All-Digital E3 Was A Mess

All-Digital E3 Was A Mess
Image: E3 / Kotaku

Another E3 has come and gone. This year’s multi-day commercial for upcoming video games sure…happened. Was it terribly exciting? No, not that we were expecting it to be. Was it downright terrible? Also no. But in failing to find its footing on an all-digital stage, E3 2021 ended up being a showcase for the many different ways that cramming a bunch of announcements into one week doesn’t really make sense anymore. On this week’s Splitscreen, we discuss what went wrong.

Ash Parrish, John Walker (Fahey was sick, so we called in his British replacement), and I begin the episode on a positive note, talking about our favourite games of the show. While nothing knocked our socks all the way off, we were intrigued by what we saw of STALKER 2, Atomic Heart, Moonglow Bay, Paralives, and a whole mess of other indies. Oh, and of course, our game of the show: the sandwich from the Starfield trailer.

Then we move into a discussion of E3 2021’s format and the weird ways it tried to fill time between conferences: stilted host banter, E3 boomer nostalgia, developer panels, press talking head breakouts, oddly timed influencer interviews, and so on. It was difficult to say who any of it was for. Twitch chat clearly hated it, but Twitch chat hated everything, which ended up becoming a problem unto itself.

Finally, we talk about the games and announcements that were nowhere to be found this year. Where was the Switch Pro? Metroid Prime 4? Splatoon 3? Final Fantasy XVI? Bayonetta 3? We don’t know, but we are pretty sure that Hideki Kamiya is going to beat us up for asking.

Get the MP3 here and check out an excerpt below.

Ash: For this segment, we’re gonna talk about: What the hell was E3 2021 anyway? What was that? What did we just sit through for a week…ish?

John: We don’t need E3 at all. Let’s start with that. E3 is completely unnecessary. The whole industry is worse off for it, and if it would only die, that would be a good thing. I have this horrible feeling that this year’s online version has made everyone take notice of it again.

Ash: I have a feeling it’s going to come back in a reduced state. It will hobble on for a couple more years before dying a very slow, sad death. I would like personally to go to one E3 in person just to say that I have. It can’t die until I get there first — just to see what the hell y’all are talking about. But you can probably believe that those things are going to exist digitally even longer.

Nathan: You talk about the digital side of it, and that’s kind of the weird element. If everyone’s doing things digitally and hosting their own shows, then why do we need the E3 umbrella? Or rather, why do we need the E3 organisation to be involved in that? What are they really bringing to it aside from some weird scheduling and filler programming that was for nobody?

Ash: I mean, the veneer of respectability. Everybody else has an industry event thing. Like fucking magicians have their own professional organisation where they go meet up somewhere somehow. Video games kind of have that, but not to the same level of professionalism, so they’ve gotta do something.

Nathan: I feel like our event where the industry meets up in that way is GDC, so E3 doesn’t necessarily fill that niche either. It’s kind of just a weird vestigial limb at this point — especially given the way they did it this year. Because it was very much them reasserting themselves as being involved in everything. E3 wasn’t around last summer for obvious reasons, but I think that had already sparked enough “Is E3 dead?” talk — and you also had Geoff Keighley leaving earlier that year — that if E3 had stayed gone another year, people would have been like, “OK so, it’s definitely dead.”

But what we ended up getting was E3 being super last-second about everything. They didn’t announce the full schedule for the show until — what? — the week before the show began? And I cannot emphasise enough how weird the programming that strung the show together was. You had the main conferences, and of course you had that because that’s what everyone shows up to E3 for. And then in between that, you had these ongoing panels that brought nothing to the show. They were hosted by people who work in various portions of the hosting and influencer sphere, but it felt like they were just doing a job.

Between that, you also had a whole bunch of weird E3 history boomer nostalgia stuff, like GamesBeat did a mini-deep dive into E3 history, and similarly they had a bunch of journalists on the last day talk about their favourite E3 memories. Something like that works for a podcast like this wherein people are already interested in the particular personalities present, and that’s what gets people to go along with that and be interested in a personal experience. But if you have a bunch of people that the audience does not know and has no investment in, the audience says, “Why should I care? I don’t know these people. I’ve never been to this thing. I have no attachment to this.” E3 did that so much this year.

Between that, they had a weird, seemingly out-of-place interview with Nadeshot, who is the head of an esports organisation called 100 Thieves. That was bizarre because, again, this would presumably be for a totally different audience than all the weird E3 nostalgia stuff. But they did that too! They also had developer talks and diversity panels — which were well-intentioned, but not for either of the two aforementioned audiences! Meanwhile, E3 Twitch chat was just awful, absolutely horrible, so any time there was a mention of diversity or anything pertaining to it, people just spewed noxious shit until the people running the E3 channel finally figured out how turn on emote-only mode in chat.

Ash: And that didn’t go very well either.

Nathan: Yep, people just spammed emotes that were extremely disrespectful and meanspirited. This didn’t just stay constrained to Twitch, either. People got harassed over this. When people were on panels not pertaining solely to the hottest new video games, people would seek them out on Twitter and flood their mentions.

It wasn’t just the ESA, either. Every major company that presented seemed to not understand at all or not care about handling Twitch chat. So it was just this overwhelming flood of toxicity and negativity, and then when people had an opportunity, sexism, racism, and ableism. All of it showed up. Chats had moderators in some cases, but they were so lightly moderated that there was no way companies could keep up with 100,000+ people.

John: It’s a problem because it’s irresponsible on the part of E3, as well. They don’t give a shit about this stuff at all. Otherwise they would be making proactive changes in the industry. The ESA wouldn’t just be every once in a while picking up the flag and putting it down again. They’d be trying to change something or do something. It’s just done as a veneer, and then they throw those people to the wolves.

For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also, if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at [email protected] if you have questions or to suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!