June 15, 2015. Halfway through the second year of the console generation, Sony was dealt an easy hand from its competitors. Microsoft was still trying to recover from its shift away from TV and DRM. Nintendo had already begun to cut its losses with the Wii U.
Meanwhile, Sony went directly to the fans. In the years leading up to the PlayStation launch, Shawn Layden, John Drake, Shuhei Yoshida, Gio Corsi, and Adam Boyes from the Sony Old Guard had been busy “building the list.” Visiting forums, online communities, and Twitter to track what games fans wanted to see made, at E3 2015 they delivered on that promise.
Watching that event you will witness over one full hour of the most excitement anyone has ever seen during an industry trade show. Shenmue 3, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Hitman, Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4, and The Last Guardian shocked the LA Convention Center like it was a professional wrestling event.
Sony would bring 39 game announcements for the PlayStation 4, as well as the yet-to-be-named PSVR headset. Microsoft would go on to try and reboot the generation with the Xbox One X almost three years later. Nintendo would not be able to release the Switch until 2017. Nothing would stop Sony. Consoles continued to sell on through 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War.
Building The List
That feels like a lifetime ago. Except for Shuhei Yoshida, the Sony Old Guard is all gone. The “#buildingthelist” campaign died sometime after the release of the Crash Bandicoot revival. Likewise, it feels like nobody is keeping an eye on the community anymore. When Sony does respond to feedback it is often late or carefully crafted blog posts by teams of corporate-speak PR magistrates.
That ideology cemented itself within Sony’s summer 2021 announcement plans. Over on the PlayStation Blog, seven PSVR games received new trailers. Sony announced their new branding for Evo, the Fighting Game Community tournament. In addition to a major news update from Sony Worldwide Studios head, Hermen Hulst where he insisted on confirming every single negative rumor about the company in a way that can only make you feel anemic.
That’s not to say it has been all bad. In the final week of May, Sony delivered a beautiful presentation in the form of Horizon Forbidden West. Which only reaffirms my belief, that it is not a lack of content but a half-hearted attempt to create enthusiasm.
What Should Have Happened
Why not put Herman in front of a camera for five minutes, take the seven VR games, get a Far Cry 6 teaser trailer, throw in some new Kena: A Bridge of Spirits gameplay, tease Dreamscom, explain the new PlayStation Tournaments, point a video camera at the new PSVR controllers for 30 seconds, announce June and July PS+ games, go gets some indies, Tribes of Midgard, and one game that is far off. Place all of that alongside Horizon Forbidden West. Boom, you have just made your 2021 Summer Hype Event.
Instead of that, we are going to get a handful of Tweets in the middle of a weekday. For casual fans, how does anything outside of Horizon Forbidden West even appear on your radar? If you are a Sony partner, large or small, it must be frustrating not having your game alongside Horizon Forbidden West and its tens of millions of views.
If you think about it, it is actually pretty obvious what Sony is going to do. Come around the first week of August or, the last week of July, they will have something. That would be the perfect time to give Kena one last push. Plus Sony will know the date for Horizon Forbidden West by then. With that, they will be due to push Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo.
On the other hand, would it not be more exciting to see all of this content, with the content from the blog under one event? Then date the games later on the blog and Twitter? The impact would be far greater. Also, a much bigger play than planning your summer around a small studio’s first game.
Dance With Who Brought You
I get it, Sony does not need E3. PlayStation has been just fine without E3 for the past three years. To me it is not about the showmanship, it is not about console sales, it is about the community. PlayStation has been taking part in these events from their very first console launch, announced at the very first E3. It does not even have to be at an event called “E3.” It just needs to be an event.
Now that the tables have been turned on Sony, Xbox has become a monster. Nintendo can sell ketchup popsicles to people in white gloves. PlayStation is taking for granted all of the goodwill it built during the last console generation. Almost none of that is guaranteed going forward, especially if Sony is not going to be able to meet console demand and Microsoft is willing to spend $10 billion a year on Game Pass. Not to sound self-indulgent, I just wish Sony would consider dancing with who brought them here and that is the hardcore fanbase.