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E3 wins and fails: The best and worst ever moments from gaming's top expo

And yes, Sony's E3 2006 press conference makes an appearance.

Published onJune 9, 2021

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is upon us once again, serving as one of the most important events on the gaming calendar. Between the pandemic and reduced participation, it’s shaping up to be a far cry from E3 events from bygone years.

Nevertheless, we’re expecting some big news from the likes of Nintendo, Microsoft, and a host of third-party publishers. So with that in mind, we thought now would be as good a time as any to look at some of the best and worst moments in the expo’s history.

Related coverage: E3 2021 — Everything you need to know and what to expect

The best E3 moments

Sony announces PS1 price (E3 1995)

One of the best and most unconventional E3 moments was Sony announcing the US price for the first PlayStation. The move came after Sega announced a $399 price tag for its Saturn console during its E3 event, while also abruptly announcing immediate availability.

Sony’s response? To simply have PlayStation America boss Steve Race appear on-stage, say “299,” and leave. And just like that, a console newcomer made a major and lasting impact on the industry.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty reveal (E3 2000)

Sony announced the PS2 back in 1999, and the follow-up to the original PlayStation gained a ton of hype in the lead-up to the launch. In fact, there were suggestions it would deliver visuals akin to CG movies (…it didn’t). It later turned out that the PS2 wasn’t exactly a developer-friendly console, but Konami and Hideo Kojima showed us what could be possible early in the console’s lifespan.

Konami unveiled the follow-up to PS1 stealth action hit Metal Gear Solid at E3 2000, showing stunning visuals for the time. The trailer also demonstrated great examples of interactivity for the time period, such as hiding in lockers, shooting pipes to send steam at enemies, and destroying fruit, drinks, and glasses during a gunfight. No wonder Metal Gear Solid 2 became one of the most eagerly anticipated releases in the early years of the PS2.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (E3 2004)

Nintendo showed off a realistic Legend of Zelda tech demo at its Spaceworld 2000 event, meant to show off the power of the GameCube. But Nintendo’s decision to go with a cel-shaded art style for its first Zelda title on the console (2002’s The Wind Waker) polarized fans.

The Japanese giant finally showed off a more realistic-looking Zelda game at E3 2004 (Twilight Princess), sending the audience into a frenzy. I still maintain that the Wind Waker’s cartoony style has aged far better than Twilight Princess, but the crowd reaction here has gone down in E3 legend.

Microsoft’s backwards compatibility surprise (E3 2015)

Neither Sony nor Microsoft offered backwards compatibility for their new consoles at the time of E3 2015 (PS4 and Xbox One), which was a rather disappointing turn of events. It wasn’t unexpected though, as the Xbox 360 and PS3 both offered drastically different architectures compared to their successors. So surely we wouldn’t see backward compatibility at all, right?

Against all odds, Microsoft announced at the show that a variety of Xbox 360 games would be backwards compatible with the Xbox One. It was a massive technological achievement that deservedly resulted in a wild reception from attendees. It was especially important in light of the previous two years, which saw Microsoft focus on everything but games.

Sony resurrects fan-favorite franchises (E3 2015)

Both Microsoft and Sony enjoyed a fantastic E3 2015, with Microsoft focusing on its industry-leading backwards compatibility with previous titles. Meanwhile, the PlayStation platform-holder opted to use its stage to drop bombshell announcements, including Final Fantasy 7 Remake (once teased as a possibility some ten years earlier at E3 2005), Shenmue 3, and The Last Guardian.

All three titles represented Sony attempting to appeal to die-hard gamers at its conference. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake was an overhauled take on a PS1 classic, The Last Guardian — the third game from the storied Team Ico — was reannounced after years in development hell, and Shenmue 3 promised to wrap up a ground-breaking saga that started on the Sega Dreamcast. All three would take a while to actually release (and the latter launched to a mixed reception), but the trio, alongside new IP like Horizon Zero Dawn, provided incredible star power to Sony’s showcase.

Keanu Reeves steals the show (E3 2019)

It’s easy to dismiss Cyberpunk 2077 now after its spectacularly botched launch, but it was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the last few years. Ever since its announcement back in 2012, fans had clamored for more information and, ultimately, a release date.

We got plenty of details at Microsoft’s E3 2019 conference, and we also got actor Keanu Reeves on-stage in a surprise appearance. Reeves’ stage presence, the reception from attendees, and “you’re breathtaking” made for a very memorable occasion, regardless of Cyberpunk’s subsequently disappointing launch.

The worst E3 moments

That Killzone 2 trailer (E3 2005)

Sony’s E3 2005 event was essentially a coming-out party for the PlayStation 3, showcasing what the upcoming console would be capable of. And a lot of the trailers almost seemed too good to be true. In the case of the Killzone 2 trailer, that’s because it was.

The Japanese titan revealed the Killzone 2 trailer and claimed it was “real-time footage” running on the PS3. It was actually a computer-generated video meant for internal use. This was to the dismay of franchise developer Guerilla Games, with a representative later explaining that the first PS3 development kit had only “just arrived” by the time the trailer aired.

Killzone 2 would eventually launch in early 2009, and it definitely got closer to that original trailer than anyone expected. But it also fell short in several other ways (e.g. explosion effects).

Sony’s price tag for the PS3 (E3 2006)

It’s the E3 press conference that spawned plenty of memes, like the giant enemy crab and Riiiiidge Racer. But Sony’s E3 2006 press conference was also made infamous for the PS3’s price being revealed for the first time (skip to 1:49:30).

The company announced a price tag of $499 for the 20GB PS3 and a mammoth $599 for the 60GB model. By comparison, the Xbox 360 launched at $299 for a model without a hard drive and $399 for the variant with a 20GB hard drive. Sure, you got several extras by opting for the PS3. This included Wi-Fi, HDMI, and, most notably, Blu-Ray support. However, it still made for a high barrier of entry. Between this high price tag, a dearth of quality exclusives at first, and poor multi-platform ports, there’s little wonder why the console struggled initially.

Jamie Kennedy with Activision (E3 2007)

Celebrity hosts can be a hit-or-miss experience for tech and gaming events, and Activision definitely missed when comedian and actor Jamie Kennedy hosted its E3 conference back in 2007. The comedian hit the stage and it was immediately apparent that he was in no condition to perform. Between calling the audience “virgins,” forgetting his lines, and Tony Hawk’s response to him, the appearance was clearly a train wreck.

“I was just wondering if I could do the whole interview as Ozzy Osborne?” Kennedy asked a British developer. “Absolutely. Aren’t you doing that already?” the developer responded to laughter from the audience.

Konami’s parade of awkwardness (E3 2010)

Japanese publisher Konami also makes an appearance thanks to its rather bizarre conference back in 2010. This one had it all; luchadores slapping each other, a magician, eccentric developers, and a creepy presenter.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether this qualifies as the worst E3 conference ever or the best one. It honestly feels like it gets into “so bad it’s good” territory.

Xbox One pricing (E3 2013)

Sony and Microsoft went head-to-head at E3 2013, as both companies showed off their new consoles ahead of a holiday season release later that year. This was Microsoft’s chance to regain momentum lost at the tail-end of the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. Unfortunately, the firm fumbled the ball mainly due to pricing.

The awkward silence after Phil Spencer announces a $499 price tag for the console is palpable (skip to the 1:21:00 mark), and almost on par with Sony’s PS3 price announcement at E3 2006. There were a few encouraging bright spots during the event, such as Ryse: Son of Rome, Sunset Overdrive, Killer Instinct, and Quantum Break. But Microsoft dropped the ball around this time thanks to its focus on TV over games and its controversial original policies on used games and sharing — something Sony ridiculed at its own conference that same year.

Jesse Wellens at EA Play 2017 (E3 2017)

EA decided to hire YouTuber Jesse Wellens to host a quick segment in its EA Play event at E3 2017. Unfortunately, an apparent teleprompter snafu meant that Wellens couldn’t read his lines. The result was an incredibly awkward first few minutes that lives on via YouTube.

Now, you could argue that the YouTuber should’ve memorized parts of the script. But that’s exactly what he claims he did, only for the teleprompter to serve up a different script during the dress rehearsal. Wellens says he was then given another script and memorized it too, only for the teleprompter to suffer from issues for the first few minutes. Either way, the moment when Wellens calls EA executive producer Marcus Nilsson “Nick” (or is it “Ni”?)  is priceless.

That’s it for our list of the best and worst E3 moments! Are there any you’d add to the list? Let us know via the comments.

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