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The History of E3—Where it Started, Where it is, How it Got There


E3 2019 is upon us, and it looks like it will be quite the show, despite Sony’s historic choice to skip the conference for the first time in the show’s 24 years.

How did a gathering of Games industry professionals turn into one of the largest reveal events of the year? How did E3 go from barely being able to rent out the LA Convention center to putting up murals on walls around the city and charging up to $250 for someone to walk into the show? And what does it mean now that Sony has begun to pull out, along with the continually mounting pressure of companies like Devolver Digital, who boycott E3 on account of its incredibly large prices to have any sort of booth on the floor?

How long does E3 have left to remain the industry event of the year?

No one knows for sure; all we know is that until then, thousands of fans are still going to be tuning in to see the latest and greatest announcements from all the game companies.

The Beginning: Forming the IDSA and Escaping CES

It all started when people got fed up about being treated as less important. The turning point was CES 1991. This was the year that Sega was unveiling their new Genesis system, and based on comments by former Sega America CEO Tom Kalinske to MCV’s Christopher Dring, it was not a pleasant experience. “In 1991, CES put us in a tent. You had to walk past all the porn vendors to find us. I was furious with how CES treated the video games industry.”  That year was the last time that Sega appeared at CES, but there was still no real alternative. Sega launched its own show in 1992, which was successful, but companies like Nintendo refused to appear just out of the competitive nature of the company’s rivalry.

CES and Sega’s show continued to grow until 1994-1995. In 1994, the industry came together and helped form the IDSA, the International Digital Software Association. The association was created in order to help form ratings for games in order to solve the problems of hyper-violent titles like Mortal Kombat and DOOM being played by minors before heavy government regulation was put in play to counter the growing problem. The IDSA, which is now known today as the ESA, formed the ESRB in order to properly rate and classify what content can be found in games, and to what degree. This is one of their two incredibly massive successes. The other is E3, formed in partnership with the IDG, who already had experience with the Macworld convention and approached the IDSA with plans for a Video Game trade show. Then, in 1995, the first Electronic Entertainment Expo was held in the Los Angeles Convention Center, which would go on to become its home, with only the 1997 and 1998 shows being held elsewhere, since the IDSA was unable to secure the LACC.

E3 1995: Setting Precedent

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to think about E3 without the cringe-inducing moments where companies feel like they’re just a little too out of touch with their consumer base. It might’ve not induced the same reactions then, but a great example of this was the Sony PlayStation keynote event. It felt like everything you remember about bad 90s commercials and weird editing trends. One of the strangest moments was probably when the Sony president took to the stage to say one thing: “$299.” At the time of writing, I can only find one source of this footage, and it definitely shows that it came from early YouTube. Despite all that, the show still got its applause from the audience and still managed to hype industry people up for the major shift that was coming in the form of the Sony PlayStation. There hadn’t been anything like it before, using CDs, and there is no doubt that it revolutionized what we know as the gaming industry.

People often compare this event, E3 1995, with a more recent one, E3 2013. That was the year that saw the release of both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, new generations in an ever-growing battle between Microsoft and Sony for console king. For a comparison on these two announcements, look at them. (Tragically, the most solid video footage of the E3 1995 Sony Event I can find is a nine year old YouTube upload, split up into three parts.)

E3 1995: Sony Announces the PlayStation.

E3 2013: Sony Announces the PlayStation 4.

Sony discusses their upcoming PS4 and this was in competition with the Xbox One, which had been under criticism for reports that it would need to be always online and required licenses to be downloaded for disc games, essentially destroying the used market. While those did not all come to pass in full, Sony’s jabs there were still enough to help them secure many people who were on the fence about the next generation of consoles.

We are, once again, nearing a time much like this. The PS5 and next Xbox (Whatever they’re going to call it) are getting closer every day. We know they are coming; we know they are powerful, but we don’t know what they will fully hold, not yet. It won’t be this year that E3 is host to anything quite like that again, since Sony has chosen to opt out of this year’s showcase. It may come to pass that a new competitor will end up taking the stage and usurping the place Sony held as one who dominated the hearts and minds of fans with their E3 showcases. We may never see anything quite like it again.

E3 Bringing News to the People

As E3 grew and evolved, they began to start offering live streams of their events. In 2010, the streaming services began to take shape as the primary means by which the average fan learned about content from E3. With these livestreams beginning to grow in popularity, it was only natural that they’d have to step up the performances in order to truly sell their products, not only to journalists and industry insiders, but the fans who would have direct access to their events. Bigger events, of course, meant more chances to impress. But with every opportunity to impress came a chance to flounder something so unimaginably bad that no one would ever let you live it down.

I think the best way to look at this is to split up some highlights into two categories: Cash or Cringe. Cringe items were hard to watch gameplay demos, jokes that didn’t land, desperate attempts to bring in influencers who aren’t as relevant as they seem, or even just failed. Cash, on the other hand, are moments that excite the crowd unlike no other, actual well played, good gameplay demos, and exciting content that “won E3”.

Cash or Cringe

Time for a ‘best of’ list of everyone’s favorite E3 showcase ranking show: CASH OR CRINGE! Today we’re looking at some of the most prolific moments from across E3’s history, whether they’re known for their sheer awesomeness or absolute tomfoolery.

First up, we’ve got a classic Sony moment from 2006. Ninja Theory was showing off their upcoming PS3 title Genji: Dawn of Blades. They describe the game as pulling heavily from Japanese history and historic battles from Japan in the 12th century.

And then there’s the moment that gives the clip its namesake: the Giant Enemy Crab. Yes, that’s correct, this is none other than the historic Giant Enemy Crab of 12th century Japanese warfare. In order to defeat this beast, as per tradition, you must knock it on its back to reveal its weak point. Just in case you weren’t sure what those do, just watch the clip to learn that it does “massive damage.” Even if they just forgot to briefly mention any fantasy elements appearing in Genji: Dawn of Blades, they really felt the need to go into deep detail on defeating this laughably bizarre enemy to find on the battlefield. I classify this as straight up, undeniable CRINGE.

Next up, we have a clip from 2004, this time from Nintendo. Unlike some other clips, this was back in the earlier days, not even E3’s 10th anniversary. The clip was more of a surprise to those in attendance than anything, but it truly captures the mood and reaction.

Just listen to the crowd roar with excitement and joy for this long-beloved franchise. They shout and scream with such power, it’s almost concerning. Furthermore, the footage shown off wasn’t anything elaborate or animated for cinematic value, just simple gameplay. Here, Nintendo knew how to get their fans excited, they knew what would make them happy.

This moment is one of unimaginable CASH, and the figures prove it, with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess selling almost nine million copies, usurped only by Breath of the Wild.

Next up is something that, while it isn’t technically E3, it happens the same week in the same area, and receives the same amount of coverage: EA Play. In 2017, YouTube star Jesse Wellens was brought on, to be hip and cool with the kids! I know you can already see where this is going, so I’m just going to roll the clip.

It never gets easier to watch this YouTube prankster flounder about the Need for Speed: Payback announcement. Every single time, I just want to try and warn him, shout that he could still get away, that he could try and salvage this colossal choke, but I know he can’t hear me. Instead, I hear him struggle for words to describe the producer, other than producer, until he settles on welcoming the game producer as a game producer.

CRINGE. I’m not talking about this anymore, for your sake and for mine.

We’ve got a few more items to look at. Next up on our list is a little dig at the Xbox One, courtesy of their main rival, Sony. It was the height of the console wars, and Sony was coming out hard to defeat their main rival.

Imagine getting cheers for basic services like used games or the ability to function offline. While the Xbox One managed to pull itself out of that struggling place, the damage had already been done. Sony had already won the hearts and minds of many on the fence. This moment was surely CASH.

To close out this lineup of E3 moments, we have another clip from Nintendo, this time from their showcase of the Wii. This clip is well known, well documented, and well memed by the community.

“My body is ready.” Reggie has a track record of being this incredibly loved and respected member of the Nintendo team, and this manages to prove that. He took his position with stride and this is no different. This clip, specifically the beginning, is just another example of his readiness and will to do whatever he could for his company. Of course, he will be dearly missed as the Nintendo of America president, but the memories we have will last forever.

Oh, and by the way, this is the pinnacle of a CASH moment.

So, we’ve looked at these things, the split between failed relevancy and properly paced jokes, but E3 is also well known for promises. The real questions that get asked every E3 are “who can we trust?” or “What promises are real and what promises are B.S?” I think the easiest way to do this is the same way we did just now, another fun game like Cash or Cringe. So, now, without further ado, let’s get into our new segment: Delivered or Duped

Delivered or Duped

First up in our showcase of lies and truths, we have Scalebound. Yes, for those of you familiar with the game, you already know the outcome of this venture, but humor me for a moment.

Scalebound was an Xbox One exclusive title from Bayonetta developers Platinum Games. The game had an interesting single-player campaign (with what appeared to be multiplayer elements) where you could play as Drew, a brash warrior linked to his dragon companion, Thuban. Thuban was a key point of the game, as an AI who could be controlled by human commands and the special Dragon Link mode. Dragon Link allowed players to control Thuban as Drew, with the cost of making Drew incredibly vulnerable. The game managed to get one (1!) whole E3 gameplay trailer before being canned in 2017. You can watch that trailer in all its glory right here.

The game was cancelled in 2017, and has since then seen several rumors that it would be revived for other systems from other publishers, but so far none of those rumors have been proven. I’m sorry, Scalebound fans, but you’ve been DUPED. Don’t worry, for the next few, I’ll try to keep you on the edge of your seat about what I’ve got in store.

Up next is something that was a very, very dangerous thing to look at. It was a remake/continuation/revival of an IP so beloved that even the original developers managed to upset some longtime fans with the previous entry of the game. Of course, when Bethesda got their hands on Id Software, everyone was worried. These guys were RPG crafters, not wild action movement shooter designers. Luckily for them, they stuck close to the book, watching carefully what fans enjoyed, what they didn’t, and how they altered the original titles. Then, fans saw this:

They saw that, and they knew DOOM was in good hands. But I hear you saying, “Tyler we can’t trust anything people say at E3, it’s almost always complete bullsh*t!” I’ll give you that, but if you’ve even watched someone watching someone watch their friend play DOOM (2016), you know that this was something that worked out. And now, DOOM Eternal is on the horizon, and it looks like it only manages to improve on the game that redefined the movement shooter genre. DOOM (2016) was a promise of gory, gruesome, demon-killing fun that was wholly DELIVERED.

Much in the same vein of the previous, this one was another title that proved to be challenging, with many fans desiring more, even after some questionable prequels and side-story games. The chronologically last title had fans worried, but optimistic for the future. If you had seen that ending scene, you would have been too. Just when you think your protagonist has died, you’ve been given just a spark of hope that they may live, even if it was only a trail of blood. Understandably, this meant that the franchise’s next foray into the continuation of this story would have to provide a pretty good narrative reason for things to keep going. And then, in 2016, fans got this trailer at E3.

God of War (2018) proved to be the perfect foray back into the franchise. It provided a new, engaging tale following an older, wiser Kratos, years after he has essentially doomed Greece to destruction and barely escaped alive. How he made it to the nordic lands of Midgard are still unknown, as was the larger role his son Atreus would play in this new story. All we know is that, just like last time, Kratos had a bit of a problem involving the divine, even though he himself held much divine power within. Furthermore, fans were both intrigued and disappointed to see the Blades of Chaos replaced with the Leviathan Axe, but many fans and newcomers still got their hands on the title last year, and were far from disappointed. God of War (2018) more than DELIVERED on its promise of a new title in the franchise, it created a whole new generation of fans, all eager to see where the next title takes us.

Two good ones in a row, crazy, right? Maybe we’ll get a third, or maybe we’ll break the streak. So now, let’s talk about a video game adaptation of a novel based on a critically acclaimed movie franchise. I know, it already sounds like we’re going off the positive track. When Gearbox showed off Alien: Colonial Marines, it seemed like something unforgettable, something incredible, so out of place in the world of bad game adaptations. We even got an incredibly cool gameplay demo, narrated by none other than Gearbox president Randy Pitchford!

Looks cool right? Looks like a great, promising title. If you know about Colonial Marines and if you know about what happened, you know the road to hell is paved with great, promising gameplay footage. For a look at the real game compared to the trailer, check out this video from YouTuber Cycu1

The whole game looks like it’s lost atmosphere, style, and more. Even in the initial walk down that bridge connecting the ships, the USS Sulaco just looks tiny compared to its model in the demo. Apparently, even the AI was critically flawed, as some players browsing through the game’s code found a typo in the Xenomorph AI code which vastly altered their behavior. This was all, of course, after Gearbox had already made bank with their smash hit looter-shooter Borderlands. What was supposed to be a well-thought-out and engaging sequel to the Aliens film franchise was, in fact, a lie. Fans of Alien: Colonial Marines, you got DUPED.

I’ve got one more fun little game for you all to consider in this edition of DELIVERED OR DUPED. It’s a little indie that, even now, continues to grow. We were shown trailers and gameplay footage for almost three years before we got our hands on the product, and it was probably one of the most hyped, most exciting game releases of 2016… until it wasn’t. Yes, of course I’m talking about everyone’s favorite game to hate, No Man’s Sky! The 2016 indie title was a complete disaster upon launch, with next to nothing in terms of multiplayer features, limited pools of resources to generate planets and their inhabitants, an almost entirely incoherent plot line, and a weak ending upon reaching the game’s titular goal, the center of the Galaxy.

For a comparison, just look at these two videos. One, from E3 2016:

And one, a meme favorite of mine from after release:

But then something happened. After a strangely long period of total silence upon launch, Hello Games began to become very active with fixing No Man’s Sky. They created update after update, adding in features that they had promised us would be in the game from 2013 up until the 2016 launch. Now, almost three years after the game released, No Man’s Sky is starting to look like what we were promised. So, what is it? Were fans all DUPED by Sean Murray and the Hello Games team, or was this just an example of a game choosing to be released unfinished in order to fulfill one promise, so that they could look back after years of updates and say they DELIVERED on what they proposed before the game was launched. I’ll let you decide, down in the comments.

What are your favorite moments of E3 cringe, goofs, or gaffs?

What E3 releases truly lived up to the hype, and which ones would you rather forget about?

Are there any games you’re excited to hear about at E3 2019?

Talk about that and more in the forums and comments below! I hope you all have an excellent E3 2019!

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