Who “won” E3? It’s the eternal question, and now that July’s rolled around, this felt like the perfect retrospective to pose for Daily Reaction. Too often, this question is answered quickly following (or sometimes even during) the show, a kneejerk response that simply looks at the spectacle instead of the underlying details that build a much better picture of gaming going forward. After all, isn’t that what E3 is actually all about? So now that it’s been two weeks since the end of the show, I want to look back to see who did right by E3 and who dropped the ball.
Was Sony Right to Lay Low?
Let’s talk first about Sony, who decided to stay home from E3 this time around. The show floor felt surprisingly empty without Sony or Microsoft’s massive booths. Nintendo was pretty much the only big booth left in the south hall, and while there were a number of other booths in this area, most of the action took place in the west hall where the third party booths were. While Microsoft’s absence was made up for with its own showcase in the Microsoft Theater (probably much cheaper for them to use a building with their name on it), Sony just didn’t bother showing up at all, but did it pay off for them?
Without exclusives to show, it was probably a good thing for them. Most of the third party games are still coming to the PS4 anyway, and plenty of demos played on the show floor were done on PS4s, so Sony’s box still had a presence. Honestly, the answer of if this was a good move for Sony won’t become clear for another little while, because we still have to see what Sony’s strategy for a PS5 reveal and release event is. Many presume that the company avoiding E3 is in the interest of saving up marketing budget for an epic reveal event. That of course still leaves PSX 2019 and E3 2020 in question though.
Microsoft took the opportunity at its conference to “reveal” the next Xbox, codenamed Scarlett. The reveal fell pretty flat though. Most of the information is pretty on par with what Sony had already revealed through a Wired-exclusive article. Who managed to come out on top with that one? We’ve already been talking about the PS5 for months, and all it cost Sony was an exclusive for a magazine. Project Scarlett didn’t undercut anything about the PS5 (except that we know it’s release date is definitely holiday 2020), and its impact was significantly less what a massive stage demo like that should have been. All because Sony let a reporter have an early chat with Mark Cerny.
All in all, I don’t think Sony missed out on much by not being at the show, and the budget spent otherwise on an enormous PlayStation booth wouldn’t have really had much impact. I’m certain their marketing team came to the same conclusion, along with internal data about other things like the PS5’s reveal and release timeline, and determined the investment would be put to better use elsewhere. Plus there are those State of Play broadcasts that allow Sony to get information directly to its audience, and without anything in a publicly playable state? There’s really no good argument for them to have attended E3 2019. At this point I doubt we’ll even see a PSX 2019. In previous years, the show would have been announced by this point. My money is on an early 2020 PS5-exclusive reveal event, similar to the PS4 reveal back in 2013.
How About Those Games?
Consoles aside, who “won” E3 based on the games presented? Microsoft presented plenty of games at its conference, but many of those are third-party titles that will also come to PS4. I mean, showing off games like Cyberpunk 2077 is a great way to appeal to your audience, and having Keanu Reeves on stage is certainly a big win, but overall the Microsoft conference didn’t leave a huge impression on me (and I was sitting in the audience for it!). There were some good games shown, but it wasn’t the standout show that Microsoft probably wanted it to be. Even the Keanu Reeves moment is referenced in a bubble without acknowledgement of this being the Microsoft stage.
There were a ton of amazing games at the show, not the least of which were Watch Dogs Legion, The Outer Worlds, Psychonauts 2, Yooka-Laylee, Borderlands 3, and plenty of others. I enjoyed nearly everything that I laid eyes on or got my hands on this year. I still think that E3 is a great event as a trade show for people involved in the industry in some way, and the opportunity to get up close with these games and their creators was an absolute pleasure (especially those ones that were off the show floor and in private meeting rooms). In my personal opinion, if E3 is to find a way forward, it will need to segment the public show floor from the opportunity for press and members of the industry to get meetings and time with the games. The public part of E3 ends up being a lot of noise that is distracting, and it’s difficult to really get the depth that gives value to the show.
If I had to declare one winner, I’d say Square Enix took the crown on this one. The publisher was at the top of its game, holding a huge press conference with tons of announcements, notably with a bunch of highly anticipated things. First up was an extensive showing for Final Fantasy VII Remake, not only showing more of the game but actually having it playable on the show floor. It was hands-down the highlight of the show for me. Yes, even over Cyberpunk 2077, though CD Projekt RED’s massive RPG still made a strong impression on me.
On top of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square Enix also announce a Final Fantasy VIII remaster, had plenty of other anticipated RPG news, and finally showed off a bunch of Marvel’s Avengers footage (even if we’re still a little confused about what exactly this game is supposed to be). Since its E3 2019 press conference, the company has offered up even more information on all of its titles and announcements, a wealth of new tidbits that provide further context for what was shown during the live stream.
E3 isn’t won on individual moments alone, but on the collective. Square Enix may not have had those standout moments like Keanu Reeves showing up on stage to announce the Cyberpunk 2077 release date, but as a collective, the publisher really brought everything it had for games and games alone, and then continued to hammer all of those points throughout the week and in the weeks following.
Realistically though, and as cliche as it might sound, gamers won E3. There are some awesome games that are coming soon. There are even cooler things that are a little bit further out. And next gen is coming a lot sooner than we might realize. This year was the calm before the storm. By E3 2020, we’ll know all about next generation consoles and probably be putting our preorders in. The expo itself may be losing relevance overall as many larger companies opt to either step away entirely or reduce their presence to meeting rooms, but its definitely coming back next year, and it’s a pretty big stage for companies that are just about to release next gen consoles and next gen games. This year had as many downs as it had ups, but how a pre-next generation E3 expo fares will be a great barometer for how relevant the show will remain moving forward.
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