For better or worse, E3 is all about the spectacle. As a prime opportunity for massive corporations to woo consumers and investors, it’s no surprise that the standard strategy is to throw in as many bright lights and loud noises as possible.
Few companies commit to this ethos more than Sony, but one crucial element of the platform holder's E3 stagecraft rarely gets mentioned: the press conference stages themselves. For our money, the Japanese giant’s pressers have featured some of the most ridiculous stage setups in the event’s history.
To that end, we’ve made a list of what we think are some of Sony’s silliest E3 stages.
2013 - 2015: The Wraparound Sunglasses
Since the beginning of time, one question has plagued the minds of our elite scientists and architects: how can we possibly make E3 press conferences any more gaudy?
From 2013 through 2015 Sony’s answer to this age-old quandary was a screen so wide that no human being could ever feasibly see all the information it was displaying at one time. A screen that required conference-goers sitting in the first 30 rows of the Shrine Auditorium to awkwardly crane their necks in order to properly view it.
In truth, this is probably the least silly E3 stage setup we’re going to look at in this article – but we still had to give an honorable mention to what is a senselessly oversized screen.
Total screen count: 10
2008: The 1984
2008’s offering had an ambitious goal: fit as many screens onto the Shrine Auditorium stage as possible. The PlayStation 3 may have been the lowest selling console at the time, but neither Microsoft nor Nintendo was going to topple Sony when it came to sheer late capitalistic excess.
Unfortunately all those screens made the presser look like a Brechtian re-imagining of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is watching, and he wants you to buy some hats for your PlayStation Home avatar.
Total screen count: 65
2012: The Postmodern Deconstruction
In 2012 we see Sony take a postmodern approach. The designers have deconstructed the very idea of an E3 press conference screen, and then reconstructed it in a manner which is busy, confusing, and frankly pretty hard to look at. Many suggest this was an intentional tactic aimed at sending journalists into sensory overload so they would forget the protracted Wonderbook presentation they were about to endure.
The radical design wasn't without its detractors, though. Philosopher Martin Heidegger famously stormed out of the show after just 20 minutes, describing the screen as a “hideous affront to nature”. Many commentators questioned why he was even invited in the first place, given his death 32 years prior. Needless to say, 2012’s conference remains a bold and controversial chapter in Sony’s E3 history.
Total screen count: 13
2005: The Monolith
As Kaz Hirai hitched his backpack in preparation for the 40-mile hike that would take him from one side of Sony’s monolithic 2005 E3 stage to the other, he was reminded of something his friend and business partner Jack Tretton had said to him earlier that day in rehearsals.
“Remember Kaz, don’t look directly at the screen,” Jack had warned him. “It’s dangerous. We made it too big this year. If you look at the screen, we might lose you to its splendid power!”
But Kaz simply couldn’t help himself. He turned slowly towards the screen, and for the very first time became aware of how utterly it dwarfed him. As his gaze began to settle on its ceaseless white borders, he was overcome with a sudden and stabbing anxiety. What if people don’t like the PlayStation 3? What if all this hifalutin tech speak doesn’t pay off? What if our new system is a flop?
Kaz began to feel dizzy. His vision blurred. He should have listened to Jack. He should never have looked at this gorgeous and terrifying monster.
Just as his fears came to a crescendo, an ethereal image materialised on the colossal white screen before him. A gleaming rubber duckie, resplendent in yellow and orange. But not just one rubber duckie, hundreds and hundreds of them floating atop a beautifully rendered Venetian bathtub; each duck reacting dynamically in what onlookers described as "a perfect simulation of real-world physics".
A single tear fell from Kaz’s eye. It’s going to be okay, he thought. It’s going to be just fine.
Total screen count: 5
2009: The Utterly Inexplicable
At this point, we’re pretty sure Sony was just taking the mickey. Like, honestly, what are we even looking at here? Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to buy three perfectly functional screens and then squeeze the tops and bottoms of them, turning them into outright malformed nightmares. This is the sort of nonsensical monstrosity David Lynch might cook up after three months of naked meditation in the desert.
Total screen count: 3
2004: The Doughnut
Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance. The best in class when it comes to silly screen design: 2004’s doughnut screen. Now, we understand what the platform holder was going for here. When you’ve dropped some major coin on a massive screen at E3, there’s nothing worse than having some slack jawed, shabbily dressed talking head ruining the audience's view.
However, rather than taking the seemingly obvious route of simply raising the screen off the ground, Sony instead decided that the best course of action was to mould the screen into the shape of a half-eaten doughnut.
And here’s the kicker: trailers actually played on that screen. Yep, that’s right: conference-goers were treated to a video feed that was missing at least half of the video they were supposed to be watching. Genius.
Total screen count: 5
Those are our picks for silliest E3 press conference stage setups, but what about you? Is there a classic setup you think we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.