There were huge question marks over the purpose of E3 last year, when Sony’s tentpole showcase failed to meet expectations and the other publishers were unable to pick up the slack. This year has been immeasurably worse: whatever your thoughts on the various press conferences, there’s simply no doubt that this year’s convention has been a washout.
PlayStation didn’t help matters by staying at home, of course. The company could have had a show: Death Stranding, The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Marvel’s Iron Man VR, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare might not have made for a vintage media briefing – but it would have been enough. It decided to wash its hair instead.
Looking at the state of some of the other showcases this past week, perhaps other publishers should have followed its lead. EA gets brownie points for detailing the exact schedule of its livestream in advance, but we genuinely don’t know why it bothers anymore; Bethesda’s starting to give the impression that it only shows up to burn some of Zenimax’s cash.
Ubisoft, to be fair, had Watch Dogs Legion, and even though Microsoft disappointed overall, it just about justified its showcase with a dozen or so decent games. But only really Nintendo had anything of purpose to announce at E3 2019, and you can perhaps attribute that to the fact it’s working on a different timeline to everyone else.
It’d be easy to shrug and say this is just a bad year, but the truth is that the Los Angeles convention has been waning in importance for a while now. What was a behemoth trade show has since opened its doors to the public, and companies have started to realise that they can make announcements on their own time. Rockstar never goes to E3, and it makes the biggest games in the world.
Next year could be a watershed moment for the show, because there’s every chance Sony may not return. Yes, it’ll be flaunting the PlayStation 5 at that point, but it’s going to announce the console on its own terms – it’s perfectly capable of putting on a flashy stage show and broadcasting that online. Will it even need to be at E3 2020 when it’ll likely have already blown its load?
We’re obviously not suggesting that the Japanese giant will make or break the convention – we’re sure that the show will continue to live on whether PlayStation makes a comeback or not. And with most publishers holding back their next-gen projects, we’re equally confident that next year will be better for the show overall.
But there are question marks now. Publishers and platform holders don’t have to compete for attention anymore: look at the kind of impact Death Stranding’s release date trailer had prior to the show. E3 may still be the most important date in the gaming calendar, but it’s clinging on to that accolade now, and there’s every chance it could let go.