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With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?

Who is going to fill the massive void left by PlayStation?

"Industry Momentum Will Drive E3 2019 to New Heights" reads the headline of the first official news to come out of organisers ESA ahead of next year's E3. It features quotes from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Epic Games (Fortnite) on what a glorious event it is and how important it is for the industry. Here are a couple of quotes from two of the people we most associate with E3 from the announcement.

"E3 is an outstanding opportunity for us to share new games and experiences with fans and business partners from across the globe," said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America President and COO. "Every year, we discuss what will be the best way for us to take advantage of the next E3 show in order to bring smiles to people's faces."

"E3 is an incredible platform to showcase the vibrancy and creativity of the video game industry. The ESA continues to expand the event's reach to fans and the industry, both in attendance and online, and we look forward to what's ahead at E3 2019," said Phil Spencer, executive vice president, Gaming at Microsoft.

With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?
Phil and Reggie are pumped about E3 2019.

Sounds like good times are ahead, right? But the real headline is that Sony won't be there for the first time in 24 years. No PlayStation press conference, no Sony presence on the show floor, no external PlayStation event. The leading console manufacturer won't be there during E3 2019 in any capacity.

E3 is a massive expense for any company participating, none more so than Sony whose footprint at the LA Convention Center was a lot bigger than anyone else's in 2018. They may have saved a little by scaling down the press conference, and this year, they're saving a lot by not being there at all. Has E3 played out its role for Sony?

Yes and no. It's easy to say that they're looking for a different way to reach out to their fans, but it's also likely a result of where they are in the generational cycle and what games they've got coming up (that they can talk about at E3 2019). One can only speculate about the true reason (or more likely reasons), but Death Stranding, The Last of Us: Part II, and Ghost of Tsushima would likely be the main focus again and none of them would make for particularly good games to have playable on the show floor. They are the kind of games you'd probably want to invite people into a theatre to watch a demonstration of. And given the somewhat lukewarm reaction to Sony's presser in 2018 (not just by media who were forced to stand for the first section), it would have been a hard sell to put them forward once more as the highlights of another E3 press conference.

With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?
Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us: Part II.

In all likelihood, they represent the last batch of major first-party releases to land on PS4 as all signs point to a new console launching in 2020. Sony knows they need to come to E3 with something major and new and if the plan isn't to reveal PlayStation 5, well, then maybe it's better to stay at home and focus their efforts on these three major titles with bespoke press events and possibly something akin to a Nintendo Direct or Inside Xbox.

Of course, ESA is putting on a brave face. They need to. E3 is big business and they are trying to transform what used to be a three-day industry event into a week-long celebration of all things video games spanning the LA Convention and the adjacent LA Live area where the E3 Coliseum and Microsoft's separate event were held last year. Having lost EA in the past (it seems likely EA Play will once again be held elsewhere this year), losing Sony is a heavy blow, and as we've come to expect any presence from the likes of Blizzard or Rockstar is very unlikely on the show floor itself (as we struggle to remember when they were there the last time).

There are plenty of press conferences during E3 week, and while there are no confirmations as of yet, we expect Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Bethesda to be there, and Nintendo will likely have a special Direct while Square Enix could also have something once more. Then there's the PC Gaming Show, and perhaps this is the year when it gets more integrated into the schedule. Still, losing the press conference that often gets the most attention is going to hurt.

With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?
The Last of Us: Part II presentation as part of Sony's E3 2018 press briefing.

It is quite possible there will be some shifting around when it comes to the other press conferences as a result. A prime slot opens up Monday evening so it's going to be interesting to see if anyone opts to switch their slot for Sony's. We're pretty sure the E3 organisers would like to see Nintendo step in and use that time slot for their Direct as the morning slot on Tuesday isn't ideal for folks in LA for the show.

The main issue for ESA to solve is how to make sure that potential visitors don't feel cheated. While the show floor space sold out last year, that's down to creative accounting to some degree as lanes were wider. Sony's absence leaves a massive gap and the only natural replacement would be for Microsoft to move back onto the floor. Last year they occupied the Microsoft Theater, but in all honesty, the Fanfest and rather small space used inside wasn't ideal. We've yet to hear about Microsoft's plans, but it wouldn't surprise us to hear they'll be back this year. If not, it's going to be an interesting challenge for ESA to fill that void with something that will still make the $250 admission fee seem reasonable to gamers visiting the show.

We've all heard the message time and time again. Is this the end of E3 as we know it? It happened with the short-lived move to Santa Monica. When Activision opted out around the height of Guitar Hero. When EA fled to LA Live and later to Hollywood. And we were concerned as Microsoft did their own thing last year. In some ways, it's more problematic now that it's not merely a trade show anymore. ESA needs to put on a show worthy of the largest entertainment industry on Earth or else things could unravel quickly. There's no doubt E3 week next year is going to be a major happening, but with Sony on the sidelines, it's going to be a strange one unlike before.

With Sony out is this the end of E3 as we know it?
The PC Gaming Show is becoming a more integral part of E3 week and it's one event that could fill the gap left by Sony.

Our bet is that Sony will return in 2020, most likely with PlayStation 5 in tow. But with Sony out, we could see others staying home as well. Sega has yet to commit to the show after having an incredibly cramped, small booth in 2018. And there's little reason for the likes of THQ Nordic to reverse their decision and attend (same goes for their Deep Silver label). As previously stated Blizzard and Rockstar are unlikely to feature. So at the end of the day, we won't get to see a large portion of the most anticipated games at E3 2019. It's a shame as we feel E3 is the one place where everyone needs to be represented or it will lose some of its shine. And if PlayStation fans treat E3 2019 with a shrug, maybe that's enough to shake the whole phenomenon to its core...

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