The PlayStation 4 is four years into its lifecycle and has performed incredibly well. Its lifetime sales have surpassed 70 million units, it’s had some amazing exclusives (like Uncharted 4, Bloodborne and Persona 5 – just to name a few) and it has a great future left ahead of it. Unfortunately, Sony hasn’t flawlessly executed everything during this generation. Just recently, they haven’t been giving their first-party titles the marketing they deserve. They have dozens of studios working under their belt, but their insistence on appearing at every major trade or consumer show, including their own gamer-centric PSX, has resulted in a diluted and ineffective set of press conferences. It’s become apparent over the last year that Sony is starting to stretch itself thin with its public showings and the company that once had the absolute best showcases in the industry is coming across as scattered and unwieldy. Here are some reasons why they’ve gone a bit off track and how they can return to top form.
They’re Repeating Themselves (Because They Reveal Games Too Early)
Sony’s E3 press conferences in 2015 and 2016 have quickly become the stuff of legend. In 2015, Sony managed to completely blow the minds of almost everyone watching (especially certain games journalists) by announcing that The Last Guardian was still alive with a gameplay trailer, a remake of Final Fantasy VII was actually coming, and Shenmue III was on its way to finally finish off the series’ long-standing cliffhanger. Their 2016 showing was an exceptionally classy and expertly paced conference, with a full orchestra playing behind brand new gameplay from God of War, Days Gone, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Detroit: Become Human and more. They brought Hideo Kojima on stage to announce Death Stranding and show off a completely unexpected trailer, and announced that Insomniac was making a new Spider-Man game. Resident Evil 7 was announced, given a release date, confirmed to be playable completely in VR, and then they released a playable demo for it that night on the PlayStation Store. Unfortunately, only a few of these things have actually been released by the end of 2017.
Those early announcements and showings undermined pretty much every conference they’ve held since. At PSX last weekend, they showcased the same scene in Detroit: Become Human that they showed a year and a half ago, and God of War has felt less impactful every time it’s been demonstrated since its original trailer. Days Gone seems to pop up wherever Sony goes, but it still doesn’t have a firm release date beyond the general “2018” window. Sony infamously revealed gameplay for the Final Fantasy VII remake at PSX the same year it was announced, shocking everyone who assumed we wouldn’t see gameplay for at least a couple of years. Unfortunately, that’s the last we’ve seen of it, and fans have learned to expect it to pop up at E3 and PSX, but the Final Fantasy VII remake has foregone each show since. Death Stranding has now received three full trailers, but no proper gameplay demonstration, and trailers that would have once created significant buzz are now ringing hollow simply because of that fact. What’s worse, Sony showed their most recent Death Stranding trailer at both The Game Awards and PSX this year – almost exactly one day apart.
As great as those conferences were in the past, they announced games far too early. Now, when those same games show up, they’re expected to either reveal something big or they’re considered a disappointment. Dreams was showcased at this year’s PSX, and while it looks exceptionally promising, it has been shown consistently by Sony to some extent since 2014. Even with the boundless potential of the game, buzz around the title has waned significantly, and the house that LittleBigPlanet built has hurt itself by showing bits and pieces of the game in the interim. Shows like E3 2015, PSX 2015, and E3 2016 were absolute home runs. Unfortunately, the goodwill those events drummed up can’t be sustained forever, and it has resulted in an E3 and PSX in 2017 that felt slight and ultimately unsatisfying.
They’re Holding Too Many Conferences
Quick: how many conference has Sony had this year? Well, there was E3, Paris Games Week, Tokyo Game Show and PlayStation Experience, but they’ve also had showings at the Game Developer’s Conference, the D.I.C.E summit and used The Game Awards as a platform to release trailers. It’s a lot to take in and Sony’s insistence at creating a presence at each of these events has left none of their conferences with enough material to satisfy fans completely. They were off their game at E3 this year and resorted to theatrics like hanging actors upside down while showing off Days Gone or fogging up the stage for God of War. The back-to-back pacing of their 2016 conference was emulated here, but the content shown off largely disappointed, even if Insomniac’s Spider-Man generated some buzz as the final game shown during the conference.
Even with as many studios as Sony has, it’s impossible for them to consistently release interesting footage for their games at each event. This year’s PSX proved that Sony couldn’t possibly keep announcing big games at the rate they were going, so instead they opted to do a casual event where developers chatted on a couch for way too long. They announced Wipeout VR, a remake of MediEvil and a couple other small things that would barely register at a proper press conference. Last year at PSX, they announced The Last of Us Part II alongside a chilling trailer, did the same for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and so much more – it continued a precedent of great PSX keynotes before it that this year simply couldn’t measure up to. But imagine if shows like Paris Games Week weren’t siphoning off big moments, like the announcement of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima or a second trailer for The Last of Us Part II, or if Death Stranding’s new trailer wasn’t also unveiled at The Game Awards. PSX could have kept with tradition, but Sony is shooting itself in the foot by bringing just a few things to so many shows. Even Shawn Laden admitted as much while speaking with Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller after the PSX event – they made this year’s keynote casual and conversational, because they simply couldn’t keep up with their own pace.
Each event Sony appears at serves its own purpose: Tokyo Game Show exists to showcase upcoming games from Japan that might not shine the same if they were shown at E3, Paris Games Week and Gamescom cater to the European market and PSX is more of a fan event that Sony has total control over. They shouldn’t remove their presence from these shows completely, but they don’t need a major keynote at each one. Fans have begun to expect massive reveals at all of these events, and for good reason: if you look at the last few years, Sony has continuously knocked them out of the park up until lately. Instead, a greater focus at E3 would be welcomed and PSX would do well to house their second big press conference. They take place almost exactly six months apart, allowing for more timely reveals and spaced out promotions of first-party games. They could still have a presence at Paris Games Week, but they don’t need to continue having a major press conference at the event. Their keynote at TGS should remain, as it has expertly catered to the Japanese demographic, and frankly, many of the announcements there would be lost at western-centric events. Sony could also cut some fat from showing content at The Game Awards – though that might not happen, considering it draws in a relatively large audience. And that’s really why E3 and PSX should become their focal points: both generate a lot of buzz and both serve different purposes. E3 and its press focus rounds out the first half of the year and PSX with its consumer focus serves as a wonderful year end benchmark. From here on out, Sony needs to learn how to manage expectations from fans at any given event, and the best way to do that is not hold a conference at every one that passes by. If they make these changes, Sony could very well be the king of E3 once again and give their first-party studios the attention they deserve once more.