E3: Moments in History
Many years ago, a relatively modest expo acorn dropped from the supporting branches of the high-profile Consumer Electronics Show and took root in the fertile soil of the videogames industry. In 1995 a frail sapling in the form of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) pushed free of the covering dirt, and a phenomenon stronger than oak began reaching for the sky. Who would have predicted its rise would scrape the expo stratosphere?
Beyond its humble beginnings, E3 grew exponentially throughout the years and, in terms of worldwide industry exposure, it became the premier event on the videogame conference/expo calendar. Indeed, during its twelve consecutive years (up to and including 2006), E3 loomed large over the likes of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), and even the mighty Tokyo Game Show (TGS) and culminated in the 3-day attraction of over 400 games-related companies amid more than 70,000 feverishly enthusiastic attendees.
In terms of E3 history, the gathering momentum of the videogame industry during the mid-1990s saw exhibiting companies surpass the capacity of the annual CES show, and it quickly became apparent to the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) that a focused videogame convention was required to accommodate increasing industry demand. "The industry was a stepchild at the CES show and really wasn't treated as a first class exhibitor," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the then IDSA "It was clear to everyone that the industry had come of age, could easily support a show of its own, and, in fact, needed a show of its own." Formed in 1994, the IDSA - now known as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) - is a trade association that represents videogame publishers while also handling related policy issues, content regulation (ESRB), intellectual property rights, and a global anti-piracy program. The representatives of the IDSA/ESA group are made up of massively influential games companies including Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), Nintendo of America, and Microsoft Corporation, and it is responsible for creating the very first E3 expo back in May of 1995.
Following Sony's 1995 E3 unveiling of the original PlayStation and a host of launch software, including seminal titles WipeOut, Tekken, and Ridge Racer, E3 soon found itself as the expo of choice for videogame companies wishing to parade new hardware and software before expectant members of the gaming and entertainment industry. Of course, the fact that Sony apparently spent an astounding $4.0 million on its 1995 booth and God only knows how much on a guest appearance by Michael Jackson to help hawk the PlayStation, probably played a major part in turning the media spotlight on the Los Angeles Convention Center and its newly established trade show.
Over the years, E3 served as the central media springboard for a multitude of gaming products, which, apart from the Sony PlayStation, included many notable highlights:
In 1996, Nintendo finally unveiled its Nintendo 64 (which had missed the inaugural spotlight of 1995), along with its confirmed release date and price point, and a selection of playable demos for various launch titles including Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Wave Race, and GoldenEye. In an attempt to take the sheen off the Nintendo 64, Sony dropped the price of its PlayStation from $299 to $199 (as did SEGA for its Saturn) and also displayed Tekken 2 and a new scrolling 3D platform game called Crash Bandicoot.
In 1998 E3 was held in Atlanta, Georgia (actually for a second year following a spatial restraint move in 1997), and bore witness to the steadily declining SEGA brand transcend its ailing Saturn console by revealing the Dreamcast (a.k.a. Codename: Katana), which is now largely viewed as the very first 'next-gen' videogames console. In contrast, Sony only displayed software for its successfully established PlayStation, but attendees still flocked in droves to Square's Final Fantasy VIII and Konami's new survival horror title Silent Hill. Nintendo, also concentrating on its software, ran an equally popular final preview of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time before its anticipated winter release.
1999 saw E3 move back to an expanded LA Convention Center and an exclusive contract to run through to 2012. However, regardless of the expo returning to its birth home, E3 1999 will only be remembered for one thing: Sony's PlayStation 2 - a sole display unit of Sony's next-gen console hogging attendee interest for the full three days like tireless Japanese tourists packed tightly around the Mona Lisa. Nintendo pushed forward the likes of Resident Evil 2, Donkey Kong 64, Eternal Darkness, and Perfect Dark for the overshadowed Nintendo 64. However, the Japanese giant did also make brief mention of its own next-gen console, which, at that time, was called Codename: Dolphin. This later became the GameCube.
SEGA's Dreamcast proved to be the star of the show in 2000, but its amassed critical praise ultimately failed to sway the predominantly Sony-loyal consumer fan base, and, indeed, the Dreamcast would prove to be SEGA's final entrant to the ruthless games hardware battle. Sony's PlayStation 2 made its official North American preview during E3 2000 (it would launch in US in October of that year), and show attendees gathering in massive throngs to absorb a gameplay video of Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
More than 62,000 attendees flocked to E3 2001, and, outside of the expo itself, this year also marked the videogame industry's astounding sales figure of over $6 billion (yes, billion) dollars in software sales - and perhaps also the arrival of the idea that videogames were no longer a geek's pastime but rather an integral part of mainstream media. The highlight of E3 2001 culminated in the official arrival of both Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox consoles to the 'next-gen' scene. Nintendo's booth was awash with activity throughout the show as attendees piled in to sample playable GameCube launch titles such as Pikmin, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Luigi's Mansion. Of course, Microsoft was also lauding a few high-profile titles, including a certain unknown first-person shooter called Halo.
With attendance once more topping 60,000, E3 2003 was packed into more than 500,000 square feet of the LA Convention Center's floor space, and all that space was well used as some serious gaming revelations soon spread. The show's most intriguing announcement came from Sony. Not content with leading the home console market, the electronics giant revealed it would be expanding its focus to the handheld arena with the PlayStation Portable - which would later debut the following year. Meanwhile, Nintendo continued building on its software strength with Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, Star Fox, and Mario Kart: Double Dash, while Microsoft, following the unprecedented popularity of Halo, wowed the crowds with amazing footage from Bungie's Halo 2 - which, while stunning, was oddly vacant from the final retail game, sparking rumours that the E3 2003 footage was, in fact, advanced Xbox 360 code.