-cost version of the system that can only be played in portable mode.
None of this is to say we got some kind of preview. Companies love to tease these sorts of things out, but it does appear that the big three are tempering expectations for the show. That leaves some opening for other players — of course, E3 has long been dominated by the big three. Among the other rumors currently circulating ahead of the show is a 2-in-1 gaming tablet from Nvidia.
I like E3 . I really do. But it’s also monumentally dumb: game companies spending millions to show off essentially faked content to an increasingly jaded audience. And it’s increasingly out of step with how the gaming industry works. So it should come as no surprise that Sony will be skipping the show more or less altogether this year, joining Nintendo in taking a step back from spectacle.
Sony has been a part of CES for 20 years and this will be the first one it’s ever missed. I’ve gone to their events every time I’ve attended; I was there for their historic putdown of Microsoft after the latter announced some hugely unpopular restrictions on used games. I think you can actually see me near the front in the broadcast of that one. (You can! I’m at 1:29.)
And E3 has been a part of Sony’s yearly cadence as well. Like other companies, for years Sony hoarded information to debut at E3, TGS and Gamescom, but E3 was generally where you saw new consoles and flagship titles debut. But as even E3’s organizers have admitted over and over again, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Too often we have seen half-finished games onstage at E3 that end up cancelled before the year is out, or commitments made to dates the companies can’t possibly keep. Assigning a complex, creative industry to a yearly schedule of major announcements is a great way to burn them out, and that’s exactly what’s happening.
As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.
They won’t be alone. Nintendo hasn’t had a real proper E3 press conference in years. Instead, they host a live stream around the event and have a big booth where people mainly just play games. Their Nintendo Direct videos come out throughout the year, when the titles and developers are good and ready.
But Microsoft is also doing its own thing, announcing throughout the year and on its own terms. The Xbox One X was only hinted at during E3, and announced in full much later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft also announced they were taking it easy this year at E3 — though this might also be a good opportunity for them to double down. With the schedules these huge shows go on, they might already be committed to one course or another.
Sony actually has its own PlayStation Experience event where it announces things and lets gamers and press play the latest, but even that was cancelled ahead of its expected December date. Is Sony just getting shy?
More likely they are leveraging their dominance in the console market to be a market leader and “decider,” as they say. They have no shortage of amazing games coming out, including lots of hot-looking exclusives. What have they got to prove? Although Sony itself is not participating in E3, the developers it backs will almost certainly be there. What better way to school the competition than to not show up and still have everyone talking about you?
With the PS4 Pro out there and a solid line-up already confirmed, Sony is sitting pretty for 2019, and the company probably feels this is a safe time to experiment with “inventive opportunities to engage the community,” as the statement put it. E3 will still be big, and it will still be fun. But the trend is clear: it just won’t be necessary.
After taking a year off, I returned to E3 this week. It’s always a fun show, in spite of the fact that the show floor has come to rival Comic-Con in terms of the mass of people the show’s organizers are able to cram into the aisles of the convention center floor.
We’ve been filing stories all week, but here is a very much incomplete collection of my thoughts on this year’s show.
Zombies are still very much a thing
I’d have thought we’d have hit peak zombie years ago, but here we are, zombies everywhere. That includes the LA Convention Center lobby, which was swarming with actors decked out as the undead. There’s something fundamentally disturbing about watching gamers get pictures taken with fake, bloody corpses. Or maybe it’s just the perfect allegory for our time.
A slight adjustment in approach certainly played a role, as the company has embraced mobile gaming. But the key to Nintendo’s return was a refocus on what it does best: offering an innovative experience with familiar IP. Oh, and the GameCube controller Smash Bros. compatibility was a brilliant bit of fan service, even by Nintendo’s standards.
Quantity versus quality?
Microsoft’s event was a sort of video game blitzkrieg. The company showed off 50 titles, a list that included 15 exclusives. Sony, on the other hand, stuck to a handful, but presented them in much greater depth. Ultimately, I have to say I preferred the latter. Real game play footage feels like an extremely finite resource at these events.
Ultra violence in ultra high-def
Certainly not a new trend in gaming, but there’s something about watching someone bite off someone else’s face on the big screen that’s extra upsetting. Sony’s press conference was a strange sort of poetry, with some of the week’s most stunning imagery knee-deep in blood and gore.
Reedus ’n fetus
We saw more footage and somehow we understand the game less?
Indiecade is always a favorite destination at E3. It’s a nice respite from the big three’s packed booths. Interestingly, there were a lot more desktop games than I remember. You know, the real kind with physical pieces and no screens.
Death of a Tomb Raider
I played Shadow of the Tomb Raider on a PC in NVIDIA’s meeting space. It’s good, but I’m not good at it. I killed poor Lara A LOT. I can deal with that sort of thing when my character is in full Master Chief regalia or whatever, but those close-up shots of her face when I drowned her for the fifth time kind of bummed me out. Can video games help foster empathy or are we all just destined to desensitize ourselves because we have tombs to raid, damn it?
I saw the light
NVIDIA also promised me that its ray-tracing tech would be the most impressive demo I saw at E3 that day. I think they were probably right, so take that, Sonic Racing. The tech, which was first demoed at GDC, “brings real-time, cinematic-quality rendering to content creators and game developers.”
VR’s still waiting in the wings
At E3 two years ago, gaming felt like an industry on the cusp of a VR breakthrough. In 2018, however, it doesn’t feel any closer. There were a handful of compelling new VR experiences at the event, but it felt like many of the peripheral and other experiences were sitting on the fringes of the event — both literally and metaphorically — waiting for a crack at the big show.
Sony’s Control trailer was the highest ratio of excitement to actual information I experienced. Maybe it’s Inception the video game or the second coming of Quantum Break. I dunno, looks fun.
AR’s a thing, but not, like, an E3 thing
We saw a few interesting examples of this, including the weirdly wonderful TendAR, which requires you to make a bunch of faces so a fake fish doesn’t die. It’s kind of like version of Seaman that feeds on your own psychic energy. At the end of the day, though, E3 isn’t a mobile show.
Having said that, there are some interesting examples of cross-platform potential popping up here and there. The $50 Poké Ball Plus for the Switch is a good example I’m surprised hasn’t been talked about more. Along with controlling the new Switch titles, it can be used to capture Pokémon via Pokémon GO. There’s some good brand synergy right there. And then, of course, there’s Fortnite, which is also on the Switch. The game’s battle royale mode is a great example of how cross-platform play can lead to massive success. Though by all accounts, Sony doesn’t really want to play ball.
Video games are art. You knew that already, blah, blah, blah. But Sable looks like a freaking Moebius comic come to life. I worry that it will be about as playable as Dragon’s Lair, but even that trailer is a remarkable thing.