E3 2019: Why Sony's Absence Will Be Microsoft's Gain, Even With No New Console

Xbox's Phil Spencer

Ahh E3. It’s one of the few times of the year when gamers come together to take a look and giggle in delight as our favorite developers present their brand new and exciting games to the world.

It’s especially important for the console manufacturers, as the good or bad will created by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo can affect the attitude of gamers when it comes to how their consoles are seen to them.

Take Microsoft’s reveal of the Xbox One, a month before E3. Headed by the now much-maligned Don Mattrick, the console was revealed to the world amid a black cloud and “DRM” embedded into it, with promises that it would shake up home entertainment while bringing about the new era of ‘cloud-powered’ gaming.

It would also only available to buy with the Kinect 2.0, the sequel to probably the least interesting aspect to its core fanbase, announced by smiley Don in front of a mass of confused journalists and gaming personalities.

Don Mattrick

Then came E3, where they reminded the world that it does, in fact, play video-games, but they neglected to address the huge elephant in the room.

It was clear that Microsoft had misunderstood who its fan base was. E3 created incredible ill-will with its players, and by the time they had announced a reversal to the ludicrous 24 hour-online DRM checks to its upcoming console, the damage had been done. Sony had announced the Playstation 4 which included no silly DRM practices and the rest of this console race is history.

Microsoft’s arrogance and ignorance following a hugely successful cycle with the Xbox 360 cost them this generation, and gamers tend to have long memories of this type of behavior.

But this E3 could be the year to turn fortunes back in their favor. Following years of rebuilding work lead from the front by all-around great guy Phil Spencer, and with rumors that a new console generation could be on the horizon, Microsoft is in prime position to lead a new offensive on their Japanese rivals.

Technology has improved since 2013, and now following Nintendo’s lead (not unusual) with video and social media updates similar to the Nintendo Direct style, the necessity for Sony and Microsoft to be at E3 and have a physical conference is somewhat less of a necessity.

Playstation State of Play

However, when you’re one of the three remaining console manufacturers in the market with a fanbase eager for information on your new system (which you’ve already offered some details for), deciding to skip E3 means one of two things.

One: you believe that this generation is not done yet, and by revealing more information on your new console, whether a prototype is ready or not (developers receiving Dev Kits would imply that a prototype can’t be far away), you are openly going to hemorrhage sales on your current console with people choosing to wait for the next gen. For example, Sony thinks that revealing the next PlayStation will cause a massive drop in PS4 sales.

Or two: You believe that you’re in a good enough position in the market that having a conference at E3 wouldn’t make any real difference to your brand, or the impending product that you’ll be launching probably in the next year.

The PlayStation brand in this console generation is almost as strong as it was for the PS2, and with market share as high as it is for Sony, it’s difficult to believe that they are genuinely concerned that a next-gen Playstation would impact sales significantly on the PS4 and PS4 Pro, and this leads us to believe in the second scenario.

The problem is, this lead to the reason that the PlayStation 3 suffered at the hand of the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One to the PS4 as mentioned earlier: Arrogance. And arrogance leads to complacency.

That’s not to say that Sony will put out a dud in the next console generation, but it’s an attitude like this that will likely bring about a much closer market share in the next gen consoles.

And that leads us to this year’s E3, which Microsoft will be attending, but Sony will not.

E3 is a momentous occasion. It brings us memories that stick in mind and generates passion like no other. For proof, just look at the reaction to the stream team from the now-defunct GameTrailers back in 2015 (video posted below) when Sony pulled a double whammy surprise through the Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue 3 announcements during their E3 Conference. You can be sure that they weren’t the only ones with that kind of reaction either and it’s only really made possible by the scale of E3’s event and the work that the companies respective teams put in.

Microsoft’s Gaming division under Phil Spencer’s control has grown a huge amount of positive faith with the gaming public by showcasing the same passion for creating games that gamers have for experiencing them. They go all out to leave Xbox gamers, and even of late PC gamers, something that seemed impossible just five years ago, eager to play their titles. They had effectively reversed the corporate aura that surrounded the Xbox brand under Don Mattrick before the Xbox One had even been released.

They have become smart games publishers. The number of studios that they announced had been acquired last year might have given some cause for concern, but history has shown us that Microsoft has faith in their teams, even with sub-par releases.

Take Rare for example, which if it was under the control of someone like EA would have probably been closed down about ten years ago, but Microsoft continues to place its faith in them. There’s no history of crunch periods. They recognise when a game just isn’t working (Scalebound for example, which Platinum Studios Head Atsushi Inaba recently said the blame for its cancellation was equal between the two).

Gears of War 5

If they continue to demonstrate this level of passion and commitment at this year’s E3 without Sony to push back on them (while Sony didn’t really have a conference last year, they were present), it’s simply going to push their brand back into the minds of the paying public, eager for their fix of next-gen. This will be regardless of whether they announce/present a new console. They will be able to announce games, including those at their newly acquired studios, and gamers will know that they can look forward to these on potentially both their current and new generation of hardware, while Sony will continue to drip feed those wanting more.

I think it’s a little too early for a new Xbox with the Xbox One X only released in late 2017. But falling behind your rival as significantly as they have this generation is an eye opener, and they will not want to see history repeating itself. Offer up a fantastic E3 conference this year without Sony to respond, with or without a new console to showcase, and it could be advantage Microsoft as we enter the ninth generation.

Nintendo doesn’t target the same audience Microsoft and Sony do. Their games are unique in comparison, and while they share the hardware space with their American and Japanese counterparts, they are able to co-exist with one of the other two rather than directly compete with them in front of a gamer’s set up.

It’s effectively a two-horse race for the powerhouse console, and Sony has put the ball in Microsoft’s court. Now they just need to run with it.

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