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Microsoft, Ubisoft move to digital events after E3’s cancellation

We know Sony’s plans, too — it was never going

E3 2014 - PlayStation/Xbox hallway Photo: Samit Sarkar/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

On Wednesday, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) canceled the Electronic Entertainment Expo — better known as E3 — over concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday.

The ESA said it’s “exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020.” Immediately following the event’s cancellation, game companies began discussing plans for digital events. Microsoft Xbox boss Phil Spencer tweeted on Wednesday that Microsoft will hold “an Xbox digital event” to showcase the “next generation of gaming.” Details regarding the digital showcase will be announced “in the coming weeks,” Spencer said.

Microsoft is preparing for the launch of its next-generation console, the Xbox Series X, slated for release in holiday 2020. Microsoft will host a two-day livestreamed event next week, where it’ll share some details on the Xbox Series X and Project xCloud, replacing its canceled Game Developers Conference talks. GDC was postponed in late February over the spread of COVID-19.

A full list of companies hosting press conferences for E3 was not yet announced, but it’s typical for large publishers like Square Enix, Bethesda, and Nintendo to showcase upcoming games at the event. A Ubisoft representative told Polygon it’s “exploring other options for a digital experience.” No timing details are available just yet.

Electronic Arts told Polygon it’s “reviewing” changes for EA Play 2020. “We’ve continued to follow the coronavirus developments around the world very closely,” Electronics Arts said in a statement. “Clearly the situation is evolving by the day, and we’ve been reviewing how it will change our plans for EA PLAY 2020. We will share more soon.”

Nintendo told Polygon it “supports the ESA’s decision to cancel this year’s E3 to help protect the health and safety of everyone in our industry — our fans, our employees, our exhibitors and our longtime E3 partners.” No information is available about its planned E3 presence; typically, Nintendo hosts an extended Nintendo Direct presentation during E3, with live coverage through Nintendo Treehouse.

Publisher Devolver Digital was one of the first to tweet about E3’s cancellation on Tuesday night: “Cancel your E3 flights and hotels, y’all.” Following the event’s official cancellation, it issued a statement on Twitter.

“The week of E3 has always been a big part of what we do are are genuinely bummed about the cancelation of the event itself,” the publisher tweeted. “Lots to juggle but right now we plan on having a livestream Devolver Direct / press conference and possibly more.” Devolver Digital’s Big Fancy Press Conference has running lore and is often the most fun — and most ridiculous — part of the show.

Sony Interactive Entertainment, on the other hand, announced in January that it was skipping E3 2020. Like Microsoft, Sony is preparing to launch its next-gen console, the PlayStation 5, during the 2020 holiday season. There are a few details available on the PS5, but Sony’s remained quiet on new information this year — all we’ve really seen so far is the new (yet familiar) logo.

Polygon has reached out to Square Enix and Bethesda, as well as other companies, for more information about E3 — or E3-adjacent — contingency plans.

Update: This story has been updated to add a statement from Nintendo, and additional information from Microsoft.

Update 2 (1:53 p.m. EDT): We’ve updated this story to add a statement from Devolver Digital.