Geoff Keighley isn’t sure what the E3 is anymore. Even before COVID forced the cancellation of the in-person version of the massive video game commercial masquerading as an industry trade show for three straight years, the event was already a pale, big, three-publisher-less imitation of its former self.
E3 is coming back. The organizers said that in a very “this time for realsies, folks” sort of way. But when I asked Keighley about the prospect of E3 and Summer Game Fest — affectionately Not-E3, or, my personal favorite, Keigh-3 — coexisting next year, he just didn’t seem convinced they could would need.
“E3 said they were coming back. I don’t know what that means, do I?” he told me at the new personal component of Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles. “Well, I don’t know what that means.”
His skepticism is justified. Last year ESA said it was hosting E3 2022 only to cancel not only the in-person event (which was probably justified given the still-ongoing pandemic) but also the digital version.
And while the prospect of E3 ala a Thanos Snap blowing into the airwaves is an unwelcome thought for some, Keighley is content to move on whether or not E3 is around to compete for people’s attention.
“I don’t know what E3 is,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think we need to define what E3 is before we can say if it’s competitive or not.”
“We’re super happy with this experience,” he added. “And the publishers, who are really our partners in this, seem very happy with it too. So we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and scale it up.”
Size matters for newer events like Summer Game Fest, and Keighley says he thinks about it when considering his future in a post or even concurrent E3 world. Play Days, Keigh-3’s personal component open to media and influencers, was a small affair – too small, some argue, without the familiar presence of the big hitters like Sony, Xbox or Nintendo. (Though Microsoft had a small presence through its indie program [email protected] and its Samsung Smart TV app.)
Keighley acknowledged criticism that Game Fest was not doing enough. “Some fans obviously wanted more announcements in terms of new games to be announced, which is perfectly fair feedback,” he said. “But we can only show the games that are actually made.”
While some notable big names were in attendance, such as Sonic Frontiers and street fighter 6and the keynote itself had so many space shooters it became a meme, Play Days decided to focus mostly on a smaller, more eclectic selection of games from solo and indie developers that Keighley felt almost seemed more appealing than just focusing on whatever is coming from the big three.
“We have a lot of great indie games here because those are the guys that really need attention,” he said. “That’s the magic of these events that we can put together.”
He’s right. There was something magical about having the opportunity to play a game I otherwise wouldn’t have had time to play in a big, saturated space like the E3 (I say presumptively since I’ve never been to an E3… still). I was in love with the witchy and spooky yet cozy vibes of birth. A little to the left, which contains puzzles asking “how do these random objects fit together,” instantly calmed my object-association-obsessed brain. When I asked Keighley what games he enjoyed, he brought up the fabulous one time goes by in which you play as a fly and have the task of completing as many events on your bucket list as possible, such as “get drunk” or “learn the guitar” within your fly lifespan of seconds. Games like this will be buried at E3.
“I just love that we can have a variety of content here,” Keighley said. “The element of discovery is so important to these independent developers and I’m proud that we can make indie games a part of the show.”
During last December’s The Game Awards, Keighley issued a statement, “We should not and will not tolerate abuse, harassment or predatory practices by anyone, including our online communities.”
While he didn’t name a specific company or developer, it was pretty clear that the comment was about news surrounding Activision Blizzard. That over watch The publisher wasn’t present at this year’s Game Awards, but he showed up to show off Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II at the summer festival. “I think the situation at Activision has evolved,” he said, noting that “obviously there’s still a lot to do.”
He said that he and his team are thinking about how to use their platform for good, which is why they made statements about Ukraine, but that at Game Fest it’s a delicate situation with a delicate balance that he needs to take into account.
“How can we still allow the work of the developers to be recognized and be a part of these shows while also being mindful of the zeitgeist that’s going on at larger companies?”
While it’s very possible (and maybe easier than Keighley thinks) to do both, Keighley seems to think Game Fest should be all about the games.
“I think the Summer Game Fest is a bit different than the Game Awards. The Game Awards is about recognizing excellence in the industry, an awards ceremony and the Summer Game Fest is that promotional event for video games. So it’s on another level.”
Despite Game Fest’s relatively small size, Keighley considers it a success, something he hopes to replicate elsewhere. He threw out places like London or Australia as options he could take the event to in order to decentralize “the old model of a trade or consumer show” like E3. And whether or not E3 actually happens next year, Keighley doesn’t mind the prospect of competing for eyeballs at all.
“I think it’s a different philosophy,” he said. “A bit like a red-ocean vs. blue-ocean strategy. Compete with your buddy in the water or find your own space? And I hope Play Days and Summer Game Fest have found their own space.”