The video game industry is changing, and changing fast. Virtual reality is poised to make a big splash, as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive find their way into the hands of more and more players in 2016 and beyond.
Digital game sales continue to rise and will soon eclipse games sold at retail. If rumors turn out to be true, new, upgraded versions of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will soon be revealed, making for an even shorter console cycle than we've seen in years past.
E3, the game industry's annual trade show, is no stranger to this constant evolution. What was once the mecca of the video game industry has undergone significant downsizes and tweaks in recent years in order to accommodate for changing times. This leads to the burning question: is E3 still relevant in 2016?
Depends on who you ask. For the hundreds of thousands of gamers who flock to YouTube, Twitch or their console dashboards during the event to watch it all unfold, the answer seems an obvious yes. E3 is a whole week dedicated to what's new in the realm of gaming. Fans get to watch dreams come true on stage, as sequels to beloved titles are revealed and brand-new franchises are born. New consoles are detailed, sporting new controllers and the latest in high-def visuals.
For fans, it has never been more relevant. The gaming industry is an entertainment giant. More people are playing games than ever before. It only makes sense, then, that E3 would continue to fill an important role in a still rapidly growing industry.
Thankfully, it has never been easier for gamers to take part in it. With streaming services like Twitch, fans can tune in to watch the event live. E3, now more than ever, is for the fans. The spectacle. The lights. The reveals. It's nearly an entire week of hype, and it's all for the gamers, despite the event being closed to the general public.
There's an energy that surrounds E3 that makes it unlike any other trade show. Having been around for more than 20 years, E3 enjoys a public awareness that far surpasses even longstanding shows like CES. If you play games regularly or have ever read a piece of gaming news, chances are you're aware of the show. Cable networks like Spike TV and G4 once upon a time dedicated whole afternoons to broadcasting the event live. It's kind of a big deal.
For game publishers and makers, who now have more ways to reach their audience than ever before, the answer is far different. E3 was created for game companies to showcase their latest and greatest products, but in 2016 you hardly need a massive expo center and thousands of dollars to do so.
Just ask Nintendo. It proved to be the first major game company to shrug off the show, leaving behind a traditional E3 press conference years ago in favor of its pre-recorded "Nintendo Direct" videos. This year Nintendo won't even have that, instead simply live streaming demos of upcoming games, most notably the new Legend of Zelda. Nintendo is cutting out the middle man and going straight to their customers, and so far it seems to have been a successful strategy.
EA, one of the largest third-party publishers in the industry, is also mixing things up at this year's show. While EA will have a press conference as it has had for years now, it won't have an actual presence on the E3 show floor. Instead, EA will be bringing the E3 experience directly to fans in the form of its "EA Play" event outside of the convention center, allowing for the public to go hands-on with their latest and greatest games.
Sony's experimented in recent years as well. The current industry leader, Sony has broadcast its E3 press conference to various movie theaters across North America since 2014. This year more than 85 theaters across the country will be showing the press conference live, free of charge.
Just when it seemed like the E3 press conference was to go the way of the Dodo, more companies than ever before have begun hosting their own events. Bethesda held its first E3 press conference last year, revealing the heavily anticipated Fallout 4 to the world. The company will be back with another press conference this year. Square Enix also got in on the action, giving fans new glimpses of games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Kingdom Hearts 3.
Even PC-focused game companies, who have long been overshadowed by their console brethren at the show, have partnered together to highlight the best of what PC gaming will have to offer in the years ahead with a press conference to call their own. The PC Gaming Show made its debut last year and will return for this year's E3.
It all goes to show that while the traditional E3 model is definitely changing, it's still working. More publishers than ever before are holding press conferences, even if big players like Nintendo step out. The main difference now is that the show is less about the press and more about the fans themselves. It's for that reason major players in the industry are letting fans take part in the festivities in new and exciting ways.
Looking back to when Nintendo decided to do away with its E3 press conference in 2012, it felt like an end of an era. More than a few gaming sites proclaimed that the end of E3 was nigh, that the once-great trade show had finally been struck a mortal blow. Times were changing, and E3 was to be yet another casualty.
They couldn't have been more wrong. If anything, E3 is stronger than it has ever been before. Nintendo's pre-recorded videos, while effective in getting Nintendo's message across, lack the energy and memorable moments (scripted or unscripted) that made the company's E3 press conferences so special. Nintendo didn't create a substitute for E3 with its Nintendo Directs, it simply highlighted what made E3 great to begin with.
No longer do Nintendo fans get to cheer in triumph as Legend of Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto takes the E3 stage wielding the Master Sword. Instead, they are subjected to stale videos that try far too hard to be entertaining and instead simply come off as an extended advertisement. If that's the future, it seems safe to say that more than a few fans aren't for it.
But even without Nintendo, this year's E3 will be just as great, if not greater, than the shows that have come before. With new consoles rumored to appear and a host of new games for gamers to salivate over, the video game industry's biggest event will continue to be just that for the foreseeable future. It may change. It may adapt. But it's not going anywhere anytime soon, and gamers wouldn't have it any other way.