Is Sony Making a Grave Mistake?
After last year’s absence, many thought Sony would have something to present for this year’s E3, however, they’ve confirmed with statements to both Gameindustry.biz and CNET they will also not be attending this year’s show. “After thorough evaluation [Sony] has decided not to participate in E3 2020,” said a Sony spokesperson. “We have great respect for the ESA as an organization, 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 favorite content. We have a fantastic line up of titles coming to PlayStation 4, and with the upcoming launch of PlayStation 5, we are truly looking forward to a year of celebration with our fans.”
An ESA spokesperson responded: “E3 is a signature event celebrating the video game industry and showcasing the people, brands, and innovations redefining entertainment loved by billions of people around the world. E3 2020 will be an exciting, high-energy show featuring new experiences, partners, exhibitor spaces, activations, and programming that will entertain new and veteran attendees alike. Exhibitor interest in our new activations is gaining the attention of brands that view E3 as a key opportunity to connect with video game fans worldwide.”
Regardless of whether Sony is making a mistake by distancing itself from the ESA and its convention, gaming and technology have come far since E3’s first Electronic Entertainment Expo in May 1995 (exhibiting Nintendo, Sony, and Sega). Sony has been there since the beginning, however, in a time like this the benefits of spending upwards of 50 or 60 million dollars for press conferences, booth space, personnel, marketing, and more are unlikely to outweigh the costs.
It’s doubtful Sony lacks the funds to afford going to the conference, but they can’t be blamed for refusing to continue dumping resources into a venue whose trajectory their goals don’t align with. Instead of competing for exposure with multiple rivals, they could be releasing information on their own schedule in various outlets, including their own PSX (Playstation Experience show). Financial agendas aside, Sony fans who enjoy attending E3 will find themselves facing a dilemma, especially those who aren’t multi-platform gamers.
What E3 Means to Gamers
Prior to 2017, E3 was an industry-only event; access to the conference required some type of verifiable connection to the game industry, though, the conferences were eventually broadcast publicly to garner more interest. For E3 2017, the ESA sold 15,000 convention tickets to the public, resulting in a total number of over 68,000 attendees and bringing about a sense of crowding and obvious floor management issues. With another 15,000 tickets sold to the general public in 2018, the show brought in 69,200 attendees, the most the conference had held since 2005 (the year Xbox 360 and PS3 were announced).
The public interest in the convention has skyrocketed over the years, leading to moments like Keanu’s on-stage appearance for Cyberpunk 2077 (Jon Bernthal showing up on behalf of Ghost Recon Breakpoint is another good example). E3 has reached a point where celebrities are not only talking about games on stage, but literally appearing in the titles themselves. They’re fans just like everyone else. Video games have drastically increased in popularity throughout the last decade and it makes sense the largest video game trade show would begin to attract larger crowds.
With larger crowds, though, come higher operating expenses, longer lines for people waiting on playable demos, and the general chaos that comes with managing increasing numbers of human beings. Many journalists say they can glean more information watching the online conferences rather than walking the show floor, despite not being able to play demos. If the ESA plans to continue turning the show into more of a public event, it needs to be ready to accommodate those large numbers and make sure everyone feels comfortable enough to enjoy the space and, most importantly, the games.
Press Conferences Are Expensive
Non first-party game developers can find themselves spending anywhere from 10 to 15 million dollars in expenses to cover an E3 show, and that number goes up to 50 to 60 million for first-party. It’s hard to justify this cost when there are platforms like Playstation Experience or affiliated streams and channels to release exclusive news. Perhaps if the ESA’s vision for the show was more aligned with Sony’s, there could be a compromise, but it’s up to the ESA to make sure E3 continues to grow and improve regardless of Sony’s attendance.
Microsoft attended E3 last year. However, they didn’t have a booth on the actual show floor. Instead, they were located a short walk away in the Microsoft Theatre building, which has been used by Microsoft and Nintendo multiple times for press conferences in the past. Both companies plan to continue attending the event as normal, while Microsoft will likely opt to showcase at their own locale once more, which helps to save on costs.
The industry has shifted the ways in which the audience receives information, and Sony is set to invest in more profitable alternatives to the trade show. No more demo deadlines, conference budgets, or slip-ups; they will have total control of the message and its delivery on their chosen platforms and events. They plan to capitalize on their brand identity and separate themselves from the conference while maintaining their fanbase followership. To the dismay of many gamers, they aren’t actually responsible for the success or failure of E3; that falls on the ESA’s shoulders.
Sony is a business, and in the end they will do what all businesses do, which is make any necessary decisions in favor of the shareholders. While that may lead to a lot of Sony and cross-platform fans feeling disappointed, possibly even skipping this year’s show, but again it’s up to the ESA to make up for that. Sony has stated that they plan to continue releasing content and maintaining a stream of news and events for their fans, and hopefully that’s just what they’ll do.
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
E3 has been an industry and trade show far longer than it’s been a consumer event, and Sony’s always been there to put their products on display for journalists, competitors, or anyone with a profession in the field. As the ESA focuses on expanding the consumer side of E3, it makes sense for Sony to consider bypassing the middleman and going directly for the consumer on their own exclusive platforms and shows. When Sony says they respect the ESA but don’t agree with their vision, they probably mean exactly that. As the saying goes, “Nothing personal, it’s just business”.
Whether it’s a grave mistake remains to be seen, after all Sony might come running back to the ESA with their tail between their legs, but that seems unlikely. Microsoft and Nintendo, while publicly supporting the event, would also fail to attend if it was the profitable move for them. Sony is banking on their fanbase following them; the die hards that will refund their E3 ticket and make sure they get into whatever show at which the PS5 is located, and those cross-platform gamers who will get tickets to whatever show is displaying the games they love.
With Sony’s recent interest in joining the crossplay initiative and releasing their exclusive titles for PC (Sony’s first-party PS4 exclusives are coming to PC), it makes sense that they need to push brand loyalty as hard as possible. After all, they’re releasing their games to be played on an operating system developed by their competitors, a risk they’ve never before been willing to take. It’ll be exciting to see which direction Sony will go and precisely what they’ll have in store for 2020.