PlayStation And Xbox Need To Get Their Asses Back To PAX Aus

PlayStation And Xbox Need To Get Their Asses Back To PAX Aus

PlayStation and Xbox need to get their asses back to PAX Aus.

When PAX Aus returned from its pandemic-induced slumber in 2022, one of the most obvious changes was to the convention’s Expo Hall floor. PAX conventions had been something of a revolution in direct-to-consumer marketing in their early days, successfully recreating a miniaturised E3 show floor that was open to anyone who could afford a one- or three-day pass. All the biggest names in video games wanted to be there because it was a chance to cut out the middle-man — games media, specifically — and put their games in punters’ hands directly. It felt a little bit special, a peek behind the curtain at a side of the industry that only press and industry personnel ever got to see.

In 2022, Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox, colloquially referred to as ‘The Big Three’, were notable by their absence. All three hardware makers had attended PAX Aus annually since its inception in 2013. That year, they were nowhere to be seen. They weren’t alone, either. Publishers Bethesda and Ubisoft also abandoned the floor in favour of invite-only, influencer-friendly events held offsite and throughout the city. I could write about those two as well — Bethesda’s much-heralded return to the show turned out to be a bar hidden in a meeting room near the Expo Hall floor — but I’m going to focus my ire on The Big Three for this piece.

I’ve heard myriad reasons for this absence from various people. That booth space was too expensive. That there was a hesitance to return to the convention model, or uncertainty from the bean counters over whether conventions would make a comeback post-pandemic. One I heard a lot was that higher-ups didn’t feel the need to return to conventions when the pandemic had moved direct-to-consumer marketing online.

When I say direct-to-consumer marketing, I’m talking about things like Nintendo Direct, or PlayStation State of Play. In an effort to please shareholders, a pandemic-driven shift to quarterly video drops became the industry standard for building hype and community engagement. On paper, it makes sense – these glorified PowerPoint decks are cheap to produce, and have a theoretically massive reach. They activate social media for a day or two afterwards, and the publisher stays in complete control of the messaging. These are all things you can take to shareholders as evidence of growth and success and have them eagerly nod their heads like they have the faintest idea of what you’re talking about.

In 2023, Nintendo became the first of The Big Three to dip its toe back into PAX Aus. And by “dip its toe”, I mean “take up an absolutely dumbfounding amount of space on the show floor.” The Nintendo booth at PAX Aus 2023 was the biggest the company has ever brought to the show, and the main draw was its upcoming game Super Mario Bros Wonder (which we previewed; check that out here).

After complaints last year about the Big Three’s absence, the Nintendo booth was a huge hit with punters. The booth was mobbed all three days of the convention, with fans crowding around the various kiosks to play and chat with the army of contract workers Nintendo had brought in to operate the space. For Nintendo, even with the eye-watering amount of money it definitely paid for a booth footprint of that size, this last weekend was an unqualified success. It was also a success that Nintendo walked to because its only real competition was the indies.

It will sell copies of Wonder off the back of punters getting hands-on with the Gamescom build. It will sell consoles to players who tried something they liked at the booth and were sold on it. It made people feel cool and special, letting them play a new game early, the way the PAX Aus show floor always has, and it will profit from that.

And by not throwing their hats into the ring, PlayStation and Xbox have let that opportunity slip through their fingers.

And what a missed opportunity for both. PlayStation has Spider-Man 2 launching in just a few weeks’ time. Xbox has just gotten Forza Motorsport out the door, and preview builds for both games exist. We know this because they’ve been shown to press, locally and abroad. They’ve appeared at other conventions and trade shows. This was an opportunity to build further Australian hype, to get players in front of these games and maybe convert them into a buyer. Instead, Nintendo has been left to gobble up all that goodwill and profit potential for itself, and I’m sure it doesn’t mind one bit.

Nintendo has understood something about PAX that the other two have clearly forgotten: these are the people that buy your stuff – the consoles you make, the games your hard-working first-party studios produce. You can try to control your image and your comms as much as you like, but ultimately the Direct-to-Consumer video model is a sterile, deeply impersonal thing. It’s bare-minimum stuff, holding your hand out for money and expecting to get it, with all the interpersonal spark of a choppy Zoom call.

You love to claim that everything you do is for the players. Prove it. Get your heads out of your asses and get back on the PAX Aus show floor in 2024. 

No excuses. No half-measures. No off-site, invite-only influencer bs. Get back on the floor among the people you rely on to buy your games and your consoles. They show up for you, and push your companies to record profits year-on-year. For once in your lives, tell the shareholders to shove it, prise open your wallets and show up for the people that keep you in business.

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