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The PlayStation 4 is doing insanely well right now and the brand's future appears to be bright. But after pulling out of two major upcoming events, it looks like Sony itself needs some convincing of that fact.
It was revealed recently that PlayStation will not be making an appearance at E3 2019. That means that on top of Sony not holding its annual live games showcase next June, the massive booth that takes up a good chunk of the West Hall will no longer be home to PlayStation games.
As a fan of the platform, I find this pretty frustrating. We're going to work through several of the reasons why Sony might have decided to change its promotional plans for the coming year but, taken at a glance, it feels like the king of the current generation of gaming is content to simply coast until its next console launches. As much as I dislike the term "optics," this is simply a poor look for Sony right now.
That goes double given how much Sony's most direct competition, Microsoft, has been doing this past year to prepare for the next generation. While the Xbox One seems to have been set to simmer for the majority of this current generation, it's clear the folks at Microsoft have learned from their mistakes and are preparing to make a big push with whatever console they've got lined up next. They're doing a lot of work in the areas of game streaming and cross-play, their Xbox Game Pass has become the best bang for your buck in modern gaming and they've acquired many promising studios who will undoubtedly be working on Xbox exclusives moving forward.
As it sits, the PlayStation 4 has sold more than 86 million units to date, with the platform being home to some of the most critically acclaimed games of the past five years. This year alone saw the launch of exclusives God of War and Marvel's Spider-Man, which are sure to appear right at the top of a bunch of Game of the Year lists next month.
Looking ahead, Sony appears poised to have an equally big year in 2019. But, after calling off its annual PlayStation Experience in December and bowing out of E3 2019, you wouldn't be blamed for joining the current buzz on social media and message boards claiming that the landscape is going to be desolate until the PlayStation 5 arrives.
PlayStation Experience Cancelled
For the past several years, Sony has hosted an event it calls the PlayStation Experience every December. They stream the show on every platform imaginable and have even hosted screenings in movie theaters around the world.
The conceit of PSX is the same as E3: March out a bunch of developers to talk about their upcoming games and then show off a bunch of rad trailers with a couple of surprise announcements peppered throughout. It was a perfect stopgap during the winter lull, as all of the big holiday games have already been released and the road to the next E3 is six months in length.
In September, Sony announced that they would not be hosting a PlayStation Experience this year, and I found the reason to be a bit baffling. According to Sony's Worldwide Studios Chairman, Shawn Layden, there simply isn't enough to talk about.
Now that we have Spider-Man out the door, we're looking down in 2019 to games like Dreams and Days Gone, but we wouldn't have enough to bring people together in some location in North America to have that event. We don't want to set expectations really high and then not deliver on it.
While I appreciate the fact that many of the upcoming heavy hitters for PlayStation are already known quantities, fans don't typically get up in arms about learning new information concerning highly-anticipated games. Even if you don't have new launch dates to announce, a new trailer and some extra details can go a long way. On top of the two games Layden mentioned, the PlayStation 4 still has Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us 2, Death Stranding, Concrete Genie and MediEvil on the horizon in terms of exclusives, which seems like a pretty solid showing in my book. Now throw in a handful of big third party games and we're really cooking. Or, how about a nice indie showcase dropped into the presentation for good measure and, while you're at it, spare a dozen or so minutes for upcoming PlayStation VR projects?
The problem with Sony's reasoning is that it makes it sound like there's nothing coming to the PlayStation 4 next year, which has fans understandably worried. I figure this means one of two things. First, it's possible that games like Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us 2 and Death Stranding won't be making it out the door in 2019, so Sony probably wouldn't want to keep beating those drums if their launch is still in limbo. Second, The Game Awards continues to grow into a showcase for upcoming games and it happens right around the same time as PSX. At this point, it might just be a better idea for Sony to show off its exclusives at that particular event rather than hosting its own.
An E3 2019 No-Show
So, folks were already feeling a bit iffy concerning the kind of year the PlayStation 4 will have in 2019, and then Sony goes and cancels its entire presence at E3 2019. Given everything we know (and think we know) about the upcoming year in games, this one actually makes a bit more sense. Still, you can't fault fans for feeling like it's a sign Sony has simply bowed out for the remainder of the current generation.
Assuming there are no unknown exclusives yet to be announced for the remainder of the PlayStation 4's run and considering the lineup of E3 2018, then a PlayStation showcase at E3 2019 would be a repeat of this past year's show, minus one game since Days Gone will have launched on April 26. Hosting an E3 showcase to highlight the exact same games would likely be more costly than hosting its own PSX this December and, even if those games look great, it's likely the response would be "Sony has nothing new to show for the PlayStation 4." Also, considering how poorly Sony's last E3 conference was received due to its art-over-quantity approach, they probably don't want to chance two negative events in a row.
And if you were on the E3 showroom floor last year, then you likely noticed that Sony's presence was already drastically reduced. They still took up the same amount of space, but a huge chunk of that was dedicated to a massive open area for people to sit and stare at a screen while various interviews and demonstrations took place. People are more interested in going hands-on with games than watching something they could stream online so, again, E3 2018 wasn't super great for Sony.
On top of all of that, rumors are circulating that Microsoft will reveal its next console in the coming year, which is likely in advance of when Sony is aiming to make their own reveal for the PS5 (or whatever they end up calling it). It's also worth noting that Microsoft has already stated it will be part of E3 2019 after hosting its own off-site event last year, which adds a bit more weight to those next-gen rumors. Given everything noted above, it's understandable that Sony would not wish to couple that with the potential they will be fighting for headlines and attention amidst a new console reveal.
Looking To The Future
Roll all of that into a bummer burrito and it starts to make sense why Sony has decided to call off both the PlayStation Experience and its presence at E3 2018. They don't have enough new things to show at these big, expensive events. But again, the issue here is optics. They had to know how this would look, so it's kind of baffling to me as to why they would not find a better way to reveal this news. They claim they are not touting more of their games because they don't want to create unrealistic expectations, but they've been showing off all of those games for a year or two at this point, so that reasoning doesn't really track for me.
They've clearly got something planned but, rather than loop folks in on the particulars, they've decided to keep things vague and, thus, further concerns that their console is on a downward slide until the next generation rolls around.
They can obviously afford that kind of negative buzz given the success of the PS4 up to this point but, on the verge of going into a fresh console cycle against a determined Microsoft and the Nintendo's Switch, is that really the best idea?
Putting aside the doom and gloom for a moment, perhaps the most telling (and frustratingly vague) hint at what the future holds comes from a recent statement Sony offered to Polygon. It begins by stating that Sony Interactive Entertainment is looking into "inventive opportunities to engage the community," hence cutting out PSX and E3.
...We always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can't wait to share our plans with you.
That sure sounds like they're planning on doing video presentations similar to a Nintendo Direct, or maybe they've got something totally different planned, like their own showcase that's near but not technically part of the E3 experience.
Either way, they've clearly made some missteps in messaging recently, so here's hoping Sony figures out a way to wow us in the not-too-distant future. The future of the PlayStation 4 is bright, but Sony is doing everything in its power to make it seem otherwise.