E3 2021 leak suggests paywall, Nvidia streaming; ESA says it’ll be “free for all”

E3 2021 leak suggests paywall, Nvidia streaming; ESA says it’ll be “free for all”
Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

While we’ve heard rumblings for months that the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) will return in some form following its 2020 meltdown and cancellation, a leak has clarified what the online-only 2021 version could look like—and has prompted its creators to confirm some of the leak’s details.

“E3’s 2021 digital show is a free event for all attendees,” the expo’s official Twitter account posted on Thursday (and apparently not as an April Fool’s prank). “We’re excited to fill you in on all the real news for the event very soon.”

Details about the leaked pitch document, obtained by Video Games Chronicle, were actually reposted by E3’s Twitter account, suggesting they may very well be accurate. VGC reports that this pitch has been handed to game publishers by E3 organizer the Electronic Software Association to excite potential partners about biz-dev minutiae like “B2B, B2M, and B2C objectives”—but also to insist that “E3 2021 is not an in-person event turned virtual.”

Even though, from the sound of it, the event is exactly that. According to the leak, the renamed Electronic Entertainment Experience (still “E3”) could include keynote sessions, an awards show, a “preview night,” and appointments for the usual attendees (business reps, journalists) to meet with game makers—only this time, all of that stuff would route through an official video-based app instead of a crowded convention hall in Los Angeles.

VGC claims that the ESA is interested in partnering with Nvidia in order to leverage the GeForce Now cloud-gaming service to stream exclusive, playable demos to E3’s virtual attendees. VGC’s language suggests no such deal has been finalized and that this plan isn’t part of the leaked pitch document.

There’s some potential trickiness to this plan, however, especially in light of publishers yanking their software from GeForce Now shortly after its early 2020 launch. What makes them believe the same publishers would be fine with Nvidia getting exclusive stream-hosting rights to their E3 reveals? And how will the ESA handle that kind of political negotiation with so many game publishers, including ones like Microsoft who already operate their own streaming services? VGC doesn’t suggest that the ESA has an answer there.


The ESA’s tweet appears to soundly refute at least one suggestion from the leaked document: a possible paywall to access the virtual expo.

VGC cites “sources” in claiming that the ESA has considered bundling portions of E3 2021 into a “paid access pass,” which could include access to cloud-streamed demos or “extra access” of some sort. But publishers have apparently pushed back on this part of the plan, and the ESA had already expressed willingness to back down from such a proposal during the planning phases.

The ESA’s public statement may still offer some wiggle room for both extremes: “a free event” with certain aspects held behind paid, virtual velvet ropes. (You know, like many of the free-to-play games published by ESA members.)

Thanks to the dissolution of E3 in 2020, which was already facing internal turmoil before succumbing to the realities of a pandemic, exactly how the ESA will spin its E3 wheels back up and get all of this organized—particularly the pitch for physical, filmed content in Los Angeles—remains unclear.