E3 has been good to Sony over the years. The company has timed its biggest beats to coincide with the show time and time again. And that strategy has been undoubtedly successful.
For a rough example of that, look to YouTube where four of the platforms top five all-time videos were released during previous E3 shows: God of War, Spider-Man, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and the Xbox-skewering ‘Official Used Game Instruction Video.’
The last is a perfect example of the company at its best, reacting quickly to a huge misstep by its competition and kicking Xbox were it hurt. While the seeds for the PS4’s success were born from its brand lineage, gamer-focus and hardware advantage, a large part of its success in the current generation started from that E3 and that video.
So why would it give up the opportunity to repeat the feat at E3 2020?
My first reaction is that it simply lacks confidence. That seems a ridiculous statement for a platform in such a commanding position, with a string of generation-defining hits to its name and the biggest installed user base of all time. But the company has been somewhat quiet in the recent past and has reportedly gone through a major global reorganisation. More simply, if Sony thinks its offering for Xmas 2020 is going to blow away the competition then why not shout about it in LA?
Sony’s counter to that argument is that it can better service its community of players with other events throughout the year. Maybe the date doesn’t work for its grand plan, but the timing of the show works for Microsoft, and it’s always worked for Sony in the past (putting aside last year’s absence, which made perfect sense given that it had relatively little to show). If the new console is coming out in November (and it will) then June is a good month to really start hyping it up.
The reason E3 works for the whole industry is because it acts as a tentpole event which allows console gaming, rather than its mobile sibling (more on that soon), a huge platform to promote its wares. It allows everyone in console to come together and it’s the one point in the year where the mass media really weigh in with reporting, amplifying the combined message that consoles are a great way to play games.
And that huge unified shout matters. Unlike mobile or even many PC games, the console market has significant friction for consumers, after all (Stadia aside) you still have to go out and buy a console before you can play anything. The industry as a whole, in order to grow, must constantly fight for space against mobile gaming or Netflix, which both have far less friction.
“From FIFA to Untitled Goose Game, the console industry must sometimes chant, or honk, together”
By retreating from E3 Sony is in danger of simply singing to the choir, it may be able to do a better job of engaging its current huge audience, but it risks losing some of its ability to talk to those who aren’t already so keen.
If you’re a publisher of games, be it huge chart-toppers, or smaller indie titles, that’s bad news. Whether you want to reach more lapsed gamers, and get them playing franchises they once loved, or whether you’re looking to bring in those who traditionally didn’t think consoles were for them. From FIFA to Untitled Goose Game, the console industry must sometimes chant, or honk, together.
Either way that huge shout of excitement that E3 represents every year, while far from perfect, is something the industry should cherish. It reminds everyone that console gaming is huge, popular, important, powerful, creative and amazing.
E3 isn’t perfect, and to be honest this isn’t really about the minor ups and downs of the showfloor, but rather about the biggest names in the industry standing together and making the biggest announcements side-by-side.
If someone comes up with a better idea than E3 then great. But for now it remains the console industry’s big date for the year, and while moving away from it might serve your platform and your business, it doesn’t best serve the huge ecosystem that supports it.
I’ve already booked my plane ticket to LA, and I’ll mourn PlayStation’s absence while I’m there.