On May 11, 1995, the very first Electronic Entertainment Expo premiered in the Los Angeles Convention Center. Rather than living under the shadow of their fellow Consumer Electronic Show attendees, the video game industry launched a trade fair of their own to showcase the latest advancements in interactive entertainment. Now 20 years later, E3 is still the most significant (though not the largest) annual video game trade show. In the past two decades, there have been a plethora of triumphant, awkward and utterly bizarre moments that display why both hardcore and casual fans hotly anticipate this summertime tradition. With just 40 days until E3 2015, we take a look at what makes this the must-watch video game event of the year.
E3 2004: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Trailer
Steve Jobs might have popularized the press conference cliche “One More Thing,” but in 2004, Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aimé brought the house down with their final announcement of the show. Now widely considered a classic, 2002's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Wakerdisappointed many fans with it’s bright cartoon visuals. Any remaining resentment quickly washed away when the trailer for the darker Twilight Princess began to roll. The attending audience lost their collective minds, screaming and cheering as a sword-wielding Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of The Legend Of Zelda) took the stage. This resulted in an E3 moment that’s often remembered more fondly than the actual game it was intended to promote.
E3 2010: Konami Gets Weird
Konami probably believed their 2010 press conference would increase consumer interest in their upcoming titles. Instead it became a launching point for dozens of internet memes with it’s string of confusing presentations and speeches. Ninety-Nine Nights 2’s producer Tak Fujii promised “one million troops” and a “exxxxxxxxxtreme” hack-and-slash. Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons pledged to “market the shit out of” the upcoming Def Jam Rapstar, a game that was developed under the philosophical vision of “Why the fuck don’t they do that?” Mexican pro-wrestlers, a high school choir performing Glee songs, unfluent English speakers and a plethora of other strange moments ensured this beloved conference will never be forgotten.
E3 1995: SEGA's Gamble
E3’s inaugural year was modest compared to today, but it’s ramifications deeply altered the video game landscape. In an effort to usurp the then upcoming Sony PlayStation, SEGA of America’s CEO Tom Kalinske ditched the SEGA Saturn’s planned September 2 release date and announced their $399 console was already available at select retailers. This not only caught the attending games press off guard, but many major retailers including Walmart, Target, Circuit City and Best Buy who hadn’t received any units in advance. Many third-party developers were also not pleased as their development cycles were structured around a September release, resulting in a lackluster launch line-up.
Unfortunately for SEGA, the surprise didn’t pay off. By the end of the day, Sony’s PlayStation was the talk of the show with it’s impressive 3D graphics and cheaper $299 price tag. SEGA nearly destroyed all of their American publisher and retail relationships in less than 24 hours and never quite recovered. Due to poor sales, the Saturn was discontinued in America less than three years after it’s initial release. SEGA made one last attempt with the SEGA Dreamcast in 1998 before exiting the hardware market altogether in 2001. Ouch.
E3 2006: Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine Dollars
For nearly 12 years, Sony’s PlayStation brand dominated the console video game market, but even their meteoric rise couldn't avoid the alleged “Third Console Curse.” Last second hardware implications, underwhelming demos and confused messaging all played a factor in Sony’s disastrous E3 debut of the PlayStation 3. Warhawk’s embarrassing display of broken motion controls, the now infamous “Giant Enemy Crab” demo and Kaz Hirai announcing the 11-year-old Ridge Race's PSP rerelease left many viewers scratching their heads.
If that wasn't bad enough, the PS3’s $499 and $599 dollar price tag (compared to the already released Xbox 360’s $299 and $399 retail price) discouraged many would-be-owners. The situation was further exacerbated when Ken Kutaragi shared his belief that many consumers would “work more hours to buy one.” Sadly for Sony, many consumers purchased a Wii or Xbox 360 instead. Though the PlayStation 3 would eventually become a success, it’s initial stumble created a more competitive marketplace and an uphill battle for Sony’s brand.
E3 2013: Sony Strikes Back
Rather than announce their next consoles during E3 2013, Microsoft and Sony held their own events earlier that year. While Sony’s created a cautious sense of optimism, Microsoft’s reveal was widely criticized for focusing on media features rather than games. Soon after, rumors surfaced that the Xbox One would require a near constant internet connection to function. Even worse, Microsoft would allegedly implement DRM, essentially removing the systems ability to play used games. But perhaps the most alarming was the next iteration of Kinect, a mandatory peripheral that would listen to your every word even in rest mode.
Microsoft avoided addressing these controversial practices during their E3 2013 conference, instead focusing on their upcoming launch line-up and announcing the Xbox One’s $499 price. But the poor messaging after the conference only escalated consumer concerns. At one point Xbox Boss Don Mattrick suggested users without a stable internet connection should stick to the Xbox 360. The stage was set for a rebuttal and Sony was ready.
Often considered the most aggressive moment in E3 history, Sony deliver a slew of announcements referencing the Xbox One’s troubling rumors.
“PlayStation 4 won't impose any new restrictions... When a gamer buys a PS4 disc, they have the rights to use that disc. They can sell it to another person, lend it to a friend or keep it forever... PS4 discs don’t need to be connected online to play or for any type of authentication. And it won’t stop working if you haven’t authenticated within 24 hours.”
Sony Computer Entertainment of America’s Jack Tretton’s talking points were repeatedly interrupted by a series of cheers and chants by the audience. SCE’s Group CEO Andrew House then took the stage to announce the PlayStation 4’s price would undercut the Xbox One’s by $100. As the first milestone E3 to take place in the age of social media, the news quickly spread of both Mattrick's comments and Sony’s ecstatic crowd reaction. In many ways, it was the first E3 where business practices rather than games won the show.
E3 Media and Business Summit 2007: Near Death Experience
It might be hard to believe, but E3 almost came to an abrupt end just as the video game industry reached new heights of mainstream success. Originally envisioned as a business conference, the Entertainment Electronic Expo had ballooned into a cultural event, resulting in many attendees having little-to-no connection with the industry. After experiencing a nearly 15% decline in attendance in 2006, the Entertainment Software Association drastically restructured the event into two separate expos. The E3 Media and Business Summit would become an invite-only event for mainstream press and developers, while the Entertainment For All would become a convention where anyone could purchase tickets.
Gone were the explosive exhibitions, “Booth Babes” and long lines. But for many publishers, developers, journalists and fans, the overall mystic of E3 had also vanished. Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of the two year experiment was Jamie Kennedy’s hosting of Activision’s 2007 conference. A multitude of penis jokes antagonized both the audience and presenters, including a painful exchange between Kennedy and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. Kennedy remains hyper defensive about the incident to this day, calling the unimpressed audience “dorks.”
After E3 2008 set an all-time low attendance record of just over 5,000 (compared to 60,000 in 2006), E3 returned to it’s more bombastic roots in 2009 to the rejoice of the industry and fan alike. Of course, this also reintroduced thousands of unqualified attendees. But let’s be honest, it’s always more fun to sneak into the hottest party in town.
What Did We Miss?
What are some of your favorite E3 moments? Let us know in the comments below.