I Think You’re Mistaken, Sony was at E3 2019

What is the purpose of E3? I’m not asking that in a philosophical sort of way. I’m asking that question in the most literal terms possible. Why do companies spend exorbitant amount of money to give presentations to a room full of “press” and influencers to talk about upcoming games and gaming related products and services? Because they believe it’s profitable is the answer I’ve concluded upon. But I’m certainly willing to consider other points of view. I don’t believe it’s for love of the fans. I don’t believe it’s to do actual business like at basically every other trade show. I believe companies show up to E3 as a means to market products based on the belief that doing so increases sales which, in most cases, increases profits. That also means that if companies believed they would take a net loss by showing up to E3 then they wouldn’t show up. Or at least that’s my opinion on this question based on the information I’ve seen and my own understanding of the gaming/tech industry based on my involvement through my job, which is related to gaming on the PC hardware side.

PlayStation didn’t have an official press conference at E3 2019. This was the first time they didn’t show up since the company first started attending in the mid-90’s. This was not a surprise since they made this announcement back in 2018, but it was still a much different E3 experience without PlayStation being there. Arguably, the lack of PlayStation, and to a much lesser extent Activision, not being there considerably lowered the value of even attending the show. That’s not to say that it wasn’t still worth going. I certainly would have gone if I had been able to. It’s just to give a realistic accounting of the cost benefit analysis of attending E3 in 2019 vs that of previous years. Remember that even though Nintendo doesn’t give a live presentation at E3 anymore that they still have a booth on the show floor, which in my opinion might even be more valuable than the presentations when it comes to attending these types of events. For example, I never attend the presentations at Taipei Game Show, but I go every year to see the booths and try out demos. It’s well worth the effort just for that.

E3 Schedule

Many people have argued that E3 suffered with PlayStation not being there. Even XBOX boss, Phil Spencer, voiced this opinion in an interview. The whole industry cares about E3 and the whole industry suffers when the caliber of E3 is lowered, even if it gives a company a leg up on the competition . . . at the show. Also let us remember that every company that doesn’t show up to E3 burdens other companies with having to show cross platform titles. Cyberpunk 2077, as an example, had to be shown at this year’s E3. It did not have to be presented by Microsoft though. But with CDPR not doing their own presentation and PlayStation not attending, that meant Microsoft had to take responsibility for showing that game, whether it was good for them or not. In this case it probably was good for them, but that won’t always be the case. If I’m honest though, I don’t actually agree with the opinion that PlayStation wasn’t at E3. In fact, I’d say that PlayStation was very much at E3 but decided not to present their in house exclusive titles. Allow me to explain.

As I said, showing up to E3 is about increasing sales, in my opinion. This means that anything presented that will potentially increase a company’s sales can and should be considered beneficial to that company regardless of when and where it was shown during E3. So for example, Ubisoft always does their own presentation, but any games shown by Ubisoft are usually cross platform. Meaning all platforms that will have Ubisoft games presented distributed on them benefit from Ubisoft’s presentation and thus can be considered to have a presence at the Ubisoft presentation. So in the case of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, which was presented by John Bernthal (The Punisher), PlayStation, Microsoft (XB1 & PC), and Google (Stadia) were all present at/during this presentation. Nintendo, since Ghost Recon: Breakpoint will not be available on Switch, was not.

Just Dance 2020 e3
Everyone was at E3. Even the Wii!

The real reason PlayStation doesn’t have to show up to E3 is because they’re now there by default. Outside of Nintendo, PlayStation runs the exclusive market. Meaning the only AAA titles you saw at E3, that weren’t presented by Nintendo, except for Gear of War 5 and Halo Infinite will be available on PlayStation hardware. Unless I’m missing another title. Furthermore, there were a few announcements made that were exclusive to PlayStation such as undisclosed content for the Marvel’s Avengers game. Sure there’s a few things XBOX showed that won’t be available on PS4 but pretty much all of them will all be available on PC and none of it was top shelf games. All other games showed from all other conferences, again other than Nintendo, that people will actually whine about not being able to play will be available on PS4. Watch Dogs Legions? PS4 title. Cyberpunk 2077? PS4 title. Marvel’s Avengers? PS4 title. Final Fantasy VII HD Remake? PS4 title. Anything actually worth talking about at E3 this year that isn’t a Nintendo exclusive will be playable on PS4.

PlayStation got free announcement after free announcement during most of E3. Because the fact is that even though you saw Cyberpunk 2077 presented by Microsoft, you are not going to buy it on XB1 if you own a PS4 (or PC). Until the exclusive market reorganizes itself, which it won’t anytime soon since Microsoft seems committed to the play on any device thing, PlayStation simply doesn’t have to attend E3. Every company is presenting for them free of charge. Imagine if E3 2019 had shown no games that will be available on PS4. Like every company just made it a point not to give any sort of free marketing to SONY. What would the show have looked like? These are all the games presented during press conferences at E3 this year that are not currently announced to be coming to PS4.

Cyberpunk 2077 CE PS4

  1. Halo Infinite
  2. Gears of War 5
  3. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Originally announced before E3 2019)
  4. Blair Witch
  5. Bleeding Edge
  6. CrossfireX
  7. Microsoft Flight Simulator
  8. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
  9. Battletoads Remake
  10. Phantasy Star Online 2 Remake
  11. RPG Time: The Legend of Wright
  12. Spiritfarer
  13. Twelve Minutes
  14. Way to the Woods
  15. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  16. Luigi’s Mansion 3
  17. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  18. Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield
  19. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
  20. Super Mario Maker 2
  21. Astral Chain
  22. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
  23. Cadence of Hyrule ~ Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
  24. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
  25. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
  26. Dragon Quest Builders 2
  27. No More Heroes 3
  28. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
  29. Panzer Dragoon: Remake
  30. Carrion
  31. Devolver Bootleg
ff7-collectors-edition
XB1 and Switch weren’t even in this presentation.

That’s 31 games. Of those 31, 15 are Nintendo exclusives, all of which were presented via Nintendo Direct rather than live presentation, as Nintendo has done for the last few years. There were also some small indie projects that were mentioned offhandedly and not given any real stage time during presentations. Of those 16 remaining games, only two are AAA titles and neither of those are new IPs. That means without giving free marketing to SONY, we would have exactly two games worth really talking about from E3 2019 that were presented live on stage. And yes some of these games are timed exclusives for XB1, in the same way that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a most likely a timed exclusive for PS4. But do those actually affect sales by platform that much? Remember how badly Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015) did at release because of the timed exclusivity? No one is going to go buy an XB1 to play Cyberpunk 2077 a little earlier. If anything they’ll just buy it for PC. Which most people who have PC’s, myself included, were probably going to do anyway because that game is just asking to be modded and ran in glorious PC MasterRace settings.

For reference, here’s all the games I’m probably buying on PS4 after seeing them at E3.

  1. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  2. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  3. Doom Eternal
  4. Watch Dogs Legions
  5. Marvel’s Avengers
  6. Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout
Fallguys
Another PS4 console exclusive shown at E3.

That’s compared to just one game on PC (Cyberpunk 2077) and nine games on Nintendo Switch. PlayStation sold me 38% of the games I’m planning on buying after E3 2019 and they weren’t even officially there. Microsoft sold me only 6% of the games I’m planning on buying and it’s for PC via GOG so they won’t even really get any revenue from it. And honestly the only reason I plan on going the PC root for this game is for mods. And if the game does ultimately get a third person mode, I’ll probably just get it on PS4 because that’s the only mod I really care about.

The fact is that PlayStation has solidified itself so much into the gaming industry as a whole this gen, mostly by controlling the exclusive market and dominating the console player base, that they are automatically present at E3. It’s almost how Steam is synonymous with PC gaming . . . well at least for right now (Lol Epic Games Store). If you play newly released console games on anything other than Switch, it’s more than likely that you’re playing them on PS4. That’s not an opinion. It’s a numerical fact. And because of that, every game you purchase that isn’t an XB1 exclusive, so pretty much none of them, will most likely be purchased for PS4. PlayStation was absolutely at E3. And between the lacking exclusives on XB1, the continued Epic Games Store controversy for PC games, and the lack of blockbuster cross platform titles like Cyberpunk 2077 going to Switch, it’s almost fair to say that SONY won E3 . . . except for Switch owners like me. I have a PS4 and I will be buying a number of games shown this year on PS4, but Nintendo absolutely won E3 for me based on the sheer number of games I’ll actually buy on Switch after watching the Direct. If things continue the way they are now and Microsoft can’t seriously turn things around with Project Scarlett, I wouldn’t expect to see SONY show up at E3 again for a very, very long time. Maybe they’ll show up to present new consoles in release years but other than that they simply have no reason to. Because why spend the money when you don’t have to?

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E3 2019, A Post

Usually I make a post about E3 where I take some time to talk about the games shown and spend the rest of the post ranting about how the entire concept is outdated, biased towards undeserving members of the gaming community, and how it needs to be more accessible to the public or just die already. This year I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to just write my thoughts on a number of moments/topics addressed at E3 as completely disconnected mini-blog posts. There are some larger topics that I want to discuss in more detail and will in later blog posts, but this year for my E3 post I wanted to change it up ever so slightly. There will still be a fair amount of ranting though.

1. Who Won E3?

Usually you end with this but I wanted to start with it because it’s not actually the most important topic of E3 I want to discuss. So to cut right to the point, Nintendo won E3 this year. For me, winning E3 means garnering the most future sales . . . of games, not hardware. Now since I’m only speaking for myself, that means the winner of E3 is always the company that shows the most games that I leave the presentation at least 70% sure that I’m going to end up buying, preferably before the next E3. This was without a doubt Nintendo.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

Now chances are I won’t buy all these games in the long run. But if I had an unlimited amount of time and money, these are all the games shown at E3 this year that I am not on the fence about wanting to buy. Meaning if they went on sale tomorrow and money was no issue, I would absolutely buy these games with no additional information. Note that I’m also not counting any games that I was already sold on before E3 because of previous announcements/presentations.

Microsoft

  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Bethesda

  • Doom Eternal

Ubisoft

  • Watch Dogs Legions
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Roller Champions (Technically free to play but I’m counting it here anyway)

Square Enix

  • Marvel’s Avengers

Devolver Digital

  • Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout

Nintendo

  • Contra Collection
  • Luigi’s mansion 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Cadence of Hyrule
  • Collection of Mana
  • Panzer Dragoon Remake
  • Ni No Kuni Remake
  • Astral Chain

New Ganon

The number of games I’m fairly likely to buy shown by Nintendo, again that I wasn’t already planning on buying going into E3, is more games than I’ll buy from all the other companies combined. Even if you remove the Breath of the Wild sequel because that was just a tease, it’s still overwhelmingly Nintendo with the victory. Nintendo won E3.

2. Screw Leaks & the People Who Leak Them

Every E3, as with every big gaming/tech event, there are usually some leaks. This was of course true for E3 this year as well. What I noticed this year, which may have happened in past years as well but went unnoticed by me, is that leakers were getting caught by developers/publishers and then people were coming to their defense. For instance, there’s this leaker on Twitter that was apparently contacted by Nintendo with a cease and desist order before the Nintendo Direct was shown. Because of this, they didn’t leak information about Nintendo’s presentation but did about basically all the other presentations. After they tweeted about Nintendo’s threats people came out of the woodwork to defend the leaker and get angry at Nintendo. This was of course not the only leaker but just one example. Even Jason Schreier tweeted in defense of leakers, which was shocking to me considering how much work he’s put into defending and supporting better treatment for developers.

 

Personally I hate leaks. When I was young and uniformed, I used to think leaks were so cool. Now that I have a job in the tech industry, I think they’re the worst thing ever. And I get really angry when people defend leakers with arguments like “the billion dollar corporation won’t be affected that much” because it shows a complete disregard for people like me, the marketers. It is true that in the grand scheme of corporate profits, leaks have very little effect. But profits have nothing to do with why leaks are bad. Corporations, of all sizes, have employees, sometimes full teams of them, that are responsible for creating and executing marketing plans for new products. It doesn’t matter what kind of product it is. It can be hardware, which is what I do marketing for, or it can be software, such as new games. All companies, especially the ones that show up at events like E3, have marketing employees. These marketing plans take a lot of work. They’re planned sometimes months in advance. They take a lot of time and effort and often cost a lot of money. What most people don’t realize is that when leaks happen, those plans often have to change on the fly or get cancelled altogether. Imagine if months of your work was instantly destroyed because some asshat found out some privileged information by taking advantage and betraying the trust of a friend or business acquaintance and posted it to the internet for some clout. That’s what leaks are. And it doesn’t just end there. Companies have to adjust marketing plans based on the fallout from leaks. This is essentially emergency crunch time but for marketers. And it doesn’t matter when and what the situation is. You can be at home about to eat dinner with your family and suddenly get a call that a leak happened and an entire marketing plan has to be changed in the next day in time for an event. Then you also have to deal with the fallout of the leak internally. Some companies take this very seriously and will do an internal investigation to find the source. People can get fired. Entire teams can get fired if the damage is large enough and they can’t discover the culprit.

 

No I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking from personal experience. Last month was Computex. My company had a booth there. I was part of the team responsible for the show’s online and offline marketing plan. I personally wrote more than one of the press releases for the show. I also had to help setup the booth for the show the day before it started. Somehow we had a leak happen for one of our products the day before the show started. I was literally on site setting up the booth when a coworker rushed over to me with the news and handed me a laptop saying a press release had to be rewritten to adjust based on internet response to the leaked information. Now this was a low level leak. It wasn’t a flagship product, there wasn’t a huge marketing plan created for it at that point, and rewriting a press release in the middle of a soft construction site, though rushed and inconvenient, was not the end of the world. But that’s when a leak scenario is not that bad. Imagine if it was the night before E3 and you’re in a bar drinking celebrating the fact that your multi-million dollar marketing plan that took a team of more than 50 people months to plan and put into motion was finally finshed when suddenly you get a call from your boss saying the game has been leaked and the entire plan has to be shifted or even scrapped. That’s the reality of leaks for marketers. As much as people seem to care about developers, they never seem to care about all the other people involved in launching a game or product. Leaks have little effect on developers, especially in the short run. But they play havoc on the lives of marketers and marketers are not rich douchebags in suits drinking scotch laughing at the underlings. Marketers are the underlings. We’re struggling laborers just like any other employee at any other company. We’re not famous. People don’t praise and buy products because we’re creating the marketing assets for them. It’s thankless work that no one thinks about and it’s usually underpaid work, especially for the writers. So I hope the next time you hear about a leak you ignore it and remember that someone’s day is probably gonna be ruined because of it and that someone works hard for less than they deserve, just like you probably do.

3. Subscriptions, Subscriptions, & More Subscriptions

UPLAY + Stadia

It seems my fears are coming to fruition. The age of subscription services will be in full force within the next year. So many companies announced new subscription services. XBOX updated the Games Pass to a premium version, of course for a higher price. But they also announced a PC only version which I do think is a nice surprise. But they also announced a new cloud service. Ubisoft will have a subscription service. Square Enix implied they plan on launching a subscription service. And then there’s Stadia, which I already hate the sound of. The worst part is that Ubisoft’s subscription service will connect to Stadia. Meaning you have to buy a subscription service to play games inside a subscription service you’re also buying. It’s a recursive cost that will probably multiply exponentially overtime.   I fear a future where companies do away with buying single games altogether and they force you to do annual subscriptions that require subscription based platforms subletting on other subscription based platforms. Imagine if one day to play a PC game you need to use Microsoft Windows as a subscription service because you can’t purchase one off licenses anymore. But then you also need to subscribe to Stadia to run games on your lower range hardware. But of course you’re also paying an internet service fee to stream Stadia which will charge you a premium for bandwidth. Then you have to pay for the PlayStation cloud service subscription because you want to use your PSN account for your friend’s list and trophies. But you’re trying to play a Ubisoft game like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint so you have to subscribe to Ubisoft’s subscription service. Suddenly what used to cost $60 plus your extant hardware now costs like $19.99 to the power of 5 monthly. It’s a depressing dystopia for the gamers of tomorrow. I fear the day that GOG and Steam jump onto the subscription bandwagon.

4. Devolver Digital Made Light of My Fears

Devolver-Digital-E3-2019

I’ve actually never watched the Devolver Digital E3 presentation before. To me they’ve always been kind of an odd duck. They make/publish indie class games that I rarely ever play. I’m not saying they make bad games by any means. I actually own nine of their titles and I’ll almost certainly buy Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout. I also really liked Luftrausers and The Talos Principle, which I never actually finished sadly. But to me they’re also kind of an enigma. I almost never realize a game is published by Devolver Digital even if I’m very aware of the game. So I wasn’t even planning on watching their presentation this year. The only reason I did was because a friend told me I’d really enjoy it and that they made fun of a lot of things I talk about often. So I watched it and it was excellent, but it was also scary. They ironically discussed a number of issues and trends in the gaming industry that I’ve been talking about for years. It reminded me of when Ajit Pai did that skit about being a paid shill for ISPs. In the age of games as service models, loot boxes, unfinished games supplemented with paid DLC, and other such bullshit, I found it equally refreshing and horrifying to see a publisher talk honestly about these issues while simultaneously making fun of them in the pursuit of profit. It’s a weird time to be alive.

5. Star Power, Star Pricing?

kingdom-hearts-3When I was a kid, Hailey Joel Osment was a famous child actor because of his ability to see dead people (that’s a The Sixth Sense (1999) reference). When it was announced that he would be voicing the main character for the English version of Kingdom Hearts, it was a special moment. While I don’t assume he was the first legitimate movie actor to voice a video game character, he was the first that I could remember being fairly famous for acting in movies at the time of doing the game. It was common with TV actors, such as TC Carson as Kratos, but they never had as much value demand as movie actors and still don’t in most cases. The fact that Hailey Joel Osment stayed with the Kingdom Hearts franchise all these years and returned to voice Sora in Kingdom Hearts III is actually really cool. But what’s important here is that Hailey Joel Osment was never really an A-list star and more importantly he got into video game voice acting in a time where even A-list stars weren’t as meaningful to the public or as expensive as they are now. The other really important detail is that Hailey Joel Osment’s likeness wasn’t actually featured in the games he was voice acting in. The first truly epic actor I recall playing a character in a AAA video game and showing their full likeness was Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014). I’m not saying that this was the first instance of this happening. I’m just saying it’s the first one that I can remember. Also note I’m not counting movie tie in games because that’s a different animal. Now we’re starting to see the use of top tier actors in games as actual characters in the games become more commonplace.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesAt E3 this year both Keanu Reeves and John Bernthal presented games because they are featured characters in those games. This is cool. It’s also expensive. My fear here is that publishers will try to leverage this practice to ultimately raise the price of games. They’ve been trying to increase that $60 MSRP for like two generations of consoles. Every time a new gen is announced, a company, usually EA, mentions the prospect of game prices increasing, the internet goes into an uproar, and then it doesn’t happen. But what if instead of tying the price increase to hardware or development costs, like they usually do, they tie it to star power? Who could actually dispute the argument that John Wick costs more to include than normal video game actors? Does it not make perfect sense that having the Punisher play the villain in a game would cost considerably more for development than say Troy Baker? Not that I’m knocking Troy Baker’s talent by any means. But it’s ridiculous to think that he costs as much to put in a game as Keanu Reeves. Suddenly we’re seeing fairly successful and notable stars pop up in games way more often.  Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and Guillermo Del Toro will all be in Death Stranding. And people are eating the star power up. Keanu Reeves’ presenting Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 is being called the best moment at E3 by a wide margin. Do you think all these actors are working because of their love of video games? Not likely. Now hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully prices won’t increase and rightfully they shouldn’t with loots boxes, paid DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and so on. But if you start hearing companies say things like “games have moved past AAA” then those should be warning signs that price hikes are on the way.

ghost recon breakpoint6. CDPR Reinforces Bad Behavior

It seems every year there’s some diehard fan and/or paid shill that just yells too loudly and too often during these E3 presentations. I work in the tech hardware industry so presentations like this are usually attended by introvert tech nerds, some highly analytical, usually older media, and other industry members who can no longer be asked to get too excited about an increase in processor speed or the inclusion of additional RAM slots on a motherboard. So yelling during a press conference basically doesn’t happen in my neck of the woods. But gaming events are attended by gamers. Not only that, but they’re “press” events which in 2019 means streamers, YouTubers, and other people who make a living by being obnoxious, self-absorbed, and lacking in basic human behavioral standards. Not to mention a lot of them are too young and inexperienced to actually understand the concept of professionalism. So I get why yelling occurs. But as we saw at the Bethesda conference this year, yelling during the presentations other than at specific scripted/expected times can be burdensome to both presenters and the audience. It’s a problem that can’t really be solved in any intentional way, other than not letting those damn internet personalities in of course. What can be done though is that companies shouldn’t encourage it. Sadly CDPR did the opposite this year.

In a rather sincere moment during the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation, Keanu Reeves was sort of struggling to talk to the crowd because honestly talking to a live audience of gamers isn’t in his normal wheelhouse as an actor who says little in most of his parts to begin with. But he was genuine and sincere and people appreciated that, rightly so. A YouTuber screamed out “you’re breathtaking” to Keanu Reeves and he shouted it back. It was a nice moment. It was a cute moment. It was a moment where members of the audience once again showed their lack of professionalism. I think it’s funny that no one is talking about the fact that literally right after this exchange Keanu Reeves flat out says “I gotta finish this” because so many people were yelling and interrupting and not just letting him talk. Now that’s fine. It’s fine for people to get excited. It’s fine for people to yell during the presentations. Like I said, it’s unprofessional but it can’t really be helped. But it shouldn’t be encouraged. CDPR encouraged this behavior this year by promising the “you’re breathtaking” guy a free collector’s edition of Cyberpunk 2077. Sorry but I don’t agree with that decision. A person is privileged enough to attend E3. They’re lucky enough to have a direct exchange with Keanu Reeves. They’re essentially handed an infinite amount of internet clout and articles written about them that will surely increase their YouTube presence, among other things. As I write this, he seems to have gained at least 1000 new subscribers since the event happened. They get all this for acting unprofessionally and then they’re rewarded with a $250 collector’s edition of possibly the most highly anticipated game of 2020. This is just setting up E3 2020 to be an absolute shit show. Every YouTuber, streamer, and other internet personality will be actively trying to have their moment during the press conferences next year. If anything, CDPR should have rewarded someone who wasn’t at E3 but was streaming or live tweeting about the presentation as a show of solidarity for those not fortunate enough to make it to the event. This was a great PR move but it sets a terrible precedent.

7. Roller Champions Alpha Demo

Out of nowhere, Ubisoft released an alpha demo for an upcoming free to play game called Roller Champions. It’s like Rocket League mixed with Jet Set Radio minus the graffiti. It’s surprisingly fun and I’ve already played it enough to win consistently. The demo will not be available by the time this post is published but you can check out the gameplay from when I streamed it here. If you like quick round PVP sports games then you’ll definitely want to check this game out when it drops. I just hope it’s rewarding enough because free to play PVP games tend to get stale rather quickly.

Well that’s my round up for E3 this year. Not a terrible showing, but there’s certainly been better years. I do think it will be a good year of gaming, at least on Nintendo with a few heavy hitters set to release on other platforms before the next E3. As I said at the beginning, there are a couple specific topics from this year’s E3, not included in this post, that I want to talk about in more detail. Those will be published as individual blog posts over the next few weeks. What did you think of E3 this year?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

The Death Rattle of Large Scale Tech/Gaming Events?

A few weeks ago I attended CES for the first time. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show. It is the largest annual consumer technology trade show in North America and one of the largest annual tech shows in the world. The first CES was held in 1967, 52 years ago. I’m glad I was able to attend this year. Not only because it was an amazing experience that I’ve always wanted to have, but also because I don’t know how much longer CES will be around.

I have been noticing a trend in recent years with big corporate tech and gaming events. They’re dying. Not all at once. It’s not fairly obvious. It’s a slow death brought on more by the winds of change coupled with rampant, unsustainable profiteering rather than some singular obvious occurrence. I’ve attended and continue to attend a number of these events for work throughout the years. The ones I have the most experience with personally are Computex and Taipei Game Show, both held in Taiwan, where I live, but my company is involved at some level with larger and smaller tech/gaming events all over the world. This gives me a level of insight that most members of the public simply don’t have access to. And it’s because of this coupled with other obvious clues that I must conclude that the current large scale events model is dying and if it doesn’t change fairly soon will be gone for good.

computex

I first started to notice this with E3 back in, I believe, 2016 when Nintendo first decided to stop attending the show in person. And I want to be clear that this trend is happening to many if not all larger events around the world and not just specific ones. Nintendo opted simply not to present at the show. They made their in house presentation and released it digitally on their own site. While we can’t know for sure, I’m fairly certain Nintendo didn’t pay E3 a single dollar to have them show the video on their screens during the show. They simply did it because they knew people would rather tune in to Nintendo’s presentation as opposed to anything else that would be shown at E3 during that time. And no other company was dumb enough to try to directly compete with Nintendo’s presentation release time slot. This Nintendo Direct concept seemed like madness when first announced but ultimately was a huge success and has continued every year at E3 since that first experiment and has since then expanded to multiple presentations a year from Nintendo not tied to any specific corporate events outside of their own calendar. Now in 2019, SONY has announced that they too will not be attending E3 this year in favor of their own currently undisclosed means of conveying information to the public and media.

It’s fairly safe to assume that E3 is going to suck this year. Microsoft/XBOX in its current form can’t carry E3 alone. EA, Blizzard, and Activision are all dumpster fires at this point. Bethesda has a lot of bad blood right now and The Elder Scrolls VI is still years away, leaving us pretty much Doom Eternal and maybe another Wolfenstein game from them? And the rest of the bit players just aren’t important enough to make E3 worth your time. The rest of these companies aren’t worth much more than a couple hours of watching trailers on YouTube and a few tweets. So if this trend continues and nothing about the model drastically changes in the near future, E3 is essentially on its way out. And that should be fairly obvious to everyone.

Sony and E3 BreakUp

In similar fashion to E3, I noticed something odd about CES. Many larger companies, including my own, aren’t actually attending CES anymore. What many companies, big and small, are now doing is showing up to Vegas, renting a suite in a random hotel, and just inviting media, customers, and other industry contacts to just come see their stuff in private by invitation. This is exactly what my company and many others did at CES this year. Some examples of companies that did this exact thing at the show this year include Patriot/Viper Gaming, Cooler Master, and Alphacool. These are all fairly well known companies in the PC DIY industry. Several smaller companies you’ve never heard of did this same thing and have for some years now. I even found this forum post from back in 2010 where some companies got caught doing this at the actual hotel CES was held at and got kicked out. So this is by no means a new practice. And I see the same thing done by a number of companies during Computex in Taipei every year as well. This practice is now the norm. The sad thing is the companies that run these events know this but aren’t doing anything to address the reasons that it’s happening. Like EA and microtransactions, they’re just pretending nothing is wrong and doing business as usual with no consideration of what this means for the future of their event and events in general.

the rent is too damn high

Let’s talk about why this is happening. There are a number of specific and easily identified causes of this trend. Not so surprisingly, all of them come down to money. The biggest issue I have identified is cost of booth space/attendance. The cost for companies to attend these events has grown to unrealistic proportions. Even companies that can afford it aren’t happy to just throw money away unnecessarily. Let me use my own company’s CES 2019 experience as an example. We rented a penthouse house suite in the top floor of a Vegas hotel for five nights to attend and present during, but not officially at, CES. This penthouse suite had two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room, and a connected entertainment space added onto the living room. It also came with three private bathrooms, multiple balconies, and a hot tub, which sadly we didn’t use. As this was a private suite, we had security, control of who entered our suite, were able to insure the safety of the products we were presenting, and we could control our own hours for presenting regardless of what the official CES booth times were. We got all of this for under $20,000 USD a night including those bullshit resort fees and taxes. At five nights, this totaled just under $100,000 USD. Now that’s a lot of money. But to get a space on the CES show floor at a smaller size than what we had but large enough to meet our minimum requirements, we would have had to pay $200,000 USD. Without the private security, control of our traffic, safety of our products, three private bathrooms, the same amount of space, and of course the hot tub, we would have had to pay more than double what we paid for that suite. That’s preposterous. And that’s just the space. It doesn’t take into account the many other costs of attending CES. You have to pay to get your staff there and their hotel rooms and their food. You have to pay the cost of shipping your products there. You have to pay contractors to set up your booth. You have to pay media to show up and make videos about your products, because they don’t give two shits about journalistic ethics or conflicts of interest. The total cost of doing an event like CES even when you save on the space is astronomical. And remember that in the case of CES, the booths aren’t even all located in the same building or location on the Vegas Strip so the idea that having a suite is inconvenient do to location doesn’t even really apply as long as your suite is in the general area of at least one of the four buildings the show is held in.

ces 2019 map
CES 2019 Map

You also have to consider the value of attending the event. These events are usually not public. Though it’s called the Consumer Electronics Show, CES is not open to the public. It is a private trade show that’s reserved for industry members and media. Of course many members of the public sneak in, but really the bulk of consumers see what’s being shown at CES, and most events like it, via media through YouTube videos, live streams, tweets, and so on. Even if the event was totally open to the public, the bulk of consumers would still rely on media platforms because the event is located in a physical location. Most people can’t afford to travel just to see the new overpriced computers coming out in the next year. One of the largest markets in the world is China. Most people can’t even get out of China. How do you think the majority of consumers will find out about the next iPhone? It won’t be because they went to some event held in Las Vegas. So you have an event that’s becoming more and more expensive to attend while the value of attending that event is forever declining as markets shift, grow, and change. This was one of the main reasons Nintendo gave when asked about the change from traditional E3 presentations to the Nintendo Direct model. Their largest market is Japan. Why would it make sense for them to spend boatloads of money to present at a show where most of the people attending/watching would prefer to see another COD or loot shooter in a language that most of their largest market doesn’t even speak? It simply doesn’t make sense from any sensible money management standpoint. It’s also considerably cheaper and more effective to produce videos in house and distribute them through in house corporate channels and free social media platforms than it is to pay media to make content based on your products and hope the content presents said products in a positive way. Remember that even though media charge companies to come check out their booths/suites and make videos about their products, there are no guarantees about what the content produced will say. They can and often do take payment, show up to the booth, and then make videos where they shit on the company’s products. Personally I think this level of honesty is a good thing and hope it continues, but media charging to create content when they rely on that content for their channels to survive is and always has been odd to me.

nintendo direct e3 2018

Finally, the need to attend events from the user standpoint is dying as well. Just last week, PlayStation had a concert by Utada Hikaru for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III. PSVR owners could attend the concert in VR and have front row seats. PSVR is expensive for sure. But it’s much less expensive than flying to Las Vegas, getting a hotel room for multiple nights, and dealing with the various other costs of traveling. The CES badge on its own was $300 USD if you bought it at the door. At the time of writing this, I can buy a PSVR bundle with two games, one of which I tried for the first time at CES this year, for under $280 USD not including taxes and shipping. Even less if I’m willing to buy it used. Why would anyone ever pay to go to an event again if you can attend them from the comfort of your home in a high definition, possibly interactive VR experience? It simply doesn’t make any sense. It’s not exactly the same as attending the event in person, but for the average person’s needs, it’s close enough.  You charge people $20 plus the cost of the hardware to attend any event they want and don’t ask them to leave their home or even wear clothes while attending the event and most people will forgo the need to actually touch and smell the products in person. That’s the entire model of Pay-Per-View fights, minus the VR, and it’s still a profitable business model.

psvr amazon

I can go into more specific details about why events are dying, but pretty much it comes down to the companies that organize them continue to raise costs beyond the realm of practicality, companies are actively seeking out and finding cheaper alternatives to attend or circumvent the need to be directly involved in these events because of the rising costs, and the public can’t really attend the events for the most part so the value of said events is limited to begin with. Now let’s be clear, these events weren’t originally established for the public. CES, Computex, E3, and most of the other well-known ones are industry exclusive trade shows that have allowed media to get involved as a way to include the public in later years. But that was never their original intention. These shows exist for the sake of conducting business. Distributors and buyers meet with producers to try to make deals. That’s the point. And that can now all be done digitally as well, so the value of these shows even at their core is dwindling while the added burden of paid media has increased the cost of attending the shows with no concrete guarantees about the returns on those investments.

Now in a way, I think it’s sad. These events are fun. I like attending them. I find value in attending them both personally and professionally. And regardless of how little value they actually have, the public tends to like them as well. Gamers look forward to E3. It’s a waste of time and money that usually disappoints in the long run because of misleading marketing and over promising from developers, but it’s still fun. It’s an enjoyable part of the industry that brings people from all over the world together to discuss their like-minded interests. That’s a good thing. Especially in 2019 when people are so divided on everything else, including gaming itself. So I don’t want to see these events die. But make no mistake they are dying. Pretty much all of them are dying. And if something doesn’t change very soon, I do believe we won’t see CES make it to 60 years. At least not in its current form, size, and popularity.

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The End of E3?

Sony recently announced that there would not be a PlayStation presence at E3 in 2019. The reason hasn’t really been expressed yet other than some bullshit PR speak about looking for new options to connect with their fans, but many theories are of course swirling around the internets. Now I’ve been very critical of E3 for many years now, as has been shown on this very blog. I’m a 100% in support of Nintendo’s choice to do pre-recorded Directs. I love the fact that they do multiple a year because they produce them in advance for less money than the price of doing a single E3 presentation, which gives the public even more information about games (and pricing) in advance of release. I have many complaints about the E3 format, specifically the fact that it’s not open to the public. They did allow for some public passes to be sold at this year’s E3 and I did commend them for that in my E3 2018 post. But in general it’s still too little.

My main problem with E3 is that in 2018 it’s still a media focused shill operation. We don’t actually need established gaming media events in 2018. We have the technology for studios and publishers to convey information and demos directly to the public. The media no longer serves as the gateway between consumers and studios. I can directly tweet a studio a question or complaint about a game and get a response, and I have. In fact I tweeted and got a response from Ubisoft last month. Now in this specific case it wasn’t about the experience of playing a game but I did have a question about a game and got an answer directly from the publisher in a matter of hours. What do I need IGN for when I can talk to the developers or their direct representatives directly? We can have playable demos. Sadly these have become less common as technology has progressed, which makes no sense, but the point is I don’t need to watch some asshole I don’t like play a game I’m curious about to decide whether or not I want to buy it if the developer can let me try it myself from the comfort of my home, which they have been able to do since technically the PS2. Or before if we count demo discs. I don’t need to read some crappy paid review/long form ad to figure out if I should buy a game if I can just try it myself before buying it. That’s why betas are referred to as stealth demos now.

Tweet Ubisoft Big

The point is that we don’t actually need media focused gaming events anymore. The media are little more than shills for the gaming industry or political activists pretending to actually know anything about what gamers are really thinking. It makes way more sense to either have only gaming events that are open to the public to see and try new games or do away with such events altogether and have all publishers make their own Nintendo Direct style videos and release playable demos for download. I’m not saying E3 should be ended permanently. I’m saying what E3 currently is should be ended permanently. It’s an outdated concept. So if it’s for the right reasons, I’m all for Sony pulling out of E3 indefinitely.

At the same time, we don’t actually know if Sony pulled out of E3 for the right reasons. There are a number of theories floating around. Some of them, if correct, are completely valid and acceptable reasons for Sony to not attend E3 2019. Others, not so much.

 

nintendo direct e3 2018

If Sony has decided to quit E3 in order to revolutionize the way they present games to the public by making their own direct to consumer presentations, events, and demos, then I am all for it. I would love to see a PlayStation Direct. Even better if, like Nintendo, they do multiple a year. I would love it if PlayStation made prerecorded videos about upcoming titles and released demos to go with them. If that’s the future of PlayStation presenting information to consumers, bring it on. Even if it’s the same presentations they already do at E3 but as their own PlayStation focused event/stream, I’m fine with that. They have PlayStation Experience already, and that’s better than E3. It is open to the public to buy tickets. It does have playable demos for the public to try. If this is the future, cool. But I don’t necessarily believe either of these reasons are why PlayStation pulled out of E3. Let’s also not forget that they cancelled PSX 2018 as well.

Another theory going around, and I do believe this is the correct one, is that Sony doesn’t have any new big projects for the PS4 that haven’t already been announced so they didn’t want to spend the money, time, and effort to attend E3. This is a bullshit reason that is completely unacceptable. Let’s be clear about a few things. Assuming there are no other PS4 projects in the works that we haven’t already heard about, that in no way means that we don’t want/need more information, gameplay footage, and demos of projects we do already know about. I still don’t know what the hell Death Stranding is about. Or even what the gameplay actually is. I want more information about The Last of Us 2. I would quite literally consider masturbating to more footage of Ghost of Tsushima. And where’s gameplay footage of Nioh 2 while we’re at it? I don’t need them to announce a single new game.

ghost of tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima

There are plenty of games I already know about that I just want to see more information and footage of. That’s enough of a reason to go to E3. If that’s the reason they’re not going, it’s bullshit. I pay too much money for games, DLC, paid online subscriptions, and such for them to be pinching pennies. I overpay for the privilege to see E3 footage. That’s part of the deal. If they want to save money, I better damn well start seeing those savings translated to me, the consumer. If their cost of operation goes down, prices need to go down. Because profits sure as hell aren’t. And prices sure as hell haven’t. The excuse of “we don’t want to put the effort in to show you games we know you’re going to buy already” isn’t a valid one.

Even more worrisome is the theory that the PS5 will be announced soon and that all the aforementioned games and any other projects currently unannounced will be released for that console. Personally I don’t need a PS5 any time soon. I’m very happy with my PS4 hardware wise and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro. It plays my games fine and they look beautiful. If it still runs games smoothly, it’s all I need. So delaying everything to the PS5 doesn’t help me. Rushing out the PS5 doesn’t help me. Because I don’t want to buy a new machine to replace a machine that still works just fine. Now hopefully the PS4 will be like the PS2 where even though the next console is out, they continue to release games on the predecessor for like another decade because they still run acceptably. And let’s be honest, PS5 games will run way better on the PS4 than PS3 games ran on the PS2. So there’s not really any reason to force me to buy a new console. But even if we assume, all the new games will be on the PS5 and PS4, that’s no excuse to skip E3. They don’t get to slack off for a year and just ride the high while waiting for what their analysts believe is the best time to announce/release the next console. I’m a consumer today. I just bought multiple PS4 games in the last month. They haven’t stopped taking my money so they don’t get to stop doing their jobs. One of their jobs is relaying information about upcoming games to the consumers. So even if all the aforementioned games are being released for the PS5, if they’re going to be released on the PS4 as well, and they should be, then they need to be talking about them now. Not after they decide to announce the PS5. Especially if we’re talking about games that have already been announced to the public.

no ps5

Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope this isn’t a PS5 delay ploy. I hope we’re about to enter the age of PlayStation Directs. I’m fine with E3 ending altogether, because we know XBOX can’t carry that event on its own. And I have no love for some middle man company that makes its money by charging companies that actually make products for the “privilege” of showing those products off in a physical venue while selling tickets for profit in an age where a kid in Malaysia can download 4K HD porn on his phone. That doesn’t make any sense. And if all those hack journalists have to work just a little bit harder to write think pieces about how the world is being destroyed because edgelords are beating up feminists in Skyrim Cowboy Edition, I’m fine with that too. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great. An age of gaming transparency where consumers have direct access to publishers and developers, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most likely it’s not.

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