For the first time in the trade show’s history, E3 in 2019 won’t feature Sony. The trade show has been home to some of the biggest announcements in PlayStation history, playing host to the PlayStation 3 reveal in particular, and seeing the company regularly tussle with their rivals to “win” the show. So why are they skipping 2019? And what does it mean for E3’s future?
The simplest way to view Sony’s decision is that they, and the industry as a whole, is at a turning point. While the PlayStation 4 is at the height of its powers, having celebrated its fifth birthday and over 80 million sold consoles just yesterday, the spectre of the next generation is looming ever larger. There’s still some amazing potential within the console and its souped up Pro revision, but there’s the inexorable march of technology and the base hardware is coming to the point where it can start to restrain game design, much like the PS3 and Xbox 360 did at this point in their generation.
Over the next year or two, the PlayStation 4 will still play host to major exclusives like Days Gone, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Dreams and Death Stranding, but that fact, in and of itself, is a big part of why Sony won’t be at E3 next year. We already know about these games, we’ve already seen them teased and trailered several times already.
Really it’s a consequence of their strategy to announce early and announce often in the first half of this generation, with the mad rush of back-to-back trailers clearly demonstrating the strength and depth of their first party development, but also drying up the well of potential announcements. You just have to look at 2016 to see where this problem comes from, and after the presentation displaying God of War, Days Gone, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Detroit Become Human, Death Stranding and Spider-Man, and just one solid release window between them. Remember this image?
Of those six games, three came out in 2018 and two are yet to be released. It’s a problem that was compounded by Sony also making announcements at Paris Games Week (in favour of Gamescom appearances) and their own PlayStation Experience that was held in December for three of the last four years. Neither of those opportunities were taken this year for a lack of meaningful announcements.
E3 2019 is to be a show caught between generations, with all the publishers now fully aware of just how long and how many resources modern game development takes. While you could still quite reliably turn out a sequel in two years during the last generation, it now often takes three years or more, especially with gamers demanding higher and higher levels of quality. Sony, to their credit, give their developers time to try and get it right. Days Gone has been delayed multiple times, The Last of Us Part II will be entering its fifth year of development in 2019, Dreams was part of the PlayStation 4’s announcement, even. With that in mind, it’s almost certain that developers without an announced project are looking toward the next generation, even if we shouldn’t discount the possibility of cross-generational games.
But does this herald the announcement and launch of a PlayStation 5 in 2019? Not at all. E3 still provides the biggest stage on which to showcase your wares, and especially if you’re launching a console later that year, it makes no sense to skip E3. Not only does it give you the opportunity to build excitement whilst everyone is looking, but it also gives third parties an opportunity to join you and do the same. All of the rumours still point toward 2020, and this aligns with Sony’s previous statements around their console generations running for seven years at a time.
Of course, this decision raises real questions about the future of E3 as a show in general. Nintendo and Microsoft have affirmed their support, with the Switch heading toward the middle of its lifespan and Microsoft keen to push Xbox Game Pass and grow their portfolio of first party games. Gears 5 and another Forza game are sure to feature, but might they have bigger announcements to make?
Though they might hint at a new generation of hardware, I wouldn’t expect Microsoft to make that jump for some time yet. There’s also the fact that no hardware has been announced at E3 since the Wii U in 2011, with all of the manufacturers preferring to hold their own dedicated events, and also starting to step away from trade shows in general. Nintendo naturally have their irregular Nintendo Direct streams, while PlayStation Experience and the revived XO event show that both Sony and Microsoft can do the same. Even third parties have been reducing their reliance on E3 over the last few years, whether it’s EA hosting their own side event with EA Play, with publishers occasionally skipping the show entirely, or with the stream of announcements and reveals that precede E3.
Yet E3 will likely still remain a cornerstone event for the games industry, especially as the ESA – which runs the event – try to pivot from purely being a trade show to also inviting members of the general public to attend. 2019 is likely to be an end of generation blip, akin to 2012. There Nintendo’s Wii U underwhelmed, Microsoft trotted out a Gears of War and Halo game, and Sony completely forgot to talk about the PS Vita and spent far too long on the funky experiment of Wonderbook instead. The real difference between now and then is that Sony still had relatively fresh games like Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us to show and wow players.