#207: Sale of the century

E3 is dead. Long live... well, whatever the fuck this is.

So, Summer Game Fest — or, if I may suggest a more appropriate name for it, Summer Games Whose Cheques Have Cleared.

Until last night I thought of Geoff Keighley as the game industry’s hardest-working hypeman; a profiteer, certainly, but one with noble intentions. I now realise he is just another venture capitalist. He has seen something that people like and is popular — in this case, a game-industry convention with an increasingly consumerist bent, that over the years has become the greatest celebration of videogames on the calendar — and squeezed himself into the middle of it. He has found new ways to monetise everyone involved, and made it worse than it was before while telling everyone, and himself, that it is better this way.

E3 has always been a money-making exercise, I get that. The ESA, the trade body that organised the show, charged its members and other partners through the nose for floor space at the convention centre. But it never tried to sell me a Samsung TV as I walked the halls from one appointment to the next. There were no awkward segues to set up a Porsche commercial or a Doordash promo. The ESA never seemed weirdly insistent on me knowing that the game I was about to see was being made in Unreal Engine 5.

Sure, it was all about money in the old days too. But E3 was also a sort of meritocracy; all the industry’s movers and shakers came together, showed us their best work and we — the press and biz folks in attendance, the players tuning in from all around the globe — decided what mattered the most. The platform-holders were trying to sell us consoles; the publishers were trying to sell us on their games. We decided the winner. The not-E3 era has largely robbed us of that agency. Keighley has nothing to sell except our eyeballs, and last night he exploited that opportunity to the fullest.

We saw a handful of headliners — Alan Wake 2, FFVII Rebirth, Fortnite, Mortal Kombat 1 — that would all have been snapped up by a platform holder in a world where Summer Game Fest did not exist. Scattered around them was a collection of games whose makers, publishers or marketers had paid one of the tiers of six-figure fees Keighley was demanding at the gates of his new-look not-E3.

That he managed not to repeat the one-note sci-fi-horror onslaught of last year is about the kindest thing I can say about last night’s display; there was at least a reasonable mix of genres on show. (There was quite a lot of blood though, wasn’t there? In Geoff’s world Mortal Kombat 1’s near-photorealistic executions are hilarious, rather than borderline psychopathic, and even the Pokemon have guns.) But I did not for a moment feel like I was watching a showcase of the best that videogames have to offer in 2023 and the years to come. Instead I saw something more like the Future Games Show: an obvious money-making exercise with quality, curation, and the hopes and expectations of the viewing audience playing a distant second fiddle to the needs of the balance sheet.

Speaking to VGC earlier this week, Keighley waved away any suggestion that he had killed E3, putting forward the theory that the show had, if anything, killed itself. “I built Summer Game Fest because I saw the wheels falling off the wagon of E3,” he said. “I think they had a relevancy problem, and they also had a participation problem over the final years.”

That’s not an unreasonable thing to say, on the face of it. But implicit in that statement is the suggestion, even a guarantee, that Keighley’s offering would fix those things. Last night’s broadcast didn’t just have a ‘relevancy problem’. It was simply irrelevant. I left it excited about precisely zero games that I wasn’t already excited about, and it told me absolutely nothing useful about where the game industry is headed. It was two hours of flashing lights, gushing blood and empty calories.

And participation? The companies that abandoned E3, partially or entirely, in its later years — Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, EA — were either absent last night, or so vanishing in their presence that they might as well have been. The Spider-Man 2 release date announcement, with accompanying fatuous interview, should have been an email. The Twisted Metal TV show promo was unspeakably awful. I think there was a Game Pass nod in one of the Samsung ads, and a Series X console in the Porsche bit, but that was it for Xbox. EA was represented solely by that magical FPS it’s been hawking everywhere for the last few months, and Nintendo was nowhere to be seen. A relevancy problem? A participation problem? Come off it, old stick. Glass houses and all that.

“When I started Summer Game Fest back in 2020 from a spare bedroom, I never imagined it would grow into this,” Keighley said at the start of the show. I agree with him, though perhaps not with his interpretation of those words. This splashy in-person event was held in a theatre with a capacity of 6,000, but Axios points out that all the balconies were closed and its $50 tickets were slashed to as little as $10 on the day. From here Keighley will decamp to a small-scale, invite-only weekend event where media will be able to get hands-on time with a selection of forthcoming games. I gather last year’s equivalent was a whisper of a thing, and expectations are low for this year’s as a result. Still, you never know. Perhaps there will even be women there.

It is all weirdly small-time, this thing, despite all the noise it makes. As my consulto-friend Tom Bramwell put it last night, it has a certain Kentia Hall energy. As far as Keighley is concerned, what matters most is that now it’s him at the controls, and he is profiting off both ends of the deal. I am sure he sees this as a win; that he has woken this morning, slipped on another blazer he is 20 too years old for and that fits like it too, and gone about his day with that famous beaming smile on his face. The rest of us, I imagine, are a mix of disappointed, furious, and resigned to the fact that this will likely be the way of things from now on. E3 is dead. Long live whatever the fuck this is.

I had assumed Keighley’s grand plan would actually make things better; it has not. I figured he had ideas; he does not, at least none that are not about his own advancement or enrichment. He crowbarred a Kojima reference into his Nic Cage interview to remind us that he and Koj are buddies. He claimed the Ubisoft Forward showcase would be “streaming on Monday as part of Summer Game Fest”, despite there being no mention of a connection on Ubisoft’s website or in the event’s announcement trailer. (He did the same with Sunday’s Xbox show; again, this may be news to Microsoft, whose website makes no mention of it.) He closed out the show thanking Tetsuya Nomura for blessing his event with the FFVII Rebirth trailer, a display of apparent humility that I felt came off as more of a humblebrag. I got this game. I built this event. This is now Geoff Keighley’s world, and we are merely visiting.


Our fun little miniseries of reader Zelda memories continues. Over to you, Jamie Collyer.

My first Zelda was, of course, Ocarina Of Time. I was never into Nintendo games prior to the N64, and I only had my console for a few months before OOT came out. I was, however, big into reading GamesMaster front to back, and reading their preview of OOT instantly got me interested.

It came out on a day that my wonderful school decided to arrange an evening at the local theatre, and so I still vividly remember finishing school, walking to town, picking up the game from EB, and then reading the back of the box repeatedly in the few hours between buying it and the theatre show starting.

I ended up getting home around 11pm that night (a Friday), and despite having been at school all day prior to the theatre, decided to put my powers of youth to work and stay up playing for a while.

The only time the N64 was off that weekend was for five minutes while I whipped downstairs to get some dinner on Saturday night. Otherwise I played solidly from 11pm on Friday to around 8pm on Sunday... no sleep, no breaks from the controller or my bedroom (other than to pee occasionally).

I was just swept up in the possibilities, the visuals and music, the puzzles, combat, open world... it was unlike anything I'd ever played to that point, and it remained my personal GOAT game until BOTW came along.

I've replayed it more times than I can count, and have bought it one too many times on various platforms, but even to this day, whenever I boot it up I get transported back to that eye-opening day and the joy just comes flooding back to me. An utter wonder of a game that very few games ever came close to matching.


  • Like last year, Day Of The Devs and Devolver followed on from SGF and, once again, both put Keighley in the shade. If I had to pick a single winner it would be Devolver’s Baby Steps. A pudgy fellow called Nathan, trying to climb a mountain with legs that barely function? A fine metaphor for trying to make a living writing emails. (I was quite taken with Cocoon, too.)

  • With showcases dominating the headlines it’s a quiet day for news, so allow me to recommend a few things before I bid you goodbye. If nothing else it may help me swill away the lingering bitter taste from last night’s display. First up, the latest edition of Simon Parkin’s fine podcast My Perfect Console features Tom Bissell and it is honestly absolutely brilliant. I always assumed I wouldn’t like Bissell for some reason, but he is warm, funny, brutally honest and incredibly insightful. An absolutely terrific listen, this one.

  • Meanwhile, this week’s guest on the Back Page podcast is Chris Schilling, a friend to Hit Points of, gosh, nearly 20 years, and these days Edge’s deputy editor. I’m only about halfway through but I’ve already punched the air at some impassioned discussion of the continued value of print, and of Edge in particular. He’s also yet to slag me off, which is nice, though there’s plenty of time left for that. 

  • Lastly, please join me in wishing a warm welcome to Patrick Klepek, who has taken the plunge on Substack following Vice’s staggeringly ill-advised closure of Waypoint. Crossplay examines the intersection of parenting and games, a Venn diagram with which I am sure many of you are highly familiar. Kindly sign up at your earliest convenience, though if you chuck a paid sub at him before you subscribe to Hit Points I shall be sad and a bit cross. 

Right! That will do. It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is out, and I intend to dwell no longer on life’s disappointments. Have a lovely weekend, one and all, and I’ll see you all on Monday to chew over the Xbox briefing and the rest of the weekend’s festivities. Cheerio!