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Four big discovery takeaways from 'not-E3'

We examine how the platforms - and the games - fared.

[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]

Salutations, my comrades in video game discovery. We’re back in our little newsletter-building content management system (shout-out, CMS nerds!) and ready to spray some text-based commentary at you. We very much appreciate you reading, btw.

The subject of today’s lead story? We just flew in from watching all those ‘world premieres’, and boy, our arms are tired.* (*Editor’s note: we actually just stayed in our house - that joke 100% doesn’t work.) But what things should we learn from the last few days’ dizzying array of game showcases? We’ve got some ideas.

’Not-E3’: the four big game discovery takeaways?

A photograph of Summer Game Fest Play Days

If we were to describe the amount of content hurled towards our eyeballs in recent days, we would say - ‘a lot’. And here’s our attempt to distil all of that down into trends:

1. The size & scope of showcases has been mindblowing.

If you look at the E3Recap 2022 website - the only place I know which tries to link to trailers individually - you can see 568 game trailers listed across all ‘not-E3’ showcases. So if you felt like you were drowning in new content, that’s why!

What if you want to work out what happened & don’t have all day? I found IGN’s 7-minute trailer-only edits of big events - which they did for the big Xbox/Bethesda show & for the Summer Game Fest kickoff - to be handy.

And there’s a lot of useful articles putting all game trailer for a show in one place - for example RPS on Day Of The Devs’ line-up, or Polygon on some of the Wholesome Games showcase notables. Nonetheless, I’m a high-information intake individual, and I found the sheer amount of info a bit incomprehensible. Don’t fret if you do too.

2. Why wouldn’t you participate? Any upside is still upside…

If you subscribe to the idea that ‘marketing beats’ are part of the reason why games do well, being in an E3-adjacent showcase makes sense. You don’t lose anything by trying. (Although collectively, too many ‘update’ trailers are diluting the pool for all, imho.)

In addition, there’s a Steam ‘Summer Game Announcements’ hub page this year. So if you’re in one of those showcases, you should get the advantage of at least some platform visibility - perhaps not ‘dedicated sale’ amounts, but hey.

Two things to bear in mind: the profile of the event, and the amount of money paid to get into it. Many non-platform showcases are ‘pay to play’ (unless they want your game as a cool reveal!) - and costs range from hundreds of dollars to six figures.

So there’s an opportunity cost there - can you sell another $15,000 in copies of the game to justify the $10,000 spend? Try to at least partly do the math, using Steam wishlists and trickle-down interest.

3. It’s unclear who ‘owns’ the digital E3-adjacent space, going forward

For a number of years, control of ‘the E3 timeframe’ had been drifting away from the ESA - the traditional trade organization organizer of E3 - as partners chose to do offsite events, or stream direct to their player audience.

As Colin Campbell wrote in 2021, we’ve shifted from a privileged, media-filtered landscape to a ‘direct to consumer’ environment, and everyone can get hyped at the same time: “E3's digital nature is more egalitarian in nature than in years gone by. I think it's great that consumers and fans get to see the big announcements in real time.”

And with the ESA opting out entirely for this year, the space is even more confusing, ownership wise. Anyone can decide to do a showcase and have it co-streamed by bigger outlets like IGN and GameSpot - or just do it themselves if they have scale.

So we see outliers like the OTK Games Expo - which I heard did good wishlist numbers. Or even former E3 foes like Devolver, which got excellent share of interest thanks to its shorter, snappier standalone showcase. (Cutting the bloat = good!)

But since nobody owns ‘the Internet’ or co-streaming, this June announcement timeline isn’t predicated on who can buy the biggest booth on-site at the LA Convention Center, or fly the most influencers in. And it’s staying more freeform.

4. The physical future of E3 is even more confused.

So we’ve established the future of ‘not-E3’ digitally is a complex melange of ‘whoever shows up digitally’, right? How about the physical side of things? After 2 and a half years of COVID, there’s definitely many people missing a physical E3 manifestation.

It’s tough and expensive to put on very large scale public video game events, though. (Trying games or talking to devs doesn’t scale in a music concert-like ‘one performer to 50,000 listeners’ way. And most don’t want to stand in 5-hour queues to try Call Of Duty - or see that as poor value.)

Thus, it made a lot of sense that Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest org partnered with iam8bit to create Summer Game Fest Play Days, a physical LA showcase where press and influencers could try some of the games shown at the Keighley-verses Summer Game Fest/Day Of The Devs combo.

For some titles - like Capcom’s Street Fighter 6 - this created a really nice follow-on effect: ‘You’ve seen the trailer, now get impressions from some of your favorite Internet folks’. And keeping the event to a few hundred people who have strong reach has much better publisher ROI than E3’s historic ‘we’re a trade show, but we’re massive, so now we’re a consumer event too’ confusedness.

With dueling announcements from the ESA and Keighley that 2023 will see physical events from them in LA, we don’t expect this to be resolved soon. But the ESA’s necessity - thus far - to try a ‘go big or go home’ strategy ended in 2022 with them going, uh, home.

And we’re not convinced this will change for ‘Not-E3’ 2023, with so much obvious value being created by online showcases. And for physical events - especially with COVID still here? Building up from well-crafted intimacy is far better than working out how to fill out LACC’s cavernous halls. Advantage: the upstarts.

How did the platforms perform during ‘Not-E3’?

Geoff Keighley and Crash Bandicoot wearing masks

We’re not talking about the games shown at ‘not-E3’, by and large - we’ll leave that to the rest of the Internet! But we’re interested in platform performance. So let’s have a look at how platforms fared - in our hideously subjective view - in the past few days:

One important note: it’s the long game, across first and third-party games, which is going to lead to the success (or failure) of certain ecosystems. Long gone are the days that a console-maker ‘wins E3’ and therefore the holiday retail system. (Heck, at least one console-maker is trying to evolve beyond hardware platforms.)

[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]

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