E3: 50 Facts You Need to Know About the Games Conference

For years, E3 has been the biggest event in the video game industry. However, there's quite a bit about the show that you probably don't know.

Since 1995, E3 has been the biggest video game show of the year. What started as a trade show largely intended to appeal to industry figures soon ballooned into an absolute spectacle that captured the attention of millions of gamers across the world. 

E3 has endured a few ups and downs over the years, but it remains the most exciting time of the year for gamers. Despite its incredible popularity, though, there’s actually quite a few pieces of E3 history that remain obscure to those millions of gamers across the world who eagerly watch every day of the show. That’s especially true of the show’s early years, which weren’t widely broadcast and have been somewhat lost to time. 

Since there will not be a traditional E3 event in 2020, we thought we’d take a look at some of the more fascinating facts of the event’s past as we get ready to celebrate a series of digital showcases that will reveal the future of the video game industry.

1. E3’s origins can be traced back to the Consumer Electronics Show, which had traditionally looked down on video game presenters during the show’s early years. Many game studios wanted to break away from the event. 

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2. The low point of CES and gaming’s relationship came in 1991 when Sega and other game companies were forced to occupy outdoor tents. It actually ended up raining quite a bit that year, and the rain ruined the Genesis consoles Sega was showcasing. 

3. Pat Ferrell is often considered the “father” of E3 as he was one of the first to come up with the idea of a trade show focused on video games. Ferrell was also the creator of the GamePro publication.

4. The ESA, the group that oversees E3, was actually formed in response to the United States Congress’ crackdown on violent video games. It was known as the Interactive Digital Software Association at the time.

5. The CEA, who oversaw the CES, tried to lure people away from the first E3 by offering game companies their own space at the next CES. Most companies sided with E3, forcing the CEA to cancel the gaming branch of CES.

6. The first E3 in 1995 was held in the Los Angeles Convention Center, and only three E3s have been held elsewhere. The Georgia World Congress Center held two E3 events in 1997 and 1998, and the Santa Monica Airport was the site of E3 2007. 

7. Over 50,000 people attended the first E3, where Microsoft, Sega, and Nintendo were the main presenters. The size of the convention forced CEA representatives to inform Ferrell that they recognized they had been defeated in terms of video game shows. 

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8. The Virtual Boy was showcased at E3 1995. The presentation centered around a Star Fox game that was never released. At the time, Nintendo estimated that it would sell as many as 3 million Virtual Boys in Japan alone by March of 1996. It’s believed that Nintendo shipped less than 800,000 Virtual Boy units during the device’s lifetime.

9.  There was one Japanese E3 event held in 1996. The Tokyo show turned out to be a bust after Sega and Sony pulled out before the start of the show. Nintendo was the only major company to appear.

10. Had E3 Tokyo been successful, the event’s promoters planned on running separate E3s in Singapore and Canada.  

11. One of the biggest draws of E3 1996 was the N64 controller’s joystick. It was reported at the time that one of the biggest moments of the show came when Nintendo used the joystick to showcase Mario running around in circles. 

12. Sony broke previously agreed upon rules not to announce console price drops at E3 1996 by announcing just that for the PlayStation. Sony’s Jim Whims justified this by saying he wasn’t president at the time that the companies supposedly agreed to this.

13. To counter the 1996 PlayStation price drop, Sega quickly announced a price drop of the Saturn and handed out flyers advertising the new price.

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14. There’s some debate about the figures, but it’s believed that E3 1997 featured the most exhibitors ever, with over 500 in attendance.

15. Duke Nukem Forever was first showcased at E3 1997. The game was not released until 2011. 

16. E3 1997 was a big year in general for FPS games. Half-Life, Unreal, SiN, Daikatana, Prey, Quake II, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and GoldenEye 64 were all showcased at that year’s show.

17. One of the more controversial promotional tactics took place at E3 1997 when Pandemic sent around models in nurse outfits to hand people invitations to its E3 party/presentation. These invitations came with free condoms. 

18. In fact, the first few E3s featured spaces for porn presenters. Most of them were gone by the time 1997 rolled around, but at least one porn VR company was still participating in the show by 2016.

19. In 1998, Sony sent stretch Hummer limos to pick up important E3 guests. These limos were decked out with demos for Gran Turismo

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20. That same year, Sony hired the Foo Fighters to play its E3 party. This was certainly a year of escalating costs as it’s believed that top vendors spent upwards of $8 million on their presentations at that year’s show. That’s about $12.5 million today.

21. One of the “stars” of E3 1998 was a Beanie Babies program called the Ultimate Collector for Beanie Babies. It cost $25 and apparently sold quite well.

22. Kentia Hall at the LACC used to be the home of weird games made by developers that couldn’t afford a booth in the main E3 show space. Games like Guitar Hero were first shown in this area.

23. Nintendo did not formally reveal a console at E3 until the Nintendo Wii. The N64 and GameCube were first showcased in Japan, but the GameCube did get a vague mention during E3 1999.

24. E3 1999 featured a performance by David Bowie, while EA hired some WCW wrestlers to have matches at its booth. It was quite a spectacle. 

25. Sony held a wild party in 2001 the night before Microsoft’s Xbox presentation. The theory was that the company was trying to ensure that people were too hungover to attend the Xbox show.

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26. It turns out Microsoft didn’t need much help to botch the Xbox reveal. Not only did several Xbox demos not work as planned, but the Xbox itself malfunctioned during the presentation.

27. In 2002, Vivendi and EA set up competing booths right next to each other to showcase their respective Lord of the Rings games. Vivendi’s booth featured a domed theater called the “Hobbit Hole.”

28. Nokia’s infamous E3 2003 conference included an awful rap about the N-Gage sung by people who clearly weren’t rappers and a girl removing her shirt to showcase the N-Gage’s price written across her stomach.

29. E3 2004 and 2005 featured a staggering 500+ games. Given the evolving nature of the event, these years will probably be the last time that many games are featured.

30. E3 2005 was attended by at least 70,000 people. This is believed to be the highest attendance in E3 history.

31. The ESA finally started to crack down on booth babes in 2006 when it began to enforce rules that had reportedly always been in place. These rules stated that “Material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity, and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the Show floor, all common areas, and at any access points to the Show.” Anyone caught violating these rules would receive a verbal warning followed by a $5,000 fine. 

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32. It was estimated that the top E3 presenters spent upwards of $5-10 million on their booths at the E3 2006 show. Due to worries that this was unsustainable, the ESA decided to scale back for the E3 2007 and 2008 shows.

33. The E3 2007 and 2008 shows were re-branded as the E3 Media and Business Summit. The 2007 show was only attended by about 10,000 people while 2008 saw that attendance drop by 5,000.

34. E3 2007 and 2008 were also the last times that the ESA tried to run E3 in July. Many of the presenters complained about the late date of the shows.

35. One person who would like to forget E3 2007 is Jamie Kennedy. His disastrous E3 performance that year eventually led him to go on a defensive Twitter tirade in which he went so far as to threaten to kill people who mocked him.

36. Konami’s last E3 press conference came in 2010 when it put on a shockingly bad show that included awful magic tricks, luchadors who couldn’t act, and a few presenters who seemed to be incredibly high.

37. The ESA tried to get an E3 radio station off the ground in 2013. Interestingly, the name “E3 Radio” has since been acquired by an LGBTQ group. 

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38. In 2011, the ESA also attempted to launch an “E3 Insider” program which would allow people to more easily view the event online. It was a great idea, but it was eventually replaced by platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. 

39. The ESA once estimated that the number of meeting rooms available at E3 would fill 8 football fields.

40. While 2000 was the first year that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo held significant E3 presentations on the show floor, 2012 was the last year that each company would host E3 press conferences at the event itself. 

41. 2013 was the first year that Nintendo opted to broadcast a Nintendo Direct announcement stream in lieu of a traditional E3 press conference. Games featured during the first Nintendo Direct included Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D World.

42. In 2014, Sony confirmed that the PS4 would support disc-based games (both used and new) just as they had always worked on previous consoles. The announcement was a direct shot at Microsoft’s controversial Xbox One policies. It was met with almost a full minute of applause from those in attendance.

43. Children 12 and under were not allowed to attend E3 until 2014 when it was ruled they could attend the show as long as they were with a guardian. 

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44. E3 2017 was the first E3 that could be attended by the general public. Prior to that, most non-industry attendees were either contest winners or were invited by presenters.

45. The 2017 show was so popular that the ESA had to open doors early because there were so many people waiting outside that they created a fire hazard. Many reported that the show floor was incredibly difficult to navigate that year. 

46. Over 700 million minutes of E3 footage were watched on Twitch in 2017.

47. It was estimated that recent E3 events (2018 and 2019) may have brought in up to $90 million for the city of Los Angeles. Reports that the money was handed over in a series of bags stamped with dollar signs and nondescript briefcases remain unconfirmed. 

48. The ESA once estimated that 5 miles worth of duct tape is used at E3. How it figured that out – and what all that duct tape is used for – remains a mystery.

49. E3 2019 marked the first time that Sony skipped E3 and the company planned to do so again in 2020. E3 2020 would have marked the second time Sony hasn’t unveiled a console at the trade show. The original PlayStation was not only showcased before the first E3 but was already on sale in Japan when the show started.

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50. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 is the first year since 1995 that there will not be an E3 event. However, many developers, publishers, and industry figures are hosting digital showcases in 2020 that will channel the spirit of the E3 show.