To E3 or Not E3?
There’s a rumor doing the rounds, printed in the February issue of Game Informer, that Sony and Microsoft are toying with the idea of breaking with tradition and making their full next-generation reveals away from E3. The two companies would throw their own snazzy press conferences entirely devoted to unveiling their new machines, known variously as PlayStation 4 / Orbis and Xbox 720 / Durango, weeks or even months before gaming’s annual jamboree in June.
The story states, “E3 in June may be the industry’s biggest event, but both companies want to give their systems their own limelight. That doesn’t mean E3 won’t be without its surprises. Next-gen games will be announced at the convention in preparation for the systems’ release at the end of the year.”
It’s true that E3 has some very clear advantages as a venue for new console reveals. The media is already in attendance, so there’s no worries about persuading invitees or arranging for journalists to attend. The world is thinking and talking about games, because that’s what E3 does.
There’s also a certain ‘level playing field’ aspect to E3 hardware press conferences. Hardware rivals have a lot of experience doing these things, the format is well understood, and the danger of being completely blown away by a competitor is minimal. In other words, it’s the safe and convenient option.
But Sony and Microsoft will be aware that, more than ever before, a console reveal is a massive cultural event that may deserve its own specific event, rather than being a part of E3. More people own consoles than ever before and spend more time on them. This is a huge story that does not need to piggyback on another event and, indeed, may be harmed by doing so.
Games consoles, they will also argue, aren’t just about games any more, and their placing in an annual games convention could diminish this aspect of the devices. You may or may not agree with this line of thinking, but it’s certainly shaped console design and marketing in recent years as well as games console use.
Sony and Microsoft see themselves as playing a much bigger game than merely competing with one another for the gaming market. Their biggest rival is Apple, which does host its own events to make big announcements. Apple has made a strong case for standalone product launches — not sharing the spotlight, launching on their own schedule, not being beholden to convention timing, and the general suggestion that their products are so transcendent that they are without rival. Do the games hardware companies feel diminished by hosting their big hurrahs as part of something else, and likely within a few hours and a few miles of one another? It seems likely.
And here brings another aspect. In days gone by E3 might make the front page of major newspapers or a slot on network evenings news. Big announcements like new consoles would get name-checked in these stories. But a new console from any of the big hardware outfits is big news in its own right. No media outlet can afford to ignore this story. So an announcement at E3 runs the risk of being lumped in with a catch-all ‘latest video games stuff’ story, while having to share the publicity with a direct rival.
How much better to completely own the announcement, to get some space away from all the other game-related noise.
If, as as is being suggested by Sony’s vice president of Sony Home Entertainment, Hiroshi Sakamoto, an announcement is made before E3, it also gives the games publishing third-parties extra opportunities to make their next-gen announcements without the sort of debilitating secrecy that would surround an E3-hardware launch. And, of course, Sony and Microsoft will still have E3 conferences to talk about games and other stuff they held back from the earlier reveal. Extra publicity is good.
Obviously, there will be issues of timing. Which company wants to go first, or is there an advantage in going second? But these are problems that attend E3 too. Hardware companies are known to be tired – like many of us – by the media’s insistence on E3 having a ‘winner’. Better to not hang early expectations for a multi–billion dollar launch on this silly convention (I mean the convention of choosing a winner, not, literally, the E3 convention which is an excellent event.)
Some will argue that attending conferences is expensive and time-consuming, especially in these days of parsimonious media managers and tightened budgets. And this is true, especially for media representatives who might have to travel from abroad to E3 AND a Microsoft event AND a Sony event, not to mention GDC, TGS, Gamescom, PAX et al. But although this is a valid concern, the hardware companies have got bigger things to worry about than making life easy for journalists.
This event might be called a ‘media-event’ but it’s not about people who work in the media, it’s about the consumers and fans of PlayStation and Xbox.
Because the fans will be watching, live and in their millions, likely through the very devices that tie them to these companies. That’s what this event is all about now. E3’s status as a gathering point for the industry is irrelevant to this direct relationship. The media is, literally, a middleman. Microsoft and Sony desire as many people as possible to experience the event directly, and not through the filter of attending reporters
Theoretically, Microsoft and Sony could make their announcements without anyone from outside the company in attendance (though that might make for a sterile experience). It’s all being streamed live anyway and that’s a really good way to watch the show.
Although these events are exciting, and it’s a great privilege to attend them, their placement right before E3, piled on top of one another is actually kind of a pain in the posterior for journos who have to file stories on the run from one conference to another, usually with a lot of queuing involved. It can feel a lot like air-travel. There’s something nice about spending a day on just one story, it being one of the biggest stories of the decade.
There’s another argument, that a decision to hold the announcement away from E3 could damage the show itself, which is central to the health of the gaming business. But gaming, especially these days, is about more than console games and it’s about more than console launches. E3 will go on, it’ll be just fine.
Whatever the console companies decide, it’s clear that some time in the next few months we will all be watching new consoles being unveiled for the first time, hopefully without the spoilers of leaks. Wherever and whenever the announcements are held, it’s all going to be freakin’ amazing.
Colin Campbell interviews and writes about games pretty much every weekday. For updates and commentary, follow on Twitter or at IGN. Most recent articles have been on SimCity, Jurassic Life and Ni no Kuni.