It’s easy enough to describe E3 to someone who doesn’t usually follow the gaming industry. You say, “It’s kind of like a summer blockbuster film premiere, keynote convention, and the Oscars all rolled up into one.” If that doesn’t do it, you say, “It’s something I really like watching, and I don’t judge you for the stupid things you watch even though you own Supernatural season eleven on DVD and no other season of Supernatural.” That usually does the trick.
Besides, the truth is that the best thing about E3 can’t be conveniently summarized with comparisons. No, the best thing about E3 are those individual moments. A big game reveal, a shockingly bad celebrity appearance, a bombshell console announcement… These are the things that ensure we will all be glued to our computers waiting for the latest E3 updates.
So what are the definitive moments in E3 history? Which occurrences, both good and bad, summarize everything that is E3?
Here’s our list of 15 definitive moments:
15. Microsoft’s Painfully Long Kinect Reveal (E3 2010)
You can’t talk defining E3 moments without including at least one botched peripheral reveal, but which botched peripheral reveal to choose? Joe McHale awkwardly suffering through a game of Ubisoft’s Battle Tag? Sony almost sinking their brand with the infamous Wonderbook? Wii Music…Wii Music?
In the end, this honor goes to the Kinect reveal for the simple fact that Microsoft chose to devote so much of their 2010 E3 stage time to showing off a device which clearly wasn’t ready for primetime. It’s one thing that the Kinect often didn’t work properly during the presentation – that’s fairly standard for E3 failures – but the moment that a parade of unenthusiastic participants bombarded the stage to participate in awkward white water rafting, fake popcorn eating, and extended yoga sessions, Microsoft ensured that everyone in attendance was not going to buy a Kinect out of sheer spite.
14. Gabe Newell Appears During Sony’s E3 Conference (E3 2010)
The word “surreal” has joined the likes of “epic” in the category of “Words that the people of the internet have collectively watered down.” Whereas surreal used to be used to describe a situation so out of the ordinary that it’s almost dreamlike, now surreal can be used to describe seeing someone eating a Whopper at McDonald’s.
So far as truly surreal E3 moments go, however, Gabe Newell’s 2010 appearance has to be near the top of the list. At a time when Valve was considered to be one of the most clandestine game studios in the world, the god of the PC master race himself took the stage at a Sony press conference of all things to announce that Portal 2 was coming to the PlayStation 3. While the sight of Gabe at E3 on a competitor’s stage was odd enough, this moment has only become even more surreal as time wears on and Valve slowly shuffles away from the whole game development thing.
13. Bethesda Hosts the Perfect Press Conference (E3 2015)
While non-console manufacturers getting their own E3 conference wasn’t entirely unheard of by the time that Bethesda took the stage at E3 2015, it was a bit unusual for all but the industry’s most powerful corporations to get their own stage time at the biggest event of the year. Sure, Bethesda was a fairly beloved game developer, but an entire E3 press conference devoted to the studio? How was that going to work?
Bethesda showed everyone exactly how it was going to work by pulling off what could arguably be described as the perfect E3 press conference. It began with shockingly good footage of Doom, continued with the much-anticipated debut of Dishonored 2, and concluded with a Fallout 4 reveal that was made all the more shocking by the announcement that the game would be available in a matter of mere months. Bethesda’s 2015 presentation set a new gold standard for game-focused conferences and proved that the right studio could steal the show from anyone.
12. Reggie Fils-Aime Introduces Himself to the Gaming World (E3 2004)
It’s not that there hadn’t been memorable Nintendo E3 moments before 2004, but rather that many of the studio’s most memorable E3 moments earned that distinction for all the wrong reasons. Nintendo had long struggled to properly present themselves within the constraints of the E3 format while Sony and Microsoft were well on their way to mastering the subtle art of the E3 press conference.
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That all changed the very moment that Reggie Fils-Aime kicked off Nintendo’s E3 2004 press conference by saying, “My name is Reggie. I’m about kicking ass, I’m about taking names, and we’re about making games.” Fils-Aime gave Nintendo an undeniably charismatic on-stage presence that none of their previous E3 conferences had benefited from. While many of Reggie’s quips would go on to become internet memes (most notably, “My body is ready”) there is no denying that he became the centerpiece for one of the greatest E3 presentations any major studio has ever given.
11. Kevin Butler Delivers the Only Funny Presentation in E3 History (E3 2010)
For a brief period of time, the world got to enjoy the genius that was the Kevin Butler marketing campaign. For those who don’t remember, Kevin Butler was a fictional PlayStation executive who starred in a series of commercials that featured him answering various questions from PlayStation fans. They were genuinely funny and clever adverts that broke the mold of awkward video game commercials in a big way.
While actor Jerry Lambert’s appearance at E3 2010 as the one and only Kevin Butler could have been an utter disaster, it instead turned out to be one of the few attempts at a funny E3 presentation that was actually funny. Actually, it might be the only comedic E3 presentation to not completely bomb. Butler quips that “Gaming is having a ridiculously huge TV in a tiny one bedroom apartment” and is “Staying up until 3 am to earn a trophy that isn’t real…but is” still live in infamy.
10. Jamie Kennedy Seals His Fate As the Worst E3 Celebrity Presenter Ever (E3 2007)
On the complete opposite end of the Kevin Butler presentation, we have Mr. Jamie Kennedy. Now, some of you fortunate souls may have never heard of Kennedy. If that is the case, just know that Kennedy was a self-stylized comedian who specialized in mocking other people. For instance, if he noticed you were a larger individual, he may remark about your excess fat and proceed to make a 50-year-old observation about how this may affect your daily life. He presumably made millions of dollars doing this.
Kennedy’s arguable career low point may be the moment that he drunkenly took the stage at Activision’s E3 2007 conference and proceeded to put on a miniature comedy spectacle that only those with an abnormal tolerance for awkward comedy will ever be able to watch in full. It was bad enough that Kennedy wasn’t funny (“Neversoft…wasn’t that the first name for Viagra?”), but when he resorted to insulting the audience and industry, he ensured that he would become the gold standard for awkward E3 celebrity presenters.
9. The Final Fantasy VII Remake Genuinely Surprises Millions (E3 2015)
At a certain point, video game wishes turn into inside jokes. The most obvious example of this phenomenon is certainly Half-Life 3, but there are many games which fans dream of and talk about for so long that they eventually become memes. For years, Final Fantasy VII remake was such a game. Square Enix had used footage of such a title as part of a tech demo, but fans long stopped believing the studio would actually make it.
That is until E3 2015 when Final Fantasy fans across the world were suddenly looking at a very real remake of Final Fantasy VII. This is a deceivingly simple moment in the history of E3 that is amplified by just how rare it is for a game like Final Fantasy VII to actually appear at E3. While the remake still isn’t out yet – which is rarely a great sign – the moment of the reveal itself really summarizes why E3 is sometimes a very special event
8. Half-Life 2 Exceeds Impossible Expectations (E3 2003)
In 2003, Half-Life 2 was about as mythical to the average gamer as Half-Life 3 is now. Most people knew that Valve was going to release a new Half-Life, but few felt that there was any chance of the sequel surpassing the standard the original had set. Half-Life was one of the most revolutionary games ever made. To convince everyone that Half-Life 2 was going to be just as special, Valve would have needed to put together quite the presentation.
So, that’s what they did. The first Half-Life 2 footage showcased things that gamers simply had never seen before. True physics based combat, the innovative gravity gun, A.I. that felt dynamic, and seamless cinematic storytelling all highlighted a roughly 20-minute video that left gamers feeling like they’d just seen the exciting future of the industry play out before their eyes. It’s everything you hope a major game reveal will be.
7. A Single Battle Nearly Determines the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 Console War (E3 2013)
At E3 2013, Microsoft and Sony were scheduled to reveal their respective next gen consoles. Microsoft, who was coming off the wildly successful Xbox 360, kicked off the festivities with an Xbox One presentation that many have since described as the company’s biggest failure. The initial Xbox One design was not only expensive and reliant on the controversial Kinect but required users to always be online, wasn’t backward compatible, and may or may not have allowed people to play used games. It was a spectacular PR disaster.
Sony followed that up with a PS4 reveal that was simply sublime. Not only was the PlayStation 4 cheaper than the Xbox One, but Sony even modified its planned conference in ways that allowed them to take plenty of shots at Microsoft’s failed Xbox One reveal. It was a presentation designed to please the masses and it succeeded in every way possible. While many E3s feature console war battles, few battles have ever ended up dictating the success of individual consoles quite the way that this one did.
6. For Better and Worse, the Halo 2 Reveal Sets a New Standard (E3 2003)
You had to be around for Halo to truly appreciate what Halo meant. Halo not only gave millions a reason to buy the Xbox, it showed those same gamers that consoles could offer up a first-person shooter experience largely free from compromise. It was a unique title that became a true phenomenon in a matter of weeks. Needless to say, the hype surrounding an eventual sequel was at a fevered pitch by the time E3 2003 rolled around.
The Halo 2 reveal represents the good and bad of E3 game reveals. The good is obviously the moment of the reveal itself. The first footage of Halo 2 received an audible “pop” of applause typically reserved for major moments during championship games. It was a wave of relief and anticipation just gushing out at full force. On the bad side of things is what happened after the incredible footage aired. Bungie later admitted that they could not replicate the footage that they showed at E3 and had to basically rebuild Halo 2 from scratch. The success of the Halo 2 reveal and the unreasonable hype it generated has come to be all too typical.
5. The Zelda: Twilight Princess Trailer Caps off Nintendo’s Greatest E3 Presentation (E3 2004)
It’s easy to make fun of Nintendo. Fun, too. For instance, one could say something like, “Why did Nintendo cross the road? Because it was the least efficient way possible of getting to where they were going.” For as many, many mistakes as Nintendo has made at E3 over the years, the company’s 2004 presentation stands as the company’s one perfect presentation. Not only did it feature the aforementioned Reggie Fils-Aime introduction, but it introduced gamers to the Nintendo DS (arguably the greatest handheld gaming device ever made) and even offered up the first public reference to the console that would become the Nintendo Wii.
However, the best was certainly saved for last. At a time when many Zelda fans were still upset that Nintendo had abandoned a more mature style of Zelda game in favor of Wind Waker’s Saturday morning cartoon visuals, Nintendo came along and debuted the decidedly mature and dark first trailer for Twilight Princess. The reveal was topped off by Shigeru Miyamoto gracing the stage with shield and sword gleefully in hand. It was the kind of moment that only Nintendo could deliver.
4. Killzone 2’s First Footage Kicks Off 12+ Years of Trailer Controversy (E3 2005)
In many ways, E3 is about hope. Those that watch it are certainly hoping they will see great games revealed for the first time, but they also hope that E3 will show them something entirely unexpected. Not a game or a console necessarily, but rather a brief glimpse into an unimaginable future. In 2005, Sony offered that window into the future when they revealed the first trailer for Killzone 2. To say that Killzone 2 looked better than any other game on the market at that time would be a drastic understatement. Killzone 2 looked like it was hand delivered from 10 years into the future.
Actually, that’s not too far off. Right after the Killzone 2 footage stopped rolling, speculation concerning the authenticity of the footage began. The conversation that followed included phrases like “in-engine footage” that have now become all too commonplace in a world where doctored trailers are perfectly normal. For better or worse, the Killzone 2 footage was a true innovator.
3. Sony Almost Kills the PlayStation Brand with One Awful Presentation (E3 2006)
We’ve picked on Microsoft’s bad E3 presentations a couple of times throughout this list – with good reason, mind you – but in the interest of complete fairness, let’s talk about why no company’s E3 presentation will ever be quite as disastrous as Sony’s E3 2006 spectacular. Sony’s 2006 E3 conference revolved around the formal reveal of the PlayStation 3. Given that the PlayStation 2 was far and away the world’s most popular console, the reveal of the PlayStation 3 should have been a simple way for Sony to retain their market dominance.
Instead, they seemingly went out of their way to sink the PlayStation name. It began humbly enough with the reveal of the PlayStation 3’s gaudy $599 price point (for the top tier model) and continued when the Genji development team promised to show us a game based on authentic Japanese history before revealing footage of players attacking a giant enemy crab’s glowing weak point for massive damage. This is also the conference that gave us the “Riiiiiiddddgggee Racer!” meme, the world’s dullest tech footage, and the promise of a gimmick-free console that was immediately undone by the introduction of three or four major console gimmicks.
2. Metal Gear Solid 2 Makes Games the Star of E3 (E3 2000)
In its early days, E3 was much more of a traditional trade show. While early E3 conventions featured occasional surprises, big announcements, and all the usual spectacle, the first E3 shows didn’t really emphasize the excitement of individual game reveals. Generally speaking, technology and industry ruled the day.
In many ways, Metal Gear Solid 2 changed that dynamic. The Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer shown at E3 2000 was long (over 19 minutes), traditionally cinematic, and entirely devoid of developer voiceover. It wasn’t quite the kind of trailer you’d expect to precede the release of a major film, but it was certainly different from any game trailer released before it. Even people who didn’t care about Metal Gear Solid walked away from the event talking about this footage. From that point on, developers knew that a single game could dominate E3 headlines.
1. Sony Establishes Two Dynasties with a Single Number (E3 1995)
In some ways, it’s appropriate that the very first E3 would contain the definitive E3 moment. Then again, given how much E3 has evolved over the years, it’s somewhat surprising that no event has ever topped the showstopping occurrence that highlighted 1995’s E3.
It began with the Sega Saturn. Sega took to the humble E3 1995 stage and debuted a sizzle reel of all the great things the Sega Saturn could do and how it would change the world forever. It was your standard E3 highlight reel complete with awkward live action segments. Shortly thereafter, a Sega exec informed those in attendance that they could purchase the Sega Saturn right now for the low price of $399. He then confidently exited the stage at which point the gentleman from Sony took to the platform, said “$299,” and exited. By undercutting the Sega Saturn by $100, Sony sealed the fate of the Sega Saturn in North America. In the process, they kicked off an entirely new era of gaming and established E3 as the one must-watch show every year.
Matt Byrd is a staff writer.