COVID-19 is serious business all over the world, and the entertainment industry is no exception. SXSW has been canceled. The Coachella music festival has been postponed to October, and the Game Developers’ Conference has been postponed until summer. Cinemas have shut down across China. Productions have been put on hold, studio employees have been sent home, meetings have been canceled, and everyone is hunkering down to prevent the spread of disease and - hopefully - to mitigate the already devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
The latest casualty is reportedly video gaming’s biggest annual event: E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, multiple outlets like Ars Technica, Bloomberg, and indie publisher Devolver Digital have put out reports (or in Devolver’s case, tweets) saying the cancellation is nigh. Given other entertainment-industry cancellations, and the declaration of a state of emergency in Los Angeles, it’s unsurprising, but it is significant.
E3 isn’t just a big event for gamers; it’s a key part of the business strategies of many game developers and publishers. While its importance on the calendar has lessened somewhat in recent years, with platform-holders like Sony electing to hold their own events instead, many publishers capitalise on E3 press attention to announce major new releases, often through splashy live presentations before huge live crowds. I mock the event every year for its ostentatious marketing bullshit, but it genuinely is a huge and vital weekend for the gaming industry. This year, it would have been even more important than usual, given the planned launch of new PlayStation and Xbox consoles later this year.
How that will be affected by the cancellation is anyone’s guess, but we’re assuming the planned announcements will take place as livestreams direct from studio headquarters instead. Indeed, Bloomberg reports that the Entertainment Software Association is “exploring options for an online E3 event this summer.” That doesn’t help the smaller companies who rely on the visibility bump granted them by E3 show-floor attendance, of course; nor does it aid the local economies that will be negatively affected by the decision. Shit, as they say, is bad.
An official announcement is expected at 9:30am PT; we’ll update this story as it develops.
UPDATE: The ESA has released a statement:
WASHINGTON – MARCH 11, 2020 – 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.
We are also exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020. Updates will be shared on E3expo.com.
We thank everyone who shared their views on reimagining E3 this year. We look forward to bringing you E3 2021 as a reimagined event that brings fans, media and the industry together in a showcase that celebrates the global video game industry.