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Why Microsoft is leaning into E3—and Sony is bowing out—amid ‘marketing hype war’

January 14, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

When Sony announced it would not be attending E3 2019, it surprised a lot of people, but the general assumption was it would return in 2020 as the launch of the PlayStation 5 neared. That’s not going to the case.

Sony, for the second year in a row, will skip the annual video game trade show, saying it did not feel “the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year.” That could present an opportunity for Microsoft—and the company wasted no time to capitalize on it.

“Our team is hard at work on E3, we look forward to sharing with all who love to play what’s ahead for us,” said Xbox chief Phil Spencer on Twitter. “Our artform has consistently been propelled by the cross-section of creativity and technical progress. 2020 is a milestone year in that journey for Team Xbox.”

After dominating sales charts with the PlayStation 4, Sony is hoping for a repeat performance with the PlayStation 5, which is scheduled to launch later this year. The company has taken a rather unusual approach in showcasing the console’s features so far, though, spilling technical details to certain media outlets, but eschewing major showcases. (At CES, for example, it only showed off the “new” logo for the machine – which was the same as the PS4, only with a 5.) Many expect Sony to hold its own media event in the coming months, where it will fully unveil the device.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is courting gamers where they congregate. It announced details of its next generation system, then called Project Scarlett, at E3 last year. It unveiled the design of that console in December at the Game Awards, which shattered viewership record with over 45 million livestreams (a 73% jump from 2018). And it will presumably be the only major console company showing off a next generation system at E3, which has long been the nexus of the video game world.

That not only lets Microsoft show off its own next generation games to the most avid gamers (E3 began allowing the general public in several years ago), it gives other publishers a chance to showcase their games on Xbox Series X, which could affect buyers’ decisions in the holiday period.

“We’re in a marketing hype war right now,” says PJ McNealy, CEO and Founder of Digital World Research. “Right now, it’s all about positioning the Xbox Series X against the PlayStation 5. From the future of the company standpoint, the PS5 means a heck of a lot more to Sony’s future than the Xbox does to Microsoft’s future. But this will give Microsoft an opportunity to grab the spotlight.”

E3 has been the launch pad for virtually every major console launch in the industry over the past 25 years. And Sony’s showcasing of the PS4 in 2013 was widely credited with the system’s early success. The show, however, has faced challenges in recent years in meeting the desires of its member companies. Activision and Electronic Arts, among other companies, have not hosted booths at the show in recent years, either.

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