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Is PlayStation right to skip E3?

Sony does not need to go to LA to get people excited for PS5

PlayStation does not need to go to E3.

There's no need for Sony to travel to Los Angeles to speak to retailers about its next console. There are far fewer stores to speak to these days, and let's be clear, they're all going to stock the PlayStation 5.

As a media event E3 is a powerful beast, with the world's press descending on Los Angeles that week. But this is PlayStation we're talking about. It's one of the most important brands in entertainment. Wherever the firm decides to show off the PS5, the media will be there to see it.

Not that it necessarily needs the media. There are over 100 million PS4 customers in the world, and 39 million of them are paying subscribers to PS Plus. This is an audience Sony can talk to directly whenever it wants. And they're already very engaged. Only last week PlayStation showed the PS5 logo -- pretty much the same as the PS4 logo -- and it has received over five million likes on Instagram.

Sony can drum up plenty of hype and excitement about its next console without spending huge sums on E3.

It might seem unusual that a major upcoming console misses E3, but it's not without precedent. In fact, the last significant console launch -- Nintendo Switch -- didn't reach E3 until after it had been released. And that machine has gone on to perform very well indeed.

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Sony has been a partner to E3 from 1995 - 2018

If there is one potential downside to missing E3, it's that it gives PlayStation's rivals a free pass. The firm missed E3 2019, too, but with only a few games to promote and no new console to shout about, it was an understandable decision. Even so, one Xbox manager told me that PlayStation forgoing E3 last year was "like being given a penalty kick and them not fielding a goalkeeper." That manager didn't expect to be afforded the same luxury in 2020, and yet here we are. A Microsoft source has already told Videogameschronicle that Xbox is 'upping its plans' because of Sony's expected absence.

Yet going head-to-head with your rival at E3 has its risks. What if Xbox Series X is more powerful than PS5? What if Microsoft's launch line-up is stronger? What if it's cheaper? When you're so far in the lead, as PlayStation is, why risk unfavourable headlines and comparisons? There's something to be said for not risking your advantage.

And indeed, E3 is an event that can easily backfire if you say the wrong thing, or try something new that gamers aren't sure about. Just ask Microsoft about E3 2013 and the lasting impact that week has had on Xbox One.

PlayStation's statement about missing E3 2020 doesn't mention any of these things, of course. Its stated reason for not attending E3 is its desire to do something more gamer-centric. Just like EA, which abandoned E3 back in 2016, PlayStation feels that the show should become a fan celebration.

Unfortunately, it's not a view shared by everyone. Last year, I spoke to numerous execs about E3, and the CEOs of two large third-party publishers baulked at the idea of it becoming a fully fledged consumer event. This is the challenge [organiser] the ESA is facing. It has to try and find some form of magic compromise between those that want E3 to become a comic-con, and those that want to keep it an industry-only affair.

"The CEOs of two large third-party publishers baulked at the idea of E3 becoming a fully fledged consumer event"

However, in many ways, E3 already is a consumer event, and always has been.

Not in the physical sense, of course. E3 has started selling some gamer tickets and introduced some consumer elements, but really it's a terrible event for fans. Attendees at E3 2016 spent all day queuing to play Zelda for 30 minutes, and most of the big games at E3 2019 were not playable (and behind-closed-doors).

Building a good consumer show involves putting on plenty of things to do outside of queuing for ages to watch someone else play the latest LEGO Star Wars. PAX and Gamescom are full of retro zones, niche panels, cosplay competitions, board game tables, retail areas, esports tournaments... at PAX East there is even a room dedicated to the 2002 Xbox game Steel Battalion.

If E3 wants to be a real fan celebration, it doesn't need to evolve, but change itself fundamentally. And that's a big ask.

PlayStation attracted around 80 million YouTube views during E3 2018

PlayStation attracted around 80 million YouTube views during E3 2018

Yet as a digital event, E3 is a fantastic consumer show, and one that's accessible to pretty much everyone.

Back in the 1990s, in the days before broadband, E3 was about refreshing IGN and arguing on forums. And we all did it. Today, every publisher runs pre- and post-conference livestreams, media outlets take out stages and interview developers live for their audiences, influencers film every inch of the show floor, Nintendo and Xbox put on an entire week of deep dives, and now even E3 hosts its own panels (although should probably do even more). Meanwhile, social media has made it easier than ever for fans to connect and discuss everything that was revealed and announced.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to Fancensus, over 70 million people watched E3-related Cyberpunk 2077 videos on YouTube, 37 million watched Marvel's Avengers footage and 24 million enjoyed Watch Dogs Legion YouTube coverage. If you compare that to Gamescom-tagged coverage, probably E3's biggest rival, the most viewed game from that show was Marvel's Avengers, which generated just under 9.2 million views.

And, in the past, PlayStation has dominated E3. In 2018, Sony's products attracted just shy of 80 million views on YouTube (again Fancensus data) during E3, just under 10 million more than Nintendo and almost 55 million more than Microsoft.

"E3 is for the fans who are tuning in around the world, not so much for those wrestling with the crowds in LA"

E3 is for the fans, but for those who are tuning in around the world, not so much for those wrestling with security checks and long queues at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

And these fans, they don't care if the live-stream is a proper conference or a pre-recorded video. They don't care if one of the halls is unusually quiet. They don't care if EA is actually at E3, or in a building down the road. These are only issues for the ESA and those who are actually there in person. The position of E3 as a physical event is under threat, but as an online showcase it is as strong as it's ever been.

And so back to PlayStation and its decision to give E3 a pass. It says it is doing it for the fans, and will participate in 'hundreds of consumer events' to get its new device in the hands of gamers. The company says it's "truly looking forward to a year of celebration with our fans".

That sounds exciting. Yet I can't help but feel for those PlayStation fans who will miss out on E3. The ones who had that week circled on their calendars and were already planning their late night viewing parties.

Because E3 is the world's biggest consumer event. And one that PlayStation's fans will feel largely left out of once again.

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Latest comments (11)

Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA month ago
E3 lost relevance years ago. Sony is wise to focus on its business.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
@Richard Browne: I'm not sure I agree with that. As a physical event, it's got an identity crisis. But when you look at the numbers and the online excitement, there really isn't anything else that comes close in our industry calendar. The Top Ten games at E3 last year brought in 420m YouTube videos... the same analyis at Gamescom registers 55 million.

Of course, the physical component is what makes the money. And that's where the issues lie.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
Does Disney need a tradeshow that is for press and distribution only to sell its latest Marvel movie?

Sony will sell every PS5 they can produce, they do not need to sell retailers on the idea of stocking them. Sony also does not need to sell the press on reporting on PS5. Hence, Sony will face the consumers directly with shows and events.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
@Klaus Preisinger: Except that E3 is a consumer event, in many ways. That's the bit they're missing.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
@Christopher Dring

But most of the relevant consumers Sony is reaching from E3 are not at the show floor, or visitors of the public segment. They are at home, tuning into a livestream. Which is not broadcast from the showfloor either, but a location more suited for the task. Sony can do that without throwing money at the ESA anytime.

20.000 public tickets are nothing. For what? For people standing in a line all day? 15 minutes per user, 18h opening time total for the week, makes 72 people per devkit served. That is not an ideal situation.

I argue, week long events such as awesome games done quick, or weekend eSport events are more relevant for the future as a template how to reach people than a bastardized trade show. Have just as much audience as you need, make the on site event as pleasant as possible, make the stream hit as far a reach as possible. Ask people to donate $10 for the good cause Sony supports and you will be able to stream the next Grand Tourismo for 30 minutes on Playstation Now. It is not going to be the perfect experience, but it beats driving to an event and standing in line for hours. User experience, right? In my opinion this is where game streaming is headed. Sure it has lag, but it is embedded in an all around entertaining experience, not a slog in L.A.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
@Klaus Preisinger: Yes. But without the physical event, does the digital event still exist? The effect of people getting together to announce things resulted in billions of video views last year. Gamescom doesn't even manage 10% of E3.

Which is what this article is about. It's the online thing that's the important element of E3.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital ExtremesA month ago
@Christopher Dring: Wherever, whenever and however Sony chooses to rollout PS5 itíll get millions of eyeballs, it doesnít need E3 for that, indeed E3 just clutters them among a thousand other things. E3 has long outstayed its welcome, its expensive and physically pointless. Yes the industry still drives announcements toward that date which is why views are greater than Gamescom, thatís a function of marketing not the event. Stick a big consumer event in February marketing will drive to that. More and more people donít see any need for a physical presence at E3 ; people just piggyback off it these days. Time for a total rethink.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
@Christopher Dring

E3 gets all the hits, because it is the original info dump of an industry that beyond E3 bores people to death with drip feed inanity. Intel, AMD and Nvidia sure as hell do not make all their announcement at the same trade show. Samsung and Apple refrain from doing that as well. They have a reason for that, they do not like being put on a scale right then and right there.

For historic reasons of mainstream market penetration (or lack thereof), the ESA managed to taunt everybody into getting into a big "whose games will be best" fight at E3. After that, 90% of the big announcements are done and Gamescom is a sad rehash of E3, just like IFA is a sad rehash of the CES. Good, if you can drive there, but basically you have seen everything on Youtube before. Having one new trailer, or the one game that missed E3, does not change a thing. By the time gamescom rolls around, games are ready to hit the shelves.

You said it yourself, the online thing is the important part of E3 and I want to add that the first announcement part of a whole bunch of facts is just as important. But is the ESA a content producer or distributor? No. Whatever Sony wants to have happen online, Sony will have to make happen themselves. At which point, you might as well skip E3, book a set in L.A, do your thing while people expect you to do a thing. Do it during E3, do it a week later, do it whenever PR tells you it is best.
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Alan Boiston Director, Veni Vidi ViciA month ago
Since it became a consumer show, E3 has lost it's value for both retail buyers and media. Walls of people in the way of gamepods, stands, potential business contacts. It's a nightmare for business and combined with ever increasing costs to stands (something that blighted ECTS), now with this news the show is in even worse shape than anticipated in 2019.

E3 needs to reduce costs, bring back trade days, trade focus and work to its strengths if it is to succeed.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.bizA month ago
Klaus, you seem to be changing the conversation to a different topic about the ESA, which is effectively a union of publishers. Thatís a different topic for another day.

All I was saying is that gamers do love E3. CNN send news trucks to E3, the BBC send journalists from every department, E3 hits the front page of every major publication in the world... there is an consumer and media value to the event. As I stated in the piece, E3 as a physical event suffers a real identity crisis. But it is still as popular as it has ever been as an online event.

As someone who works in the media, who can see first hand the response to E3 in traffic numbers and audience engagement, nothing comes even close. I see industry people complain about the show every year, but nobody has come up with a viable rival. They want it to die without offering anything else. The Game Awards perhaps come closest. But even then...

And Richard, it seems we agree! As a physical product, E3 has some real challenges. But itís hard to rethink something when those who fund it canít agree.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
Christopher, I assume that people do not like E3, they like the information they get from E3 and it just so happens that most initial announcements are made during E3. This is the cause, everything else, such as clicks on webpages and the presence of CNN, is a result of that, not the other way around.

I also assume that many publishers profit from the mass attention they generate by pooling their announcements, but as you pointed, Sony probably isn't one of them. Blizzard is another one, opting for their own Blizzcon to do big announcements.

E3 only offers the space and trade visitors, the ladder of which are less important in the online age. How the space is used has moved from cheap desks, to a series of demo kiosks, to presentation boxes for 100+ people, to big stage shows. Live streaming stage events? They already moved beyond E3's location. You want to compete with E3, you need to offer more than just space. You need to offer an audience willing to tune in and a plethora of production capacity so publishers and streaming personalities alike can turn up and get the event going. Again, Blizzard's Blizzcon is in many ways the template for what is to succeed E3 eventually.
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