The Electronic Entertainment Exponote (E3) was a major gaming event that started in 1995 in Los Angeles, California and, save for some brief stints in Atlanta (1997 and 1998) and Santa Monica (2007), was held there every year since. Though dwarfed in attendance numbers by other gaming events such as Gamescom and PAX, it had a unique place in gaming culture. It was traditionally where new franchises were shown for the first time, where new consoles were unveiled and played live for the audiences, and where long-awaited new installments or franchise reboots were given their introductions. The entire gaming world watched E3, ensuring that these new debuts would have the most exposure possible.
The expo was held by the Entertainment Software Association (previously known as the Interactive Digital Software Association), after the organization was created in 1994. Before E3 was formed, game companies attended the Consumer Electronics Show, but CES' disdain for the game industrynote and unwillingness to accommodate them lead to the creation of a separate show.
Though the convention began life as your standard trade show, targeting retailers with their new and upcoming products, E3 had shifted over the years to become a major event for the industry at large, with its audience including journalists, marketing executives, and even consumers who are watching at home. Whereas other expos are focused on specific demographics — PAX for general gaming fans (including tabletop games), Gamescom for consumers, GDC for game developers, and DICE for executives — E3 was for everyone, regardless of where they are in, or in relation to, the game industry.
The broader focus came with its positives and negatives, though. Due to the massive intersection of all aspects of games and gaming, controversial issues and events often spring back to up relevance around E3, since the issues tend to resurface or the events are referenced, directly or otherwise. For all that E3 unites the gaming community, it also serves as a stark reminder of underlying problems within gamer culture and business, with the various presentations and interviews subject to a large amount of critical and commercial analysis. On the other hand, there's always the chance for announcements that bring ecstasy and elation to audiences, and the numerous events at conferences that surround the games themselves can be ripe for Memetic Mutation; whether it be a case of us laughing at them (Sony's disastrous 2006 conference alone named three tropes and an index) or with them is another matter.
The show itself has undergone some changes over the years. After a wildly successful debutnote , the show grew larger and larger and developed something of an unsavory reputation, partly due to the large, unruly crowds and the liberal use of "booth babes", attractive women who draw attention to the games they're advertising. Rule changes in the late 2000s lead to E3 falling somewhat out of favor, but the show stabilized in the early 2010s and regained its place as the event to drop news at.
However, this wouldn't last for long, as by the late 2010s, gaming companies began to question the value of the show. To paraphrase a media study on the 2019 event, E3 had many issues threatening its relevancy as it approached the next decade. While all the aforementioned shows and conferences — PAX, GDC, DICE, etc. —had their niches and did them well, E3 being for everyone left them as a Master of None. And in the face of rising costs, huge crowds, a constant fight for attention, and the greater availability of broadband internet, publishers were finding that creating their own press events outside of E3 was suddenly a more appealing and cost-effective option that still reached roughly the same audience. Indeed, by the end of the decade, a number of companies would ditch E3 entirely, while others would start hosting similarly-timed events next door with their own press conferences, and still others had gone almost entirely digital, dropping their announcements via webcasts throughout the calendar year instead of saving them all for E3.
There were plans to reinvent the convention in 2020, but the convention was canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic; attempts were made to shift it online, but logistical issues and work delays due to the virus made it impossible to concentrate it all into a week, and so most developers and publishers simply dropped their news when available throughout the summer. Organizers remained optimistic that the convention would return in the following years — accommodating the shifting landscape of the video game business — but after a tepidly-received digital-only event in 2021, the 2022 and 2023 events were canceled entirely due to the lack of sustained interest from potential presenters, as most of the major players had moved on to their own events as noted above. On December 12, 2023, the Entertainment Software Association would announce on their Twitter that they have decided to end E3 after over two decades.
For those interested in a more complete story of how E3 began, check out this Polygon article. For a humorous look at what gaming fans believe constitutes the ideal E3 press conference, check out this informative video.