Game space

Summer Game Fest’s first physical event showed me the future of E3

When I launched VGC in May 2019, if you had told me that I would only have six months of events in which to source interview content, raise awareness, and conduct the all-important networking at the bar, I would have probably been terrified.

But when the world’s borders closed in early 2020, that’s exactly what happened, and the environment we live in today – more than two years later – is unrecognizable.

To be clear, it’s not a bloody story: video games were one of the few industries to benefit from stay-at-home restrictions as the world turned to gaming to pass the time and connect with friends. This in turn meant that more people were reading websites like VGC and we are extremely grateful for that.

But let’s be honest, most digital events held in the wake of in-person gatherings being impossible have been painful.

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And it’s not just for consumers, who have been disappointed when publishers like Capcom have struggled to fill their live streams with enough content to justify their runtime, but also for journalists like me, used to returning from E3 with 20 interviews and a bunch of new tracks obtained at the bar.

(I’m sure that view doesn’t reflect the wider gaming media, but I’m 36 and live with two young girls, so a week in LA is always better than trying to conduct a Zoom call for the 42n/a rerun of Encanto.)

My experience with digital events so far has been filled with tedious marketing and PR tightly controlling any press interaction – if at all.

So it goes without saying that when the Summer Game Fest team got in touch with a real-life event in the slot that E3 would have taken, called Play Days, I was excited to support it.

SGF is of course the latest venture from presenter and journalist Geoff Keighley, who has become synonymous with the phrase ‘WORLD EXCLUSIVE’ via his Game Awards and Gamescom’s Opening Night Live shows. So it only made sense that at the start of the pandemic, he rushed to fill the void left by the canceled E3.

But a physical event presents a whole new set of challenges for the industry personality, all of which they can’t control: partners have to deliver content, media have to be willing to travel, and of course you have to prepare. an event space adapted to the requirements of a modern media showcase.

Summer Game Fest's first physical event showed me the future of E3

To be frank, I was initially skeptical of the value that the physical spectacle of Summer Game Fest would provide. Especially when the first line-up confirmations arrived – in fairness to their quality – Cuphead DLC and Power Wash Simulator. Big games, no doubt, but not exactly megatons or justification for a 10-hour flight.

The final line-up turned out better, with exclusive demos of Sonic Frontiers and Street Fighter 6 and more – plus Power Wash Simulator, it turns out, is excellent – but still far from what one would usually expect from a great E3 show. As discussed in detail in our various reactions to the Summer Game Fest live broadcast, this is a symptom of the industry’s ongoing struggle to complete pandemic-disrupted triple-A blockbusters.

Geoff Keighley and his team can’t control this, of course, especially when some publishers have ruled out creating hands-on demos before release until they’ve had more time to recover. But for what they did, the Summer Game Fest team did a great job.

The event takes place in a social space in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles. Merchandise company Iam8bit helped put it together, and it certainly bears all the hallmarks of something created by people who know how to run a high profile event, including lots of branding, great catering and most importantly, free socks.

The space is a large room filled with demo booths, plus an outdoor area with seating and food trucks, a bar, and a theater where press can top up their laptops in exchange for forced reviews of the live show. of the Summer Game Fest.

“Play Days was an intimate and informal event where attendees could go from playing Street Fighter 6, chatting with a colleague at the bar, interviewing the leader of Sonic Team in the span of 30 minutes”

The small room and the limited number of attendees – which Keighley claims to be in the hundreds, but I believe it’s more like 50 journalists, unless you include the terrifying twitch bots driving around the event space – makes for a totally refreshing experience compared to the chaos of traditional E3.

Play Days was an intimate and informal event where attendees could go from playing Street Fighter 6, chatting with a colleague at the bar, interviewing the leader of Sonic Team in the span of 30 minutes – all without having to sprint through a congress center. the size of a small airport.

It was frankly a much better experience than E3 could sometimes be, but that’s of course because it hosts a few hundred people and not the 60,000 that flock to the Los Angeles Convention Center each year.

In the coming days, I think consumers will see the benefits as participants post their content and the various embargoes expire.

I came in expecting Summer Game Fest: Play Days to be the precursor to something irresistible in a future iteration. I left hoping they didn’t change the formula at all. But I’m afraid it won’t last.

Keighley has already confirmed that Summer Game Fest will return in physical form in 2023 and hinted that it could evolve from what we experienced in Los Angeles this week. But for me, its strength was in its small size and informal setting. Piling on more content creators or even inviting the public would threaten to spoil everything I loved about the Play Days event, as it grew accordingly.

Summer Game Fest's first physical event showed me the future of E3

The lineup of games definitely needs to improve for Play Days to become more prominent, but as mentioned, that’s kind of out of its control right now. If it can fix that, then maybe E3 would deliver on its promise of finally returning as a physical spectacle in 2023, Summer Game Fest could finally resolve the identity crisis that has plagued recent expos.

Over the past decade, E3 has struggled to deliver value to the business attendees – for whom it was originally created – and at the same time to cater to the millions of consumers who made it such a big tentpole in the games schedule.

Geoff Keighley knows how to excite video game fans and, as evidenced by the big press moment that seemed to be having at Play Days this week, he can put on a great business event at the same time.

While it’s hosted some consumers in past iterations, the LA Convention Center isn’t big enough to hold a Gamescom-style public and business dual event. Could Play Days offer the solution as an invite-only sibling to an all-public E3 show in 2023? I would find that much more appealing than going back to the old E3 crush.