Sony stunned the gaming world yesterday when it announced it will not attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in 2019. For the first time in 24 years, it won’t have a booth or a press event when the show opens in Los Angeles from June 11 to June 14.
That sounded so crazy that I didn’t believe it at first. It sort of freaks you out when one of the stalwarts of the industry decides that it’s going to stop doing what it’s been doing forever.
“As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community,” the company said in a statement. “PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently, and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.”
At the last show in June, we knew some funny thinking was going on at Sony, with the crazy and beautiful nontraditional press event that it had.
Instead of talking to us in an auditorium, Sony shuffled the 2,000 or so press into a soundstage. A few folks were able to sit in faux church pews, but the rest of us were standing in a giant empty space, designed to look like a scene from The Last of Us: Part II. A guy played a banjo and then the screen turned into a scene from the video game.
We finally understood that the whole place was meant to make us feel like we were inside the video game.
It was a total surprise, but I kept worrying that if somebody spooked the crowd, we would all die in a stampede. Then we got up and moved to a big round theater, where we watched a scene from the upcoming game Ghost of Tsushima. We saw some more bizarre madness in a reveal of Death Stranding’s latest preview. GamesBeat’s Jeff Grubb and I looked at each other and laughed at the strangeness.
And then we walked out into a place that seemed like a Japanese garden, complete with fake maple tree leaves that evoked the scenery of Ghost of Tsushima.
That was all madness. I thought to myself, “Who spends all this money on such a crazy presentation, not to mention the cost of the sprawling booth inside the Los Angeles Convention Center?”
And apparently Sony finally asked itself this question and agreed with us. Now it has pulled out, not long after the Entertainment Software Association announced in October that longtime CEO Mike Gallagher had resigned, with various outlets saying he was pushed out. In hindsight, the shake-up that led to Sony’s departure was clearly already rumbling when Gallagher left.
I worry about one thing with Sony, which with 86.1 million PlayStation 4 consoles sold is the undisputed leader of the industry. Leaders should lead. They should not simply act in their own self interests. Electronic Arts bailed out of the show a couple of years ago, in order to increase its own social media presence and attention, by getting rid of its booth and setting up in Hollywood ahead of the show.
It was successful, but it weakened the show by putting its own interests first. It’s like nationalism, but for companies, rather than globalism. I call it the game industry’s “tragedy of the commons.” That worked well for EA, but it wasn’t good for E3. And now gaming’s strongest leader, Sony, is pulling out.
In the past, we could trust the game leaders that we knew. They could grow the audience, the game industry, and the attention around games. At EA’s urging, the ESA blew up the show back in 2007, taking it down from 70,000 people to 10,000 in the course of a year. Gallagher arrived in 2008 and helped build the show back up, eventually morphing it so it let in about 15,000 fans.
Sony’s leaders — Jack Tretton, Andrew House, and Kaz Hirai — were a familiar trio from the original PlayStation team in the U.S. They helped get the PS4 back on the top of the industry, and then they all left after accomplishing that task.
Sony has a new CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida, and a new PlayStation chief, John Kodera. These are not the people who grew the game business. I hope they are not the ones making these changes. Sony has plenty of other game leaders. But I see enough uncertainty to make me wonder if they’re leading us from one kind of madness to another.
If the people in charge of this latest E3 rebellion find a way to build a new path and a way to strengthen the common center of the game industry, I would gladly follow. But I do not favor seeing game leaders retreat into their own comfortable events, celebrate lower costs, and forget about the common good. I really hope they have something good up their sleeve that can benefit us all.
It’s a bit scary. Because right now, E3 is all we’ve got, aside from the overcrowded Game Developers Conference, to guide the industry forward. I realize it is a bit crazy of me to come to E3’s defense, for all of its kooky canned events and giant crowds. E3 is truly insane, but it’s also insanely fun.