I had lunch with a friend and colleague on Thursday, a guy who has been to every E3—and before that he was going to the Consumer Electronics Show when it was the gaming industry's big expo. Absent some miracle hardware reveal, he thinks we could see the quietest and most depressing E3 ever this year. I hate to say it, but I have the same fear.
Look at the casualties. The biggest, of course, is THQ, which has no cash to spend on its usual garish presence in Los Angeles, which over the years has included a bikini car wash last year (pictured), giant mecha suits, and a platoon of conscripted Korean army troops. Not only is THQ not going to E3, it's not going to Gamescom in Germany, either. Nor is Nintendo. Nor, reports GamesIndustry International, is Sega.
E3 may get a ton of attention by virtue of being the biggest expo in North America, where a lot of the noisiest games press is based. But it's an industry-only affair. Gamescom is the real major on the series, bringing more than 275,000 attendees, as it welcomes press, industry, and consumer alike. If you're skipping that, you're skipping out on showing product directly to the customer, not through the filter of sore-footed, bleary-eyed, BO-emitting writers like me.
So much is up in the air right now. Growth seems to be in mobile gaming, Facebook games and free-to-play browser-based offerings, which aren't subjects treated with much seriousness by those who enjoy reading about video games with regularity. Distribution on the next console will almost assuredly be digital, meaning the traditional retail model that drives these expos is also lumbering toward the ivory graveyard. That's assuming console gaming maintains any kind of strength; the sales slump and contraction of product offerings there shows no signs of turning around.
It's easy to point to THQ and Sega's fiscal woes as the reason they're not going to the big parties this year. But then, neither is Blizzard, and Valve and Rockstar have been notoriously absent in past years when they don't have much to show, too. And they're reasonably healthy organizations. Depending on what isn't announced this year, we could be seeing the last hurrah for the traditional gaming expos. We could be seeing their last hurrah depending on what is revealed, too.