Every June, developers, vendors, journalists and gaming enthusiasts from across the globe congregate at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly referred to as E3. The event gives creators the opportunity to introduce and advertise upcoming games and game-related merchandise to the world. Since its inception in 1995, E3 has undergone a series of significant changes that have evolved it into one of the biggest gaming conferences on the planet. With E3 2018 winding down, what better time is there to reflect upon its humble beginnings?
Before there was E3, the largest showcase of upcoming video games was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In terms of scale and variety, CES hosts a vast array of varied vendors, but representatives from the games industry were often overlooked. Initially, games were housed in the same section of the conference as pornography. During one show, video games were relegated to a big tent off the main show floor. It was Las Vegas in the middle of January. If you wanted to look at video games, you had to trudge through wind, ice and snow first. Needless to say, enough was enough.
A Meteoric Rise
Having divorced itself from CES, members of the video game industry appealed to their trade organization, the Interactive Digital Software Association, who began planning a new show. With big companies like Sega, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo on board, E3 opened its doors for the first time on May 11th, 1995.
From 1995 to 2006, attendance grew consistently, but this posed a new set of problems. E3 was originally intended to be an industry-only event. Individuals who wished to attend were required by the IDSA to verify a professional connection to the video-game industry. As many of the new attendees had little to no connection to the gaming industry whatsoever, vendors complained that these newcomers were negatively impacting their ability to reach out to retailers and journalists. Coupled with the high cost of presenting at the expo, many participants were looking to jump ship. To prevent this, drastic measures were taken.
To appease vendors, E3 2007 was an invitation-only event. As expected, attendance dropped from 60,000 in 2006, to 10,000 in 2007, down to just 5,000 in 2008. This change also excluded many independent developers from participating. The backlash was huge from devs and gamers alike. Will Wright, the developer behind the Sims and Spore, went so far as to say:
“It almost feels like a zombie at this point; it’s the walking dead. It’s such an abrupt end to what was E3, which had been this huge escalating arms race.”
Looking to the Future
E3 2009 and onward marked a return to form, with the show reverting to its original format, but with an increased roster of vendors. Attendance jumped 720% in the first year alone, and the increased popularity of streaming services has made the expo accessible to gamers worldwide.
Seeing as E3 2017 was the first year the Expo has been open to the public, I’m interested to see how the conference will grow to accommodate new developments in the industry. Bethesda set a precedent when they released Fallout Shelter alongside their 2015 presentation. Perhaps in the future we may see larger titles released concurrently with their announcement. Hopefully someday we can attend the Expo via Virtual Reality.