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A Brief History of Gaming
The Rise and Abrupt Fall of E3
By Wes Grogan     |   Posted on July 13, 2007   |   Episode 4 (Show Archive)  

devil may cry 4 art
Part of me is really going to miss the memorable walk to the front of the Los Angeles Convention Center!
This week the video game industry is holding their annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, an event that is meant to showcase each company's newest wares to potential stores and the media. But this E3 is unlike any that have come before it, this E3 (dubbed the E3 Media & Business Summit) has been newly downsized and moved to a completely different venue. As you watch this year's festivities it's important to understand the history of this exciting event, from its humble roots to its circus-like peak. This is the history of how E3 became that the single most important video game convention in the United States.

It's a proven fact: If you have a product to sell, the best way to do this is to make sure as many people as possible see it. For a very new video game industry, this was a particular challenge. The paths
Along with video games, the CES of old featured car stereos, DVD players, digital radios, and dangerous hanging cars!
to distributors and re-sellers were limited, and you had to be known in order to sell. The main competitors in the industry began to appear as part of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the largest trade shows in the world. Held twice a year, the CES is the place where every major player in the consumer electronic field unveiled their newest products, showing us what kind of electrical gadgets we would be playing with over the next few years. At the time this felt like the most natural place for Nintendo, Sega, SNK and all of the other major players in the video game industry to show off their upcoming systems and games.

But while the Consumer Electronic Show felt like the perfect fit to many outside observers, in truth the video game industry was treated much like a second-class citizen. The video games
Did you know that the CES also plays host to a lot of adult video venders?
were tucked away in a back corner and mainly forgotten; at best they were given a large tent that separated them from the rest of the major companies. The video game industry was the redheaded stepchild of electronics in general, and they began to resent it.

As the video game industry grew, both with computer games and consoles, it began to outgrow the tiny space provided for it by the Consumer Electronics Show. Despite the lack of recognition from CES, more and more attendees showed up to see what the video game companies were
It's hard to believe but Night Trap had a hand in forming E3!
up to, and it was evident that they could not continue with the format the way it was. The answer to their problem, oddly enough, came directly out of the video game violence controversy that had recently occurred on Capital Hill (and that I previously covered). Out of those hearings, the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA and known today as the Entertainment Software Association or ESA) and the ESRB were born. The IDSA, along with unifying the various aspects of the industry, had an idea about how to better show their products.

The idea was called E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Originally, not everyone was on board for the idea of E3. Some companies, such as Nintendo, wanted to have an additional version of
Okay, so Daikatana wasn't very good ... but you can't hold E3 responsible for every bad game that comes out!
CES designed for video games. When Sega and the untested Sony signed on for E3, however, Nintendo had to follow or showcase their wares alone. The idea for E3 was a way for fans, designers, media, and resellers to all meet and discover the latest and greatest of the industry, and of course generate a lot of hype. Running from just May 11 through May 13 of 1995, it was an immediate success and featured many groundbreaking announcements.

The Sega Saturn, SNK's Neo-Geo CD, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 (known at the time as the Ultra 64) and the Virtual Boy were all displayed, and the famous "$299!" speech for the PlayStation was delivered. It was a huge coup for the industry, and no one even thought about looking back at the CES. They had proven that they were an industry that was able to exist on its own without the support of the rest of the electronics industry, and from this first, relatively humble year, the event only grew. Future events would give us the Dreamcast, Duke Nukem
Regardless of where it was held, you could always find interesting things to take pictures of at E3 (like this cop playing Grand Theft Auto)!
Forever (for several years in a row), Daikatana, the PlayStation 2 (and 3), the PSP, the Xbox, the Xbox 360, the GameCube, the Nintendo DS, and even the Nintendo Revolution (the Wii? What the hell?). Each year was fascinating and everyone waited with baited breath to see what the companies would announce next.

For the first two years E3 was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, a large facility that was split up into several different halls (such as the West Hall, South Hall, Kentia Hall, etc.). In 1997 E3 moved to Atlanta, Georgia, which was universally panned by the game companies showing off their products and the media outlets covering them. 40,000 people made the pilgrimage to Georgia only to find a cramped location that wasn't set up for an event like E3. Many complained about the heat, the narrow hallways, and the difficulty in transportation. Two years later E3 returned to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where it will remain until 2006.

Anyone who has been to an E3 in the past can tell you that it's an experience not easily replicated
Don't worry, they're used to it!
anywhere else. Imagine being surrounded by the lights and sounds of the apocalypse itself. Everywhere you turn are demos of new, unreleased games that anyone not attending would have to wait months to be able to get their grubby hands on. Women in ever-more-scanty clothing strutted at every company's booth, wooing the fanboys and media reporters that, otherwise, they would never have anything to do with. It was a magical place, but it had its cost, too.

Beyond the admittance fee, which regularly fluctuated, there were certain things that a dedicated fan learned to expect. It's been estimated that in 2005 over 70,000 people crammed into E3. When you consider the size of the Los Angeles Convention Center this is an overwhelming amount of people. Sadly, our particular lot isn't known for a love of personal hygiene. Cramming 70,000 poorly washed people in a poorly ventilated convention center created an aroma that was almost certainly unique to E3. Some actually dubbed it the E3 Scent. Rest assured
Yes, that's a concert going on in the Midway booth. Needless to say, E3 was very, very loud!
that it will never be bottled. Additionally, you used locked-down controllers in order to play the demos, unless you managed to finagle backstage access to the games. This meant that anything that was on any of the hands that touched those controllers would soon be yours as well. Handi-Wipes were the best friends of many of the expo visitors.

There was far more to E3 than just the mainstream exhibitors, though. The IDSA remembered the exclusive nature of the games industry in the beginning, and opened an area of the convention center for those oddball or experimental creations that wouldn't
Guitar Hero was originally found in Kentia Hall. The girl we found on Hollywood Blvd!
exactly fit in with the rest of the show. For discounted space and far less media attention, a company could hawk their wares in Kentia Hall, a personal favorite of many adventurous show goers. Here you could see products that would almost certainly never be heard of again, but sometimes the concepts alone made you laugh. Less of an expo, Kentia Hall felt like some kind of weird bazaar that never quite fit in with the rest of the concepts. If you needed to get away from the crowds, though, this was definitely the place to go. Without a doubt, the exhibitors there were always thrilled to talk with anyone that would walk their way. Some guests always felt the need to look for the cotton candy and the duck pond.

Sadly, though, there will be no more Kentia Hall. The Electronic Entertainment Expo was more successful than hoped, which ultimately killed what we knew up until now. Even though tens of thousands of people looked forward to attending E3 each year, the show had become too much of a circus to actually get any work done. Too many non-industry players were finding ways of getting in, ultimately forcing the various companies (from
The problem with the E3 of old is that too many people who didn't belong there ended up finding ways in!
Microsoft to Nintendo to Sony) to spend more money trying to attract the real movers and shakers in the industry. The E3 many had come to know and love was out of control, the booths were too loud, the media had to fight through thousands of people in order to get their job done, and the companies who were spending millions of dollars were not seeing a return on their investment. Something had to chance.

So the ESA did the unthinkable: They downsized E3 and turned it into the E3 Media & Business Summit. Instead of being held in May, the new miniaturized and refocused E3 is being presented in July. Instead of 75,000 guests, there will be between three and four thousand. Where it had once expanded into a weeklong event (with conferences and parties), it's now being compressed back down into three days. The desire is to focus on conducting business instead of entertaining the crowds, and there is certainly an
With so many visitors filing through the booths it's easy to understand how things could get damanged and beaten up!
amount of validity in this. When the audio was at its loudest and the booths at their most glamorous, it was almost impossible to have any kind of communication, much less any media broadcasts.

Also, technology out-paced the original goal of E3. Demos of games can now be distributed digitally to millions of users. Trailers are released almost daily across the internet, and the press coverage for video games has never been more inclusive than it is now. I am saddened to see the death of E3 as we knew it, but there are other options, certainly. Penny Arcade Expo, for example, is looking to pick up the slack of a yearly expo, along with the ESA's Entertainment for All expo (held at the old E3 location), which seeks to move beyond the strict limitations of the original E3. Video game art galleries, concerts, and other entertainment will be made available at E for All, which will run for the first time this October.

I don't know what the future of E3 holds for us, but I do know that it's not up those stairs!
The E3 we knew and loved is dead and gone, despite the name being still in use. For all of that, though, there are certainly still plenty of ways for the word to get out. No longer are the roads to distributors, publishers, and resellers limited strictly to those who are already part of the "in crowd." Smaller game companies, especially in the PC side of development, are becoming better known and more appreciated all the time.

Maybe the original purpose of E3 is no longer needed, and it's right for the idea to be retired. Maybe it is still needed and another option will be born to continue its work. Will this be the final E3 as some have suggested? Who knows? Cyril, Keeper of the Light for this site, might have some unique insights when he returns from the first mini E3 (MinE-3?). Until then, we'll just wait and see what becomes history.



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