Does VR Need Events Like E3?

So it’s official, E3 2023, the videogames industry’s most prestigious show has been cancelled. Once the highlight of the year, drawing companies, executives, media, and consumers from around the world, its demise seems almost assured. But what effect does that have on the industry as a whole? And where immersive gaming is concerned, does VR need events like E3 anymore?

Can E3 survive?

We all know why big in-person events shuttered, it was the covid pandemic, when none were allowed. But even before then, E3’s popularity had begun to wane. Sony had already pulled out, instead favouring its State of Play events which began in 2019.

Covid accelerated the era of online attendance, with many events like CES creating a digital alternative. Likewise, companies responded with their own versions, no longer spending exorbitant sums of money creating flashy stands that fewer and fewer people would see.

When it comes to E3 2023, this was supposed to be the grand return. However, the ESA – which organises the event – had to cancel due to one big issue, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony weren’t going to be there. Without those big three, there’s a lot of empty floor space to fill. Microsoft is cost-cutting, and Nintendo’s big 2023 title The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is out in May. And, as mentioned, Sony’s not been interested since its last showing in 2018.

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But does VR need events?

While ordinary gamers don’t necessarily need events, because demos – like the recent Diablo IV beta – can be distributed online, virtual reality is slightly different.

VR doesn’t have the same reach as normal flatscreen gaming. People aren’t as eager to buy VR headsets when they have no idea what the experience is like. Events give hardware manufacturers and software developers a chance to engage directly with an audience that, more often than not, has never tried VR.

Ever since the first headsets arrived in 2016 VR has been an unusual sell. It’s hard to explain in words or imagery quite what it is like to be fully immersed in a virtual world. Many have tried, but until you’ve actually put a VR headset on and tried it, you never really know.

With Sony only having just launched its PlayStation VR 2 in February, I’d argue E3 would’ve been a perfect time to showcase the new headset. Likely drumming up sales in the process. Sony could’ve dominated the Los Angeles Convention Center’s North Hall, putting PSVR 2 front and centre. But no, that’s not going to happen.

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Putting a VR headset in someone’s hand

A physical presence is even more important for indie VR developers. Being able to reach VR fans isn’t too difficult because the industry is still niche. What they want is to bring the wider gaming community onboard and that takes sticking a headset in their hand and saying “play my game”.

The only caveat VR has when it comes to demoing at events is ensuring that headsets are well-maintained. You can’t have a load of unattended booths, they all need to be manned so that once someone has finished playing the attendant can clean and sanitise the device for the next user. Other than that, VR gaming at events can be great fun and a real eye-opener to the content that’s out there.

So it’s a shame that E3 has been forcibly cancelled by companies not attending. Does this spell the end of the iconic event? Who knows, but it doesn’t look promising.

Fear not, however. If you do love a good videogame show then there are still plenty around. From PAX East and GDC to Europe’s biggest, Gamescom, folks still yearn for a good stomp around huge halls finding interesting games to play.

Are you attending any events this year? Let us know in the comments below.