Why E3’s First Show Was Almost Its Last

By Matthew Byrd

These days, E3 is known as the biggest event in the video game industry. However, the strange nature of the first E3, in 1995, almost ended the event before it ever got started.

In the years before E3, video game studios typically presented at the Consumer Electronics Show. However, CES looked down on video games and often put presenters in the parking lot.

GamePro founder Pat Ferrell decided to run his own electronics show dedicated to video games. It was a good idea, but as many would soon find out, Ferrell could be a little...eccentric.

Ferrell had trouble convincing everyone to leave CES and take a chance on his show. Among the notable holdouts were Microsoft and Nintendo. Things were looking bad for the show's prospects.

However, when the IDSA (which was formed to address concerns about violent video games) needed funding, they decided to support E3. Their support attracted many more presenters.

Ferrell decided to go after CES by booking 1995’s E3 to run the same week as their show. The gamble worked. CES cancelled their game exhibition plans and increased E3’s exposure

Ferrell hadn't entirely forgiven Nintendo, though, and offered them one of the smallest sections of the E3 show floor. Given how fast space was going, it turned out to be a gift.

Generally, E3's floor was a mess. Industry figures mingled with booth babes in tight quarters as everyone shouted for attention. It was closer to an outdoor market than gaming's biggest event.

The competition was also fierce as studios did everything they could for attention. Sega even blasted loud music near Sony's booth so nobody could hear the PlayStation presenters talk.

Sony got the last laugh, though, when they revealed the PlayStation would be $100 cheaper than the Sega Saturn. The famous moment changed Sony and Sega's fortunes forever.

The crowd was just as wild. Loose attendance restrictions meant shoulder-to-shoulder traffic. At one point, it looked like the event was going to be shut down by the city due to fire hazards.

Instead, E3 proved to be a tremendous success. As E3 2021 goes all-digital, some wonder if the event will ever be the same or will possibly be able to recapture that magic of a chaotic live show.