The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is 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), has been held there every year since. Though dwarfed in attendance numbers by other gaming events such as Gamescom and PAX, it has a unique place in gaming culture. It is traditionally where new franchises are shown for the first time, where new consoles are unveiled and played live for the audiences, and where long-awaited new installments or franchise reboots are given their introductions. The entire gaming world watches E3, ensuring that these new debuts will have the most exposure possible.
The expo is 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 has 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 — but E3 is for everyone, regardless of where they are in, or in relation to, the game industry.
The broader focus comes 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.
The later 2010s brought a number of changes to E3. For one, the public was allowed to attend. But most importantly, thanks to the rise of 24/7 games journalism and more widespread availability of broadband internet, gaming companies began to question the value of a show that was expensive to attend and a hassle to develop demos fornote as opposed to simply hosting their own events online (or their own physical events) and reaching roughly the same audience. A number of companies have ditched E3 entirely, while others have held similar-timed events next door with their own press conferences, and still others have 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 cancelled 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. As a result, how E3 changes in the coming years to accommodate the shifting landscape of the video game business remains to be seen.
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.