E3 without the Big Three

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

On Jan. 31, IGN reported that — according to their sources — Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will all be absent from this year’s E3 show.

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is an annual trade event where video game developers and publishers discuss their upcoming products. While originally oriented towards investors during its first few runs in the late ‘90s, it has since become a hotspot for video game fans as the biggest gaming news source of the year. Even in recent years, as Nintendo and Sony have started distancing themselves from the E3 event itself, they have generally lined up their biggest announcements to coincide with E3.

E3 2023 is the second event to be held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first to be held in person. While they experimented with an all-online E3 in 2021, a big part of the excitement around E3 comes from the vendors at the convention itself, where gamers and reviewers can try demos of upcoming games. Even Nintendo, who shifted to their own brand of Nintendo Directs in place of a typical E3 showcase in 2013, has traditionally had something to show off on the expo floor.

Sony’s absence is not without precedent: they were absent from E3s 2019 and 2021 — the last two E3 events — and announced that they were not planning to participate in E3 2020 before the event was cancelled. Instead, they opted to host their own digital broadcasts, the Sony State of Play. Though in 2019 they stated that their absence was due to a focus on fewer, bigger games, in 2020 they claimed that E3 was not the right venue for what they were focused on that year. They did not provide an update for their 2021 absence, so this may be their current stance on E3.

As previously stated, while Nintendo has long since transitioned to the Nintendo Direct format, they have still hosted booths at the expo, unlike Sony. If IGN’s sources are correct, this would be Nintendo’s first absence in the 28 years since E3 first started.

The most surprising absence is Microsoft, who have attended every E3 since 2000 when they announced the original Xbox. This is doubly surprising as just last week, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer stated that the Xbox had a lacklustre 2022 release schedule, and that they would keep in mind the importance of showing games and dates in the future. In past years, they haven’t had an alternate broadcast like Nintendo Direct or State of Play, though last week they released a broadcast called the Developer Direct, which seems to be their equivalent. 

E3’s reputation had already been muddied following a data leak in 2019 which revealed personal information for over 6,000 E3 attendees, 2,000 of which were at the 2019 expo. Additionally, following Sony’s absence — along with prominent third-party developer Electronic Arts — E3 noticed a 33 per cent smaller turnout in 2019 compared to previous years. Given that this will be the first in-person event since 2019, it’s possible that all three publishers were unhappy with E3’s decline in quality and chose not to attend because of it.

E3 will still showcase upcoming releases from a variety of third-party developers; though none have been formally announced, companies such as Ubisoft and Square Enix have regularly had their own presentations at E3 to announce what they had in store. However, the highlights from past E3 events have typically come from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, and it’s uncertain how many people will still be tuning in without them.

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