Well kids, there are only a couple weeks left until the Electronic Entertainment Expo hits Los Angeles, California. While the average person keeps plodding through his or her humdrum life unaffected by this news, we gamers understand the mammoth significance of it. Or do we? Sure, most of us know E3's an official gathering of game-makers that all hardcore gamers wish they could schmooze their way into. But where did it come from? What's its purpose? If it found a wallet full of money on the sidewalk, would it find the owner, or would it buy itself fifty lottery tickets and a case of smokes? These questions demand answers. In the interest of enlightening the video game-loving public, we went digging for some.
Like so many other worthy institutions, E3 has its origins in adversity. For years, game developers had done their best to fit in amongst the VCRs, pocket radios, and digital watches showcased in the long-standing CES (Consumer Electronics Show) without much success. Realizing they needed their own designated exhibition space, they petitioned CES organizers and were summarily shot down. So they took matters into their own hands. The result was the first E3, which was organized by Infotainment World, a division of IDG (International Data Group) in conjunction with the IDSA (Interactive Digital Software Association). Held in1995 in Los Angeles, E3 was obviously the right move for the gaming industry. The first E3 expo boasted more than 80,000 attendees, making it the biggest trade show launch in history.
Year after year, this new games-only expo maintained its initial success as industry professionals (and a good number of non-industry party crashers) flocked to the LA Convention Center. In 2003, the IDSA swapped acronyms, becoming the ESA (Entertainment Software Association). This Washington-based organization not only continues to put on E3 every year, but also serves game publishers by representing their legal rights and legislative interests all around the world. Since the First Amendment rights of game makers are constantly under attack, membership in the ESA has practically become a must. Consequently, most publishers (even the big ones like Disney, Sony, Microsoft and Square Enix) have become members.
Since its inception 16 years ago, E3 has become bigger, louder, and crazier than ever. As anyone who's ever been there will attest, it seems more like an out-of-control, multi-million dollar party than a productive business meeting. In 2007, exhibitors got tired of the loud music, the neon lights, and the scantily-clad booth babes and begged organizers to rein it all in. The result was a depressing change in the E3 format that both gamers and developers have come to think of as "the Dark Years." In both 2007 and 2008, E3 became an invitation-only gathering known as the E3 Business and Media Summit. Doesn't that sound exciting? No? Well, it didn't sit well with the rest of the gaming public either, so organizers tried to appease them by creating a supplementary consumer-oriented expo called E for All. This idea more or less blew up in their faces. Publishers and developers ran themselves ragged trying to be present at both events, and gamers grumbled at the changes. People both in the industry and outside it railed against this bizarre segregation. In 2009, the two events were once again merged under the E3 designation.
In addition to this self-inflicted handicap, E3 has endured other setbacks in the form of attacks by parents and media who claim the show promotes both sexuality and violence to underage audiences. The sexuality issue arose as show exhibitors increasingly used bikini-clad women to draw attendees to their booths. The ubiquitous "booth babe," while harmless enough to show-goers, represented the worst in exploitation according to conservative pundits and legislators. Interestingly enough, rather than being resolved, this issue was cunningly sidestepped. (If you went to E3 2010, you know it was probably the most babe-a-licious expo yet.) What hasn't been so easily glossed over is the violence issue. This one's a perennial favorite as politicians continue to attempt to abridge game developers' rights. The good news is that, so far, this pesky conflict hasn't done much to affect the show.
All this textbook history is great, but it doesn't really answer the question, "What Is E3?" Officially and unofficially, E3 is many things. Officially, it's a multi-million-dollar marketing tool. Publishers and developers spend buckets full of cash trying to outdo one another with larger-than-life booth exhibits and extravagant parties. It's a means for these highly-competitive companies not only to introduce the gaming public to their latest games, but also to their upcoming hardware tech advances. For commercial game developers, it's an opportunity to gain recognition for excellence in their field, competing for the various "Best of E3" awards. Similarly, it's a platform for indie developers to present their work, gain some credibility, and, if they're lucky, find financial backing. Lastly, for industry analysts and the press, it's a means of forecasting the industry's future direction, hottest trends, and ultimate health.
Unofficially, E3 is a bewildering, sense-shattering cross between a carnival and a Las Vegas show— flashy, monumental, and even a bit seedy. It's a place for developers to exchange exciting ideas, and then forget them during three solid days of binge drinking. It's a can't-miss opportunity for thousands of gaming geeks to collect giant bags of cheap swag and sidle up to gorgeous, near-naked women. It's a celebrity magnet; last year, in addition to the many celebs who were there promoting particular game titles, various Hollywood personalities—like Ryan Phillipe and Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction—showed up to walk the exhibit floor with their families. And best of all, it's a chance for us all to be kids in the biggest digital candy store the world has ever seen.
Just two weeks from now, this madness once again descends on the LA Convention Center, bringing with it hundreds of exhibitors, a horde of rabid game enthusiasts and more than $20 million dollars in revenue. Both a side show and the craziest business meeting you've ever seen, it simultaneously represents the wacky, chaotic fun and the serious, profit-driven aspects of the game business. So what is E3? It's brash, it's tasteless, it's in-your-face, but most of all, it's the quintessential game-con that no developer, publisher, gamer, or entertainment lover should miss.
By Neilie Johnson
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*