Ea announced that it would be holding EA Play the weekend before E3, but that it would not be holding a press conference this year. Anyone hoping for five minutes of off-screen Star Wars footage, three minutes of a dev talking about what’s next for Anthem, and 17 years of coverage on EA Sports games, The Sims, and the rest of the usual suspects might end up pretty disappointed. But does the lack of a press conference even really matter? Daily Reaction has talked plenty about press conferences before. Have our thoughts changed at all four years on?
Press conferences are a marketing strategy for content delivery, but we’re increasingly seeing a shift to more focused and/or digital ways of delivering those same messages. Nintendo is a great example with Nintendo Directs. They don’t need to get a public venue, send out invites, or have other factors around what they want to say. They are still able to have a big production, but when most people are watching press conferences online anyway, there’s not a huge difference between Sony filling out seats in a theater and a Nintendo producing a video that they then hit play on.
E3 Press Conferences and the Battle for Attention
The other big problem with E3 press conferences is the crowded space for attention. E3 became this bombastic showcase because everyone wanted their games front and center. Then the bubble burst. They started inviting the public. Some publishers stopped attending altogether. Even Sony is stepping away from E3 entirely. They realized that the return is simply not worth the investment they make, especially if they don’t have much to show off this year. What, would we end up with another press conference showing off the same few games we’ve already seen and have been waiting for? It would just exacerbate the fact that we’ve been waiting for titles like Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us Part II and have to wait even longer.
There’s also the fact that Sony themselves (and likely many publishers) are winding down their releases on this generation of console. I don’t expect that we’ll see too many more surprises within the PS4’s lifetime. The next big “surprise” I think we’ll see from Sony is the reveal of a new console, not significant new games.
EA’s press conference doesn’t seem like a huge loss to me. They’ll have the games on hand at EA Play. They’ll likely do some smaller livestreams to showcase specific content to a more targeted audience. But they aren’t going to be blasting out their full library of games to a broad audience that’s often there just to see one or two things, as opposed to the whole EA catalog. If I can watch a short Star Wars announcement or something quickly about a new Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, I’d much prefer that over parsing through an hour of content just to find that five or ten minutes I care about. Realistically they have so little to show off that it’s kind of the same reason you don’t see Activision E3 press conferences. They simply partnered with Sony for the last few years to show off their games.
Speaking of the PlayStation stage, Sony’s is a bit bigger of a loss, especially when they used to have press conferences as a platform holder and showcase tons of indie and third-party games as well as their own. It was a great stage for games that might not otherwise get the spotlight, but even their press conferences in recent years have focused far more heavily on first-party titles. I’m sure that the marketing spend that would be going to last year’s PSX and this year’s E3 is instead being evaluated for a console reveal event sometime within the next year.
I’d like to also take a moment to address the sidebar of speculation that Sony (or any company for that matter) would reveal a new console at E3. It’s simply not going to happen. All of these decisions are about these companies taking control of the message and the narrative surrounding their games and products. If you think that a new console reveal would take place in an environment as distracted as E3, you have a lot to learn about marketing messaging. Look back to both the PS4 and Xbox One, which each had their own reveal events separate from anything else. I don’t even foresee Sony announcing the PS5 at a PSX-style event. The PS5’s reveal will be its own thing, much like we saw with the PS4.
E3 Press Conferences Are a lot of Spectacle
I’m not going to lie, as someone that’s physically attended every Sony E3 press conference since 2013, there’s a part of me that’s sad I won’t be attending one this year. I felt the same way about the lack of a PSX to attend this year too, but it’s smart of Sony to look realistically at the value of these press conferences, especially if they have very little to show. In fact, their E3 2018 press conference was widely criticized because it was a mess for those in attendance, and it didn’t really show off that much new to those watching live. Trying to make a spectacle out of a simple message often results in the spectacle being the news story instead of the intended message.
We focus too much on things like the report card and who “won” E3, comparing, contrasting, and judging the blasts of information instead of allowing them to stand on their own merits. If EA Sports wants to hold a live stream, that shouldn’t be judged against the likes of Sony’s first-party games. If a new Star Wars game gets shown off, it shouldn’t be lumped in with other content that Star Wars fans are simply uninterested in. We’re far to reactionary (ironic to say that, I know) about the spectacle, which means the real message gets muddled.
The important part of the story here is not simply that EA, Sony, and others are moving away from presenting at E3, but in why and how that changes how they are delivering their messages. There might be some disappointment that E3 isn’t going to be as much of a “gamer’s holiday” as it once was, but that also means that we’re having reveals spread throughout the year and better targeted to the intended markets as opposed to the battle royale for attention that gaming’s yearly trade show has always been.
Does it matter that Sony and EA E3 2019 press conferences aren’t on the schedule? Not really in terms of E3 itself, but it matters in a big way for the implications that these companies are finding better ways to connect with their particular audiences. A development team can hop on Twitch and connect instantly with their audience at anytime. The idea of E3 and the press conferences that go along with it are relics of an era past, when the internet wasn’t as prevalent and the industry relied on these gatherings of corporate sponsors and press in order to market and sell the ideas of their products. We’ve maintained the status quo for a long time, but many companies are realizing that’s it’s time for that status quo to change.
At least we’ve got Devolver Digital to keep that satirical torch alive.
What do you think? Are you disappointed that press conferences seem to be going away, or do you like the idea that these companies might be shifting to more direct communication with their audiences. Let us know in the comments below.
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