E3 2020 Canceled Over Coronavirus Concerns

E3 2020, the annual trade show that has been a staple of the games industry for over two decades, has been canceled, but the ESA is looking into an "online experience" to replace the expo.

E3 2020 Canceled
Photo: ESA

E3 2020 has been canceled over coronavirus concerns, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which organizes the yearly trade show, confirmed in a statement.

“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,” the ESA said. “Our team will be reaching out directly to exhibitors and attendees with information about providing full refunds.”

The ESA also revealed that it’s looking into ways to still hold a digital E3 showcase in June, which could mean that major publishers who were planning to host press conferences at the expo will still be able to make their announcements: “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.”

This will be the first year since the very first E3 in 1995 that the annual event will not be held. The cancelation comes just days after California declared a state of emergency after a coronavirus outbreak in the state, putting the status of E3 2020, which was to be held in the Los Angeles Convention Center, in doubt. At the time of this writing, there have been 31 deaths across the country from coronavirus, with over 1,000 confirmed cases of infection, according to The New York Times. The cancellation also comes in the same week as the worst single-day drop on Wall Street, a sign that the economy could buckle under the pressure of the outbreak, which could indicate a looming recession.

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Just last week, E3 had reassured event-goers that the event was still on, but that it would continue to monitor the situation as it evolved.

“The health and safety of our attendees, exhibitors, partners, and staff is our top priority,” wrote the ESA in a statement at the time. “Our E3 team and partners continue to monitor COVID-19 via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). We are actively assessing the latest information and will continue to develop measures to further reduce health risks at the show.”

Issues behind the scenes could have also led to the decision to cancel the event. Last week, production company iam8bit, which had been hired to “reinvigorate” the E3 trade show as its new creative director, resigned from the event after just five weeks on the job, further calling into question whether the ESA would go through with the trade show.

E3 2020 follows a long line of canceled gaming events. The annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco was canceled in February. The Taipei Game Show was canceled earlier this year, and CCP’s EVE Fanfest event in Reykjavik, Iceland, which was set to take place in April, was also shuttered. Earlier this month, Capcom canceled several Street Fighter tournaments from the Capcom Pro Tour. Most recently, Austin’s SXSW festival was canceled.

This year’s E3 would have been a “reimagined” version of the trade show that was said to “include new stage experiences, experiential zones, and live events” as well as feature “special guest gamers, celebrities, and digital programming on the show floor while connecting with global audiences through extended live streaming.”

These changes had been met with pushback from at least one major game company. In January, Sony explained why it was skipping E3 2020 despite its impending next-gen console launch: “We have great respect for the ESA as an organization, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.”

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Additionally, Geoff Keighley, creator and host of The Game Awards as well as the host of the yearly E3 Coliseum live stream event, announced that he would not participate in E3 2020: “Given what has been communicated about E3 so far, I just don’t feel comfortable participating this year,” Keighley told THR.

With E3 2020 canceled, publishers and studios will now be left scrambling to figure out how they will showcase their upcoming titles at a critical moment for the games industry, as a new generation of home consoles — the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 — is set to arrive by the end of the year. More importantly, with E3 potentially out as the major source of gaming news in June, might game companies embrace a more cost-effective digital approach to marketing to consumers that renders E3 obsolete in the future? It’ll be interesting to see just how this development affects and possibly changes the industry as a whole.

We’ll keep you updated on E3 2020 news as it develops.