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Analysis: PlayStation Passing on E3 Attendence

E3 crowds 2018

PlayStation is skipping on attending E3 this year, just a few months before it plans to launch the PS5.

A decade or so ago, that would have seemed like a very peculiar move. E3 has long been the place to announce and launch the biggest games and gaming platforms. It is famed as a media frenzy, where the world’s press amass to collect and share all the key gaming news.

Indeed, it was the very first E3 in 1995 that saw one of the most iconic moments in PlayStation history. Following SEGA’s reveal that the Saturn would retail at $399, during Sony’s keynote at the show SCEA President Steve Race was welcomed on stage to make a ‘brief presentation’. Stepping up to the lecture Race checked his papers, readied himself to speak, then simply uttered “299”, and immediately leftthe stage, without breaking a smile. Race was revealing the coming PlayStation’s $299 price-point. That moment, some say, marked the birth of PlayStation’s distinct brand, and the begin of a long period of decline for SEGA. Here it is in ‘full’.

Year after year Sony and many others have attended E3, and yet it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the PlayStation 5 will have no official presence at E3 2020. After all, PlayStation had no presence at E3 2019 – the first it had ever missed. It should be noted, though, that there was much less for Sony to promote that year.

So why isn’t Sony at E3 this year, and is it taking a risk in skipping gaming’s big one?

Simply put, games have changed. The knock on effect is that everything related to them must evolved to meet with what games now are. Today a greater variety of people are playing a more diverse spread of games, spending more and sinking in more collective time. Boxed-product and retail isn’t what it used to be, games are maintained as services long after launch, free-to-play has become everyday, the cloud distribution model is returning, subscriptions services are thriving, esports is defining, self-publishing is commonplace, video is a powerfully influential force, and digital distribution is the norm.

As such, events have had to change, diversify and consider how the balance scalability and sustainability.

E3 long served as an event to promote and PR games. As such it was a machine that was perhaps more relevant to publishers and retailers of blockbusters than to game developers themselves. Now consumers are so fascinated by the game making process – and the wider industry – that the very trade-focused Game Developers Conference over in San Francisco has turned from a gathering that welcomed a handful of trade media to one that is descended on by the global games press, and where increasing announcements are made. Meanwhile Gamescom in Germany has grown both as a consumer and industry gathering, rivalling E3’s offering in a place much more accessible to the numerous European game outfits. It’s not that Gamescom has muscled out E3; rather, they now share their audience and clout.

Identity Crisis

E3, meanwhile, has been going through something of an identity crisis, dipping its toes in the realm of welcoming consumers in a number of ways, and shifting its leaning and make-up to better welcome and represent what modern game companies are. The once dominant show is now trying to find its place in a broader, larger sector with more competition for attention online and off. But is hasn’t quite found its footing as a consumer show.

Really, though, the way information about games is consumed has shifted so much that a singular event that is physically grounded to one location has lost relevance, or at last its all powerful status. Once a year isn’t enough when gaming fans are used to hoovering up gaming news through social media, streamed content and a democratised games media landscape on a daily basis. Meanwhile, game companies large and small can stream their own events throughout the year, provide an opportunity to try games through the likes of Early Access, and, perhaps most importantly, have direct relationships with their audiences. Why bother with the expense and effort of E3 when you can have a direct line with your community through your own platforms, online community events, social media and so on? Fans don’t need to turn up to an event like E3, and game companies don’t need to deliver all their news and announcements through one or two real-world events.

As such, instead of heading to E3, PlayStation will be putting effort into its community and fan-base. E3, maybe, started to feel a little like a middleman.

“After thorough evaluation SIE has decided not to participate in E3 2020,” a Sony Interactive spokesperson told The Verge. “We have great respect for the ESA as an organisation, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.

“We will build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of consumer events across the globe. Our focus is on making sure fans feel part of the PlayStation family and have access to play their favourite content.”

Sony at E3 2018

PlayStation certainly went big at E3 2018.

All this is not to say both consumer and trade gaming events don’t hold tremendous value; E3 included.

These occasions can serve as a focal point for game development idea sharing and knowledge exchange, offer a meaningful networking opportunity, provide a forum for exploring and progressing key challenges, put the full spread of what gaming is under a single lens for analysis, and in many case the topicality they bring lets the national and non-gaming press give more time an column inches to the medium, making a huge impact in the mainstream. For the consumers that attend, meanwhile, big events provide a powerful and positive focal point for communities, and can  link consumer and industry, even kick-starting careers or engaging youngsters with the idea of working in games.

But was Sony right to pull out of E3 2020? The reality is, compared to 1995, it is such a major player in games it likely doesn’t need E3. There are no so many ways to connect and communicate with audiences, and spread information and enthusiasm for coming games and hardware. The press will be chomping at the bit to cover PlayStation 5 regardless of Sony’s lack of E3 presence, and running its own events – or joining smaller ones – ultimately gives Sony more control over its messaging, and less noise to compete with

Of course, rivals like Microsoft and Nintendo won’t have that Sony noise to compete with at this year’s E3.