What PlayStation’s Absence Means for E3 2020

Another E3 without PlayStation could be in everyone's best interests.

PlayStation Skipping E3 2020

When you first hear that a massive company like Sony is skipping E3 in a year when it is launching a new console, it’s natural for your first reaction to be one of rampant skepticism. Has the PlayStation team lost its collective mind? Or has E3 really gone to the dogs? It’s all too easy to think the worst.

The way the news was announced wasn’t particularly positive, either. Sony shared a stuffy statement with GamesIndustry.biz to explain that it is going in a different direction than what the Electronic Software Associate, E3’s organizing body, has planned for this year’s show. Sony’s spokesperson said: “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.” That statement makes the situation sound a bit dire, doesn’t it?

But when you consider the reasons why Sony is sitting out E3 2020 mere months before the launch of the PlayStation 5, and think about the potential aftermath of this surprising move, you start to see that there are actually a lot of positives that could come of it. Sony deciding to keep the PlayStation brand and its next-gen console away from E3 could be a decision that works in the favor of everyone. Sony, E3, and other brands could all benefit. Here’s why…

Playstation Will Skip E3 Again in 2020

Sony Doesn’t Need E3 to Show off the PS5

When Sony announced that PlayStation won’t be having an official presence at E3 2020, the official statement was very clear about one important detail: the fact that it’s not at E3 does not mean that Sony won’t be taking PlayStation 5 on the road before its launch.

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Far from it, in fact. The Sony statement promises that the team at PlayStation is planning to “build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of consumer events across the globe.” Attendees at E3 2020 may not be able to engage with PlayStation at that particular event, but fans around the world will be able to interact with the game giant at other events. 

“Our focus is on making sure fans feel part of the PlayStation family and have access to play their favorite content”, the statement added, before teasing “a year of celebration with our fans” that includes “a fantastic line up of titles coming to PlayStation 4” and “the upcoming launch of PlayStation 5.” Clearly, a decision has been made behind the scenes that E3 isn’t the right place for Sony to make its intended splash, but big plans are afoot to make that splash elsewhere.

Sony’s plan could include a dedicated reveal event, not unlike the PlayStation-centric PSX conventions its put on in the past. Or, like Microsoft did with the Xbox Series X at The Game Awards, Sony could decide to unveil the PS5 in a live stream. Sony spent the last year establishing its State of Play broadcasts as the must-watch source for PlayStation news, so an online reveal for the PS5 wouldn’t be completely out of place (although it would lack a bit of drama, wouldn’t it?). The next console war may not be fought on the traditional battleground of E3, but you can bet that both Sony and Microsoft are plotting their publicity trails carefully, and we look forward to seeing what both parties come up with. 

If Sony’s statement turns out to be accurate, over a hundred locations around the world will be hosting PlayStation content this year, and it’s very hard to complain about that.

Fortnite E3 2019

E3 Might Find New Relevance in PlayStation’s Absence

The lack of a PlayStation presence doesn’t mean that E3 2020 is doomed to be an unsuccessful or unenjoyable event. The ESA released its own statement in response to Sony’s decision, assuring gamers that “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.”

It’s worth remembering that PlayStation also skipped E3 last year, and that didn’t stop the event from attracting plenty of attendees and media attention. There have been rumblings and suggestions that trade shows like this are doomed because the internet allows game developers and publishers to communicate directly with fans all year round. Certainly, there is a sense that E3 will need to evolve and adapt if the ESA wants to keep its event at the forefront of the gaming calendar. Last year’s event welcomed 66,100 people, proving there is still an appetite there, but those numbers were also a noticeable drop compared to the 69,200 people that went in 2018. The future success of the event will depend on how well ESA manages to mix up its formula and keep getting people through the door.

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But, even if PlayStation (and EA and Microsoft, who no longer present on the expo floor or on the main E3 stage) abandons the trade show completely, E3 still commands the attention of fans, who show up in the flesh and online for the big announcements, trailers, and gameplay footage. For most gamers, E3 is still one of the most exciting events of the year. 

You could even see the no-show from PlayStation as an interesting creative challenge for the E3 organizers. How will the show keep people engaged sans the PlayStation 5? It has already been reported that the ESA might be looking to rebrand E3 as less of an industry trade show and more of a “fan, media, and influencer festival,” and not having to fit in a huge Sony showcase could leave the ESA extra room to try out new things and attempt to find ways to keep E3 relevant in the ever-changing gaming industry.

Talk of a renewed focus on fans, media and influencers did cause some concern among certain onlookers. Rumors suggest that the rejigging of E3 could include “queuetainment,” which apparently involves marketing directly to people who are waiting in line, as well as “experience hubs” that brands can book to put more interactive stuff on the show floor. One of those ideas sounds far better than the other, but only time will tell whether E3 2020 does make these concepts a reality. 

Additionally, a lot of people actually like influencers (that’s how they build followings in the first place), and those kinds of fans may find the rebranded E3 more engaging than a traditional collection of demos and presentations hosted by big corporations. There’s nothing wrong with giving gamers a number of different experiences to choose from. “Queuetainment,” influencers, and the lack of at least one of the big next-gen consoles may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps E3 changing with the times might not be such a bad thing.

Keanu Reeves Cyberpunk 2077

Someone Else Could Steal the Show

Sony sitting out for E3 2020 will leave more room on the show floor and the big stages for other companies to make an impact. Microsoft has confirmed that it’s bringing the Xbox Series X to the show, and E3 can likely count on the usual suspects like Nintendo and Bethesda to make a splash. Lest we forget that, despite PlayStation’s absence, there were heaps of exciting things revealed during E3 week in 2019, including the debut trailer for Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild sequel and the first footage from Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers

Keanu Reeves even took to the E3 stage last year to announce his involvement in Cyberpunk 2077 and tell a fan that they’re breathtaking. It was a big moment that went massively viral and garnered coverage from all sorts of news outlets all around the globe. It served as a great example of how a centralized event like E3 can still generate internet-smashing levels of buzz for publishers.

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With Sony sitting out again this year, there are bound to be other companies cooking up big ideas in the hope of securing a Keanu-sized publicity boost. Microsoft, for example, will be trying its darndest to make sure the PlayStation 5’s absence isn’t felt, pointing next-gen hungry fans towards its Xbox Series X instead.

When you think about it from the perspective of an ordinary gamer, there isn’t really a downside to Sony skipping E3: PlayStation fans will still be able to engage with the brand at loads of other events, E3 will go on while potentially trying some new things, and those of us watching at home will still be able to bask in the glory of the show’s massive reveals. 

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