Sony Skipping E3 Signals a Big Shift for Games Marketing

Social media blew up last week when the ESA hid a bombshell in a promotional press release for next year’s E3: Sony would not be among the attendees for the year’s biggest gaming convention. Before people could even start to hypothesize that the publisher’s absence from the floor would not affect the annual pre-E3 press conference, Sony clarified that they will not “activate or hold a press conference around E3.” This news is hard to initially interpret as anything but shocking, as Sony has continued to largely dominate the conversation surrounding E3 in recent years as the publisher has stepped up their exclusives and drawn in some of the biggest third-party titles primarily due to the continued sales success of the PS4. To have one of the big three console developers not only abandon their large spot on the E3 show floor, but seemingly ignore the convention in any regard is undoubtedly a blow to a convention that is constantly interrogated for its relevance in an ever-shifting industry.

This is far from the first time one of the big three has lessened their presence at the LA-based event. Since 2013, Nintendo has abandoned the traditional live E3 press conference in favor of the publisher’s flagship Nintendo Direct pre-recorded videos, and is no stranger from using their space on the floor in unusual ways, including their 2016 appearance where their entire booth was solely dedicated to one title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Meanwhile, Microsoft housed the vast majority of their game demos in their own Microsoft Theater this past year, which was only open for two days prior to the official kickoff of E3. On the show floor, Microsoft’s space was solely used to promote their streaming service Mixer, leaving little for attendees to get their hands on at an event that primarily celebrates interactivity. Despite these changes, both publishers remain committed to having noteworthy presences at E3 2019, allowing them the opportunity to fill the conversational hole that Sony has willingly given away.

In recent years, Sony has used E3 as only one of their primary ways of communicating large announcements and updates about their upcoming lineup, relying on other conventions including TGS, Paris Games Week and their own fan-centric PSX. Despite these opportunities, Sony has left little for North American audiences to latch onto: TGS was, expectedly, primarily geared towards international audiences, Paris Games Week brought next to nothing in the way of new announcements and the publisher even cancelled PSX for the first time since its introduction back in 2014. Unless Sony introduces a new self-created event during the first half of 2019, that seemingly leaves no occasion for the publisher to promote The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Dreams, Days Gone, Concrete Genie or any of their other first-party titles that their studios are working on for 2019 and beyond. This is a shocking gap of over twelve months that will in all likelihood be filled, but for the time being, Sony has left no clear opportunities for fans to receive updates on some of the most-anticipated sequels and new IPs of the industry, particularly considering only one of the above titles has a specific release date.

Without a new event lined up in the months ahead, Sony has seemingly made it clear that they can effectively advertise themselves without major events, sticking to basic social media tactics and word of mouth to drive the same success they have seen so far this generation. It’s a bold move, as Sony looks to separate themselves from Microsoft and Nintendo and their current reliance on E3 and the like to drive their biggest announcements. We’re still years off from determining just how successful this plan of attack will end up being, but if Sony manages to continue to produce record sales numbers without E3, or Microsoft and Nintendo can’t capitalize at E3 2019 and the convention ends up feeling lackluster without one of the big three, Sony could end up laying the blueprint for how developers and publishers, big or small, promote themselves for the remainder of this generation and the ones to follow. This line of thinking could prove disastrous for E3’s future, but as long as passionate fan bases continue to exist, there may not be a need for Sony to come groveling back to E3’s doorstep as the industry continues to evolve in unpredictable and necessary ways.