The news that Sony are snubbing E3 2020, for the second year in a row, is being seen as a very bad, no-good thing.
On the one hand you have those suggesting this somehow is Sony saying it is bigger than the ESA, and perhaps the only major player in the industry today (if, of course, you ignore the fact that the Nintendo Switch has been routinely outselling the PS4 since the Switch launched in March of 2017). A sign of the bad old days of Sony, where it posited that its fans could simply take a second job to afford the PlayStation 3 and that it was sold out everywhere – prompting Penny Arcade to go out and prove that it wasn’t at all.
On the other, you’ve got people suggesting doom of another sort; that Sony hasn’t got anything we don’t know about. With Microsoft talking about no major first-party exclusives for the XBox Series X for at least two years, it is being posited Sony may end up being in a similar situation; having to wait for the software that will shift sales, and again, all of this in an industry dramatically altered by the sales maelstrom that is the Nintendo Switch.
Me? I see nothing to back up either stance. And I’d suggest that people might be making a mountain out of a molehill.
E3 has problems. I know it, you know it and I’d dare say most of the industry knows it too. The fact that for six of the past seven years, the show has been predominantly “won” by Nintendo – even during the ailing Wii U period – tells you that E3 has become hopelessly lopsided. Stuff Sony, if Nintendo decided it no longer wanted to be a part of E3, you can call the whole thing off.
But it cuts deeper than that. E3’s problems aren’t even anything to do with any of the companies involved – despite their overly long live shows dragging on a little too long for the most part. It’s more to do now with how we consume information, and the ready access we have to said information. All three main console manufacturers now have quarterly showreels; Directs, State of Play and whatever Microsoft calls its own now.
This has even taken the wind out of The Game Awards; that Sony dropped Resident Evil 3 Remake days before The Game Awards proved fundamentally all you need for your showcase is one or two key pillars to support whatever else you’re trying to flog.
Yet deeper still – we live in a world now with 24-hour news. We can get this on our mobile phones any time, pretty much anywhere. E3 Presentation Shows were mostly a Press Event; and eventually we also got enamoured with it as a live showcase. But as the 2010’s moved on and most of us grew up and it got harder to bounce back after an all-nighter binge session of E3 Shows, it’s become less relevant in that regard. The Gaming Press is still struggling and social media has taken over.
Sony snubbing E3 might actually be the wisest move it’s made to date.
Why conform to the parameters of the ESA’s big Trade Show at that point? Why not just do it whenever you want, however you want to do it? It’s not like people don’t tune in or even show up to the individual live events – people still turned up to PlayStation Experience, after all. People can, and will, tune in live or catch up later in the day. The Internet is everywhere now. It’s not like we need these things scheduled months in advance (see Nintendo Directs being announced a day or two before they happen).
Equally – it might be best for the games in this manner. Nintendo’s E3 Directs do a better job than most of the live shows; punchy headlines neatly condensed into bulletpoints. Microsoft showed the flipside of that last year – I think it was more than 60 games, but I’ll be damned if after the two hour show was up I could remember more than ten of them. Spreading out the reveals across the whole year might end up improving and making reporting on them easier in the end.
That’s not to say there aren’t risks to Sony snubbing E3; it is, as I said last year, a Trade Show and because it’s a Trade Show, business is done behind the scenes. If Sony doesn’t get the PS5 in very early and pull into a strong lead – which is a possibility – then not being at a Trade Show versus two other companies with a stranglehold on the market at that point is a complete disaster in the making. Why call Sony if it’s in third position – it’s not like anyone called Nintendo during the Wii U era, is it?
Having said that – the likelihood that Sony would be snubbed even early on is ludicrous at this point. With how expensive 4K gaming will end up, you’re going to need software sales in general and being picky over which platform gets your software is never going to work out. Particularly if the difference of a couple hundred thousand sales units matters in the long run.
So is it a big Sony problem? Probably not. Still risky, but I think Sony is making a calculated gamble here; it’ll have a couple of very big PlayStation 5 shows during this year (2020) and then it will take a moment after it launches to see how things are playing out.
If the PS5 storms out of the gates and defies expectations, expect Sony to turn away from E3 indefinitely. If the PS5 struggles out of the gates (which I think will happen, but don’t misunderstand – I don’t believe Microsoft will fare much better), then 2021 will probably see Sony sheepishly make a return if only for the Trade Show stuff, to do business behind the scenes and try and score a few exclusives.
The real problem is E3, as we know it as consumers, makes less and less sense with each passing year.
And that so few people want to talk about that… is kind of worrying.