PlayStation’s decision to skip E3 this year is a critical one. With a next-gen console launch looming, the company has decided that it’d rather unveil the PlayStation 5 outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, skipping the potential console war at the trade show altogether. PlayStation hasn’t outlined how it plans to lift the curtain on the PS5 before its Holiday 2020 launch, but some sort of consumer event is likely, whether it be a special version of the popular Sony-centric PSX convention or something else. Or perhaps the company will decide it doesn’t need to show the console in the flesh at all, choosing instead to control the messaging by unveiling the PS5 in a State of Play broadcast, taking a page out of Microsoft’s notebook.
The big three — Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo — have increasingly adopted the direct messaging offered by pre-recorded broadcasts, speaking straight to the consumer without the third party. The reality is that the sort of influence afforded by a centralized trade show like E3 may no longer be the PR gold mine it once was. Yet, while Nintendo will likely continue to skip the E3 stage in favor of a Direct video and PlayStation isn’t even bothering to show up to the con at all, there is still one hold out this year.
Unsurprisingly, Xbox has everything to gain from PlayStation’s E3 absence. With its main competitor in the next-gen race out of the picture, Xbox could dominate E3 like never before. But does winning E3 even matter in 2020?
While the trade show may be falling out of grace with hardware developers and game publishers, not to mention the members of the press the Electronic Software Association (E3’s organizing body) accidentally doxed last year, E3 still means something to consumers. To fans, E3 is still an exciting week of big announcements, surprise reveals, and world premiere gameplay footage, and the ESA recently opening the convention hall doors to the public reflects this. Interest from the pros may be trending down, but the consumers are still showing up online and in person to demo the latest titles. And for those looking to sample what the next generation of consoles has to offer before spending their hard-earned cash, the Xbox Series X will be the only game in town, so to speak.
At E3 2020, Microsoft has the chance to plead its case to consumers without having to look over its shoulder. As of this writing, the company has yet to announce what it has planned for the convention except that it’s “hard at work on E3” and “looking forward to sharing with all who love to play what’s ahead for us,” according to Xbox head Phil Spencer on Twitter.
Xbox hasn’t attended E3 in the traditional sense since it pulled out of the show floor in 2018, choosing instead to host its big media briefing and press and consumer demos at its own Microsoft Theater a few blocks away from the LA Convention Center the weekend before the expo opens its doors. Microsoft could certainly do this again in 2020, leaving E3 without a major next-gen console to showcase on the main floor, but isn’t there also value to bringing the Xbox Series X to the general E3 public and reaching as many people as possible, including those who can’t get into the theater?
Here’s a chance for Microsoft to connect with its target audience in person, while also using the opportunity to collect feedback on its budding next-gen platform. When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One in 2013, it made the mistake of pushing ideas about where the digital entertainment industry was headed instead of showcasing the console’s base function as a gaming platform. Things like its DRM restrictions and multimedia capabilities distorted the conversation and left gamers feeling like Microsoft had forgotten about them.
At E3 2020, Microsoft could do the opposite: put the console in the hands of the gamers and let them decide. Assuming the Xbox Series X is what it claims to be, E3 demo stations could do more to promote the console as the future of gaming than any corporate rhetoric or stage show could.
That’s not to say the media briefing won’t be equally important. Whether or not Microsoft brings the Xbox Series X to the expo floor, it’s likely that the company will use E3 week to unveil the full list of features and launch titles coming to the console this holiday. While Spencer actually announced the Xbox Series X during The Game Awards last year, there’s still plenty we don’t know about the console.
At the moment, we only know some of the console’s specs, that it’ll be backwards compatible with past Xbox platforms, that it’ll launch with Halo Infinite and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, and what it looks like. We haven’t seen any games actually running on the platform, how it’ll work in tandem with Microsoft’s xCloud service, or whether it’ll feature cross-save or cross-platform play out out of the box. Most importantly, we don’t know how much the console will cost players. That last one is known to sink ships before they leave the dock.
Xbox had a stellar showing at E3 2019, bringing the games and nothing but. It was one of the company’s best media briefings to date, showcasing just how far the Xbox One had come from its initially disastrous reveal in 2013. Microsoft will have to replicate this success while also turning the audience’s attention back to hardware. Hopefully, Xbox will deliver its message through the next-gen console’s games, not a long-winded tech presentation. However E3 2020 pans out, with the PS5 out of the picture, this really seems like Xbox’s trade show to lose.