The Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known simply as E3 is by far the biggest gaming convention on this side of the planet. It is to gaming in the United States what Easter Mass is to the Vatican every year. This was not always the case. Like any other wild idea, E3 started with very humble origins.
After the gaming industry crash that occurred in 1983, the future seemed bleak. By 1985, average revenue plummeted by a mind boggling 97 percent. It dropped from $3.2 billion all the way down to around $100 million in just two short years. Some claim that if it wasn’t for the Japanese company Nintendo and their NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console, the industry may have never recovered. It would have become a very different landscape than what we know today. By the beginning of the 1990’s, the once thought to be dying industry was starting to slowly bring itself back to life.
During the tail end of the 1980s and into the very early 1990s, game publishers had to spread out their marketing attacks to a wide range of trade shows. Such shows included the Consumer Electronics Show and the European Computer Trade Show. While the industry started a new period of rebirth during the early part of the 1990’s many leaders in the gaming industry felt that the old shows could no longer contain the amount of momentum and publicity that video games were amassing. Fed up with the childish treatment many companies where receiving at these events, they began to stop going to shows like the Consumer Electronics Show.
Their treatment was getting so bad that Tom Kalinske (the CEO of Sega America) claimed in an interview that “The CES organizers were placing the attendees representing the video games industry last in line” and in 1991 he claimed they even “put them in a tent, this same year those who wanted to seek SEGA out had to walk past all of the porn vendors just to reach and find them.” He also said in this same interview that “this particular year it was pouring rain, and the rain leaked right over our new SEGA Genesis system. I was just furious with the way CES treated the video game industry, and I felt we were a more important industry than they were giving us credit for.” Ultimately this drove Sega to the point were they did not return to CES in 1992. This was a catalyst for other companies to follow suit.
The Idea Begins:
Two years after the CES walkout the industry formed the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). This would later be known as the Entertainment Software Association, or what we refer to today as the ESA. This association was formed out of the massive attention garnered from the United States Congress over the non-existence of a rating system in the later portions of 1993. The IDSA unified the video game industry and established a new rating system that we still go by today; this system is called the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, something you see on every case of every game you buy in the United States, the ESRB rating. With this new ratings system created, the industry then turned its sights on the trade shows it had walked out of just a few years earlier. This new trade show concept would be just for the retailers, and allow them to make better business decisions when it came to their products. This would allow the retailers to directly interact with a variety of publishers, vendors, and media outlets covering video games and technology. After attempts failed between the gaming companies and the owner of the CES, Pat Ferrel, the creator of GamePro conceived the original idea for E3. CES attempted to regain control of the situation by offering dedicated spaces for video games; they ultimately failed and cancelled the CES video game event. Thus the Electronic Entertainment Expo was born.
E3’s Attendance and Growing Pains:
The first official event was held from May 11th-13th in 1995 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This ended up becoming the premier location for the event, and as the years passed E3 grew and grew. Major consoles and video games were announced for the first time at this event. Fans would tune in to different press conferences in record numbers to see the announcements of their favorite games. The numbers grew so large that E3 finally opened its doors to the public, allowing a select number of fans into the event. In 2017, just last year 15,000 tickets were reserved for the public’s use. This led to considerable crowding on the show floor. So much that industry leaders in the form of both game publishers and news outlets found it difficult to get their messages and interviews out. So what to do? E3 tried to run a similar event called “E3 Live” and even though it was attended by approximately 20,000 people, it was considered to be underwhelming.
But what if the show floor opened for a set amount of hours each day possibly from 8am-2pm? This time would be for the public to do whatever they wanted and see whatever they want. Then from 3pm-close the news outlets and the actual show and press conferences could take place. This way the fans and the media/publishers could get the best out of the event. No overcrowding, no upset vendors, and happiness all around. Instead of running around wondering how can we fix this growing problem we need to sit down, fans and publishers alike and come up with a plan that will actually please both sides. The “E3 Live” event could actually work with a little more planning and a lot more resources. Vendors could have their booths on the show floor then send an exact replica to the fan event. This way the fans are separate from the publishers and the conferences could go on at the main event and be simulcast to the fan event.
Either way something clearly has to be done. E3, being the major power player that it is, revolutionized gaming trade shows. Now it is time for another revolution, a fan revolution where all the greatness that E3 represents can be enjoyed by publishers and the people who literally fund those publishers. If this hypothetical sore is not treated and treated soon it could fester and lead to an all out boycott on everything that E3 stands for. I am confident when I say that neither fans nor the gaming industry want anything close to that happening.