Daily Reaction: The Empty ESA Statement to Sony Not Attending E3 2020


Following today’s not-so-surprising announcement that Sony won’t be using E3 2020 as a platform to deliver information and hype on the PS5, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) issued a post titled “ESA Statement on Sony E3 2020 Announcement.” Have a look:

E3 is a signature event celebrating the video game industry and showcasing the people, brands and innovations redefining entertainment loved by billions of people around the world. E3 2020 will be an exciting, high-energy show featuring new experiences, partners, exhibitor spaces, activations, and programming that will entertain new and veteran attendees alike. Exhibitor interest in our new activations is gaining the attention of brands that view E3 as a key opportunity to connect with video game fans worldwide.

I clicked reload on the page multiple times, convinced there had to be more to it. The ESA’s statement about Sony not attending E3 2020 doesn’t even actually mention Sony? It instead reads like a buzzword-filled marketing paragraph that was probably part of some sales deck. I mean, a public-facing statement shouldn’t use terms like “activations” if it wants to be taken seriously. This reads like what I expect it actually is: The ESA frantically responding to the overwhelmingly negative takes about E3 as a show following Sony’s announcement.

The elephant in the room is that Sony doesn’t “feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what [they] are focused on this year.” Whatever the ESA is doing with E3 2020, Sony has decided that its vision isn’t the right one to promote their next-gen console. That’s a huge commentary on where E3 is at and what the ESA is going with the 2020 show before we actually know anything about what’s coming up. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier reports that there was a lot of tension between Sony and the ESA last year which led to the decision not to attend in 2019.

Sony opting not to attend this year basically confirms that the company has no plans to return to the show in the future. If it isn’t going to hype the PS5 using E3 2020, then Sony is showing that it doesn’t need E3 at all. The ESA’s only response to Sony basically putting E3 out to pasture is a frantic paragraph that is less-than-convincing. The organization arguably isn’t ready to reveal details about E3 2020 quite yet, so I didn’t expect a full breakdown of the show, but I can’t help feeling like there’s an empty dishonesty to their statement, their very own “This is fine!” moment as a 25-year video game industry legacy burns down around their ears.

Gamesindsutry.biz’s Reb Valentine pointed out the E3 is less about the specific event anymore anyway, and more about the deluge of news that comes within that week, whether at E3 itself or not. Sony can easily save a ton of money by simply putting out information alongside the event. E3 has become like referring to tissues as Kleenex or calling bandages Band-Aids. It’s the microcosm of video game news that comes in the middle of each year, and those two letters have come to represent so much more than just the LA event. But with that genericism of the term “E3,” the ESA has to feel like it’s losing its grasp on the event. Sony basically writing E3 off for good is ringing those funeral bells as the show keep struggling to figure out what it wants to be. Is it a consumer show? An industry trade show? How does it fit in with the modern age of social media and companies’ abilities to connect directly with their audiences?

E3 2020

And so we’re left with an empty statement, one that doesn’t address the elephant in the room as Sony walks away from the show. One that uses marketing buzzwords that should never leave conference calls and meeting rooms. It makes vapid ethereal promises of excitement, high-energy, and entertainment. It talks about new experiences, partners, and “activations,” but doesn’t address why some of its biggest partners have been stepping away from the show. And realistically, if they had addressed that point, exhibitors like Sony wouldn’t be stepping away.

Sony is confident in its PS5 strategy. It doesn’t need E3. E3 needs Sony. E3 2020 is the show’s 25th year, and while the name “E3” is iconic enough that I expect it to perpetuate in some form going forward, the Electronic Entertainment Expo as we know it is dead. There isn’t near enough time to rethink the strategies for this year’s show (these things are plotted out well in advance), but you can rest assured there are frantic discussions going on behind the scenes with regards to E3 2021 and beyond.

The ESA should take a page out of Sony’s book, however, and stop using empty statements that look like they were copied and pasted from a marketing deck. Terms like “activations” and “key opportunity” aren’t exciting to the people you are actually trying to market to. Get with the times and get real with people. Connect directly with the community (whatever that intended community is) in a way that feels honest. Oh, and maybe do something about the fact that a lazy security hole last year cost thousands of people their private information and led to harassment and other issues, otherwise you’re going to find E3 has significantly fewer “activations” from potential attendees this year.

Daily Reaction reacts to the video game industry. Have suggestions for the column or subjects you’d like us to react to? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out previous Daily Reactions for more dives beyond the headlines.

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