E3’s Existence Puts Indies in Danger

by Cai Holroyd

E3 is so big and exciting and full of flash that it’s easy for indies and small studios to disappear under the radar.


The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is a big deal. Every year in June, the whole worldwide gaming community holds its breath in the days leading up to it, awaiting the next big announcement that’s going to turn the industry on its head. It’s an exciting time for video game consumers and producers alike, who don’t tend to have as many big events like this as you would expect.

It’s flashy and exciting and covered with more meaningless glitz than a 13-year-old who just discovered bedazzling. It’s easy to forget, then, that the conference exists almost purely as a marketing tool for the big names. Indie developers get a brief name-check at the start, of course, but after that the world at large basically forgets about them, leaving them struggling along as background noise to all of the triple-A news that comes up between that name-check and the end.

E3’s very existence puts indie developers in danger.

E3 2019

So many bright lights… (Image: ESA)

Big conferences like this are not unheard of in entertainment. The San Diego Comic-Con is often used as an opportunity for movie studios to release new trailers or announce a new franchise, and that’s more than acceptable. It’s the reason these big celebrations exist, after all, putting aside the scripted bullshit about fostering a fan community.

The difference is that SDCC has vendor stands as well, for upcoming artists and creators to showcase and sell their work. At least it tries. E3 has nothing of the sort; the closest we got to any meaningful indie coverage this year was Devolver’s conference – which was still more about having a laugh than shining a real spotlight – and Microsoft’s ID@Xbox showing and announcement that it had purchased Double Fine Studios… and a bunch of triple-A juggernauts.

Time and time again, it’s been proven that small studios and individuals cannot compete with larger brands at events like this. They don’t have the money to stage elaborate light shows and bring in some washed-up celebrity to read off a clipboard with less emotion than Siri. They need their own festival, and the indie games industry doesn’t have one.

Gaming’s closest relative, the film industry, suffers from this problem as well, but at least there’s a token effort. Tropfest, the Sundance Film Festival and others all exist to support film developers who don’t have major studio levels of cash behind them. Some devoted people have been trying to start their own to some success, notably The Game Awards and the Independent Games Festival, but they’re still lacking the name recognition that other entertainment industries enjoy.

Sayonara: Wild Hearts

Sayonara: Wild Hearts is a stunning piece of work that E3-goers could see on the show floor, but not during any press conference.

These efforts in the games industry are still, at heart, industry conferences despite technically being open to the public. Tragically, the conferences serve mostly to highlight up and coming developers to huge publishers, so they can keep an eye on them and buy them out just before they release a hit. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the dead dreams of idealistic developers.

Everywhere you look, big companies are becoming too powerful and stamping out small-time competitors. E3 currently has a monopoly on video game press, and if we want anything more for the future than Microtransactions 6: Some White Guy Shoots Aliens, we need to stop falling for it.


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