Update: The ESA told VGC that “no elements” of E3 2021 would be behind a paywall, despite pitches that were sent to publishers as recently as a few weeks ago that had plans for paid premium upgrade packages.
Original: Earlier today, VGC published an extensive report on E3 2021, indicating that along with dropping the “Expo” from the name and rebranding to “Electronic Entertainment Experience,” that the digital E3 2021 could end up being at least partially behind a paywall. The official E3 Twitter account quickly put up a tweet of their own refuting the report, and stated that “E3’s 2021 digital show is a free event for all attendees.” They followed that with, “We’re excited to fill you in on all the real news for the event very soon.”
E3’s 2021 digital show is a free event for all attendees. We’re excited to fill you in on all the real news for the event very soon. https://t.co/HzTzaQEosx
— E3 (@E3) April 1, 2021
The statement, however, does not completely rule out elements of the show being placed behind a paywall, despite repeated attempts from VGC to plainly rule out a paywall.
I received this statement from The ESA moments ago, but it’s still yet to respond to my request to rule out paywall elements.
Also, isn’t it annoying when you hold a story for comment and then this happens? https://t.co/zVdGxzCB0k
— Andy Robinson (@AndyPlaytonic) April 1, 2021
The report from VGC, however, indicates that the proposal for a premium paywall was just that: a proposal. E3 organizers were reportedly willing to walk back the premium paid plan proposal if it wasn’t well received.
A recent tweet from GamerTag Radio’s Danny Peña wondered if people would pay to attend a digital E3. The response was overwhelmingly “no.” While Danny’s question was simply a conversation starter, it’s unlikely the negative comments from people all over the video game industry about a paywalled E3 went unnoticed by The ESA.
Question: Would you pay to attend a digital E3? pic.twitter.com/zvIfPLleDJ
— Danny Peña (@godfree) March 30, 2021
VGC also updated the original article with a statement from E3 organizers The ESA, who said it would “deliver a free experience for everyone interested in E3 2021,” which leaves the door open for premium and paywalled parts of the event.
In a pitch document sent to potential exhibitors, and verified by VGC, The ESA clarifies that its goal with E3 2021 is not to simply convert the physical event into a digital one, but to create a whole new experience. “In 2021, E3 is much more…. Welcome to the Electronic Entertainment EXPERIENCE. International, Inclusive. Innovative, Irresistible and ‘in your hands’ wherever you live. E3 2021 is NOT an in-person event turned virtual.”
Sources told VGC that there was a plan to bundle parts of the consumer offering as a more premium access pass, which would require payment. Another said that when they were critical of these plans to the ESA, the E3 organizers indicated that the plans were flexible and they would be willing to walk them back based on the reception. Whether or not those plans are being adjusted remains to be seen, but E3 seems to have confirmed that everyone will be able to get some kind of minimum free access.
Criticisms around the premium option stem from a few places. One is a lack of faith in E3 2021 to provide anything of value behind a premium paywall that would make it worth paying for, and the other comes from The ESA’s blatant mishandling of attendee information a few years ago, which led to an enormous leak of personal information for thousands of press, influencers, and other attendees.
Ironically, the tweet from E3 mentioning the “2021 digital show” is the first confirmation of a physical event not happening this year. We’d previously only had reports, rumors, speculation, and common sense to tell us that a physical event would not be occurring. With the show just ten weeks away, it’s about time The ESA starts talking about what the show will entail for press, exhibitors, and general attendees.
E3 2021 is scheduled to begin on June 13th, 2021. It will reportedly include three days of broadcast content to mimic the show floor experience, followed by an interactive consumer experience via the E3 app, which would reportedly allow players to demo games via the cloud, and visit virtual booths in order to get new information and purchase merch. The show has been in a bad place in recent years, with major exhibitor partners dropping out, a full cancellation of both the physical and digital event in 2020, and exhibitors now finding more value in connecting directly with their audiences through independent showcases rather than paying exorbitant sums to be a part of E3.