PlayStation is not going to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June. I think that’s a bad idea. Sony Interactive Entertainment should go to E3 as part of the lead up to the PlayStation 5 launch this holiday.
To be clear, I don’t think Sony needs E3 to promote the PS5. The company could likely sleep its way to selling every next-gen console it makes for the first 24 months. It has enough diehard fans to easily do that even if the company doesn’t have a lot of big exclusives in the first year. But E3 is an opportunity. It’s a chance to show up and face off directly with its biggest competition and make it clear to everyone that it’s not just stumbling into the next generation.
But it’s more than that. Sony sowed the seeds of PlayStation 4’s success at E3 2013. Nearly seven years later, Sony is still cashing in on that performance. And it seems like a mistake not to try to do that again.
How PlayStation 4 built an empire at E3
Sony and Microsoft never had plans to do any first big reveals at E3 2020. Both likely intend to hold their own events in the next couple of months. That’s exactly what they did for PS4 and Xbox One, and the benefits for a dedicated media presentation are well understood at this point.
Xbox and PS5 can own an entire news cycle. They can lay out their argument for why everyone needs to upgrade without having to fight for headlines and attention.
So it makes sense for both companies to go that route again. And the obvious followup question is why do you need E3 if something like a PlayStation Meeting is so dominant? And I would urge you to look back at 2013 with the context of the entire current generation of consoles in mind.
The story of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were not written at their initial reveals. At the PlayStation Meeting 2013, PS4/PS5 architect Mark Cerny took the stage to talk about the hardware and Knack. At the Xbox One reveal, Microsoft said “television” and “sports” a lot. The only thing most people remember from those initial events is the Call of Duty dog.
Compare that to the E3 that happened just a couple of months later.
Microsoft revealed the Xbox One would launch for $500 with an included Kinect. Then, a few hours later, Sony announced PS4 would hit the same day for $400. Microsoft had plans to require players to check in online to play even physical discs. Then Xbox boss went on to tell reporters that if players want a console that works offline, they should get an Xbox 360. And then Sony threw a knockout punch when it quickly produced a last-minute video to show how easy it is to lend games on PS4 compared to Xbox One.
Microsoft soon retreated from all of its “always-online” plans, and today the Xbox One works exactly like a PlayStation 4. But Sony cemented its “for the players” reputation at that event.
It’s about the story
So what’s the difference between a siloed reveal event and E3? Well, people see the fromer as a commercial and the latter as something closer to a sporting event. Gaming fans want to see their favorite companies “win” E3. And winning is only possible because it seems like Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and the rest are competing.
As humans, we are attracted to competitions because they tell very easy-to-understand story. And I don’t mean story in a “newsworthy” journalism sense — I mean it as in the tales we tell each other.
The PlayStation Meeting 2013 wasn’t memorable because it’s not one of those kinds of stories: “Sony announced a new console. It plays games better. The end.”
That doesn’t mean anything.
But because E3 has countering forces working against and challenging one another, those companies get a chance to shine: “Microsoft announced an always-online console that costs $500 and has a confusing used-games system. Sony undercut its competitor by charging $400 for a PS4 that works offline and enables players to share discs.”
That’s a story. People repeated it and believed it.
Sure, it’s possible that Sony could create similar narratives without E3. If it holds events near and around E3, maybe it will succeed at that without having to pay to show up to the actual venue. And the Entertainment Software Association, which organizes E3, doesn’t seem capable of making this case directly to Sony. But E3 is still the most certain way to accomplish the sort of brand storytelling that made the PS4 (at least in part) a sales juggernaut.