By Julie Muncy
It’s happened so much in recent years, it’s almost a tradition: videogame companies announcing they’re skipping E3. Following its launch in 1995, the gaming confab quickly became the premiere event of the gaming industry, the place every outfit had to be to show off their wares. Lately, though, that’s far less true. Electronic Arts pulled out a few years ago, launching their own counter-event across town. A few years before that, Nintendo stopped doing annual press conferences, though they still have a presence on the E3 show floor. This year, it was Sony’s turn. The major publisher and hardware manufacturer skipped the show altogether. With all of Sony’s resources presumably focused on the rumored PlayStation 5, the company avoided the event with all the energy of an embittered college senior who has no interest in going to graduation.
And there are certainly good reasons to skip an event like E3. It’s expensive, for one thingâ€”a booth alone, not to mention a big press conference, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars for a small publisher, so one can only imagine the expense to a big one is in the millionsâ€”and the payoff is nebulous. It’s also difficult to know how significant the promotional benefits are. Events like E3 create a significant amount of noise, but if your announcement doesn’t stand out in some exceptional way, or feature Keanu Reeves, there’s a legitimate chance your products are going to get lost in the shuffle. And if you fail to read your audience and announce something unpopular, those negative reactions are only going to be heightened in the fervor of the convention’s consumerist feeding frenzy.
It’s no wonder, then, that companies would want to avoid the hassle. And this isn’t just something that’s happening in the videogame industry. Major studios are taking a pass on conventions like Comic-Con International in San Diego as well. Lucasfilm, Fox, and others have skipped the event in recent years, and this year Warner Bros., which usually puts on a big presentation in the convention’s massive Hall H, won’t have a presence in that room at all. However, like EA drumming up hype at its pre-E3 event, Warner Bros. will be bringing It Chapter Two to New Line Cinema’s offshoot event, ScareDiego. Similarly, Disney has been moving more and more of the promotion for Lucasfilm and Marvel movies away from Comic-Con and to events like the Disney fan con D23 and Star Wars Celebration. Major media conglomerates don’t like to share, and if they control enough properties to fill their own conventions, they don’t have to.
Still, though, E3 was rather quiet without Sony, and I’m not sure Sony entirely won out by taking a pass on the festivities. While showing up doesn’t guarantee that a company’s game will be remembered, not showing up at all ensures it won’t be. Even the announcement of Death Stranding getting a release date, which happened a few days before the event, ended up feeling like a footnote without a proper show presence. Sony still has to drum up enthusiasm for its major releases, and ceding the stage felt like â€¦ well, like ceding the stage. Sony wouldn’t have been the center of attention if they showed up, but it’s hard to shake the feeling they might have lost by default.
Nintendo figured this out years ago. The company has managed to develop an E3 strategy that both allows them to have a presence at E3 (complete with demo booths on the show floor) and allows their showing to feel entirely separate, less like they’re at E3 and more like they just happened to show up. I’m talking about Nintendo Direct. Starting in 2011, these sharp streaming-only presentations became a means to both build a modern identity for Nintendo and to showcase their games in a space that feels insulated from convention hype while also entirely playing along with it. A broadcast like Nintendo Direct also obviates the need to cater to a live audience, focusing directly on the broad audience of consumers who are keeping an eye on these conferences. In a low-key, charming space, Nintendo gets to have their cake and eat it too.
Do companies need conventions like E3 or Comic-Con? Probably not. Should they go anyway? Yes. Fans follow these events closely and take notice when that attention isnâ€™t rewarded. Companies like Sonyâ€”or Disney, for that matterâ€”could go Nintendoâ€™s route and stream their own separate presentations, but not addressing the audience when itâ€™s gathered is an oversight. Itâ€™s not an easy trick to pull off, but itâ€™s better than missing the party altogether.
More Great WIRED Stories