E3 2018 has been a whirlwind of announcements and hype, as usual. But my eyes were glued to one show in particular: Sony’s PlayStation E3 2018 Showcase. Though the company announced the focus of its presentation weeks ago, it had a few surprises in store. It also took on a very strange, clumsy format. Let’s look through the best and worst aspects of Sony’s conference, and discuss why the presentation felt the way it did.
What Worked Out
It’s been pretty clear for a few years that Sony likes experimenting with E3 presentations to find a balance between gameplay, teasers, and hosting personalities. In 2016, Shawn Layden stepped on stage alone to show off God of War, Spider-Man, Days Gone, and a remake of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy. He was joined by developers only briefly, such as when Hideo Kojima took the stage to show off his newest project, Death Stranding. For 2017, the E3 PlayStation Showcase pushed the needle even further in this direction, mostly comprising of trailers and game footage. Layden took to the spotlight when needed, but for the most part, Sony’s videos spoke for themselves.
Strokes of these presentations were still evident in the PlayStation E3 2018 Showcase. After intriguing gameplay of The Last of Us 2 and an awkward break (more on that later), the meatiest portion of the event kicked off with a Ghost of Tsushima footage reel. The show continued, trailer after trailer, culminating in a thrilling Spider-Man sequence that served as the perfect finale and cliffhanger. What’s interesting is that these teasers were not broken up with a monologue from Layden or any other Sony employee. The presentation merely showed quick interstitials from Media Molecule’s Dreams, then bounded to the next game.
In a way, this portion of the showcase is a product of the lessons Sony learned with its past E3 shows. People want games. They want new announcements, exciting footage, and returning icons. They can easily see through the business jargon and filler conversations that accompany traditional pressers. And they don’t like to sit through a musical performance or dance number. At its best, Sony’s 2018 showing remembered these valuable teachings and stuck to them, giving fans exactly what they want. At its worst, it seemed to regress in unexpected, ugly ways.
What Went Wrong
Musical numbers mid-E3 pressers might be awe-inspiring in-person. One day, when I’m actually present at E3, I’ll report back on that. But during a stream, like how most PlayStation fans watched, they can feel like boring time wasters. While three minutes of feudal Japanese tunes are significantly more interesting than Andrew WK, they still throw a wrench in any momentum the briefing had up to that point.
To that end, Sony’s stream had little to no momentum by the time Ghost of Tsushima’s musical intro started. That’s thanks to The Last of Us 2, in a way. While it’s exciting that we finally have gameplay footage and a small semblance of story details, the trailer was shown in a sort of church. Press and other attendees were herded into a small, rustic church to listen to a banjo intro, watch a trailer, then get out. While they were headed to the main conference room (where they were greeted by Tsushima’s intro), the stream took a turn for the worst. Sid Shuman, Shawn Layden, and Ryan Clements just kind of…talked about previously announced games and trailers.
It’s obvious the church intro was meant to provide an interesting atmosphere for the real-life attendants. And showing off The Last of Us 2’s first footage in such a rustic scene is an awesome idea. But that doesn’t excuse the resulting hype black hole that occurred on stream as everyone shuffled to the main hall.
Both this intermission and the Tsushima musical number broke what little flow the showcase had. It started strong, before these two hiccups brought the hype train to a halt. But they also undermined the entire point of the presentation: to show players what’s in store. Although let’s be honest, we knew much of what Sony was going to show off.
Why Is It Like This?
Sony got ahead of the curve a few weeks ago by announcing their showcase would mainly cover Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and The Last of Us 2. That was a smart move as it tempered expectations for the showing, but it also told fans exactly what would be shown. There were no surprises, and not a lot of new titles. Why exactly would Sony do this? Why would they shoot their E3 presentation in the foot?
The most straightforward answer is: the internet demands it. Nintendo was the first to understand that the fast information transfer of the web forces a company to make announcements throughout the year, no matter how small. Sony finally picked up on this concept, too. Instead of using E3 as a large info drop, it’s now another smaller showcase in Sony’s yearly display. The other two events in play are Paris Games Week and PlayStation Experience.
From Sony’s view, it makes more sense to show your best offerings at either show, as it makes your news stand out rather than getting lost in the E3 hubbub. Plus, there’s the fact that PlayStation Experience is Sony’s personal showfloor, and it behooves them to save some surprises for that. As such, they knew if people went into this show expecting large announcements, they’d be disappointed.
It’s also worth noting that Sony simply doesn’t have much more up its sleeve. They showed their cards back in 2016, and still, Death Stranding, The Last of Us, and Tsushima are the main titles in reserve. There’s just nothing else to show, other than the gambits they showcased years ago. Thus, they wanted to stave off disappointment by getting the message out early, and being upfront about their four largest titles. They wanted to put press in a church to emphasize the importance of what little they did have.
The end result was a disorganized show for those of us watching remotely, but in reality, this is one of the only options Sony had. This was by no means a terrible conference, but it did cut whatever exciting momentum they built with their intro. Here’s hoping that for Paris Games Week, PSX, and E3 2019, Sony once again takes what worked from their past few conferences, but leaves the soured aspects at home.