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E3 Ten Years Ago

July 4th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · CGM, E3, Industry

I was talking to a colleague yesterday about going to E3. He isn’t, and he hasn’t been in a long time. Like me, he’s primarily a PC gamer, so he feels a little bit out of the loop with the new console heavy E3 schedule.

So, just for kicks, I dug out the Computer Games Strategy Plus E3 report from 1998, just for a comparison. Over 280 Games Previewed!

It was held in late May. In Atlanta. And the magazine didn’t squeeze in the coverage until the September issue. Those facts in and of themselves are a fascinating insight into how the convention has morphed over the decade. There was once a time when E3 was an important but not essential time-sensitive story. For a few years, E3 was the biggest event on the calendar. And now, it’s not even clear how important it is, with a lot of the news trickling out in pre-E3 events.

There are probably more PC games in the listing than there are games all told at this year’s E3. You have the usual suspects for the 1998-99 gaming season. Interplay was showing Baldur’s Gate. There were three Civilization games – Firaxis’s Alpha Centauri, Activision’s Call to Power and Microprose’s Test of Time. Heroes of Might and Magic III, Black & White, Age of Empires II, Imperialism II and Diablo II were there.

So were Prey and Daikatana and a half dozen games that never got finished. Conflict of Nations, a strategy game with the giant heads of empires moving around a map. A Babylon 5 space shooter. A Middle Earth MMO from Sierra. Eldorado, an Age of Exploration RTS.

And Duke Nukem Forever.

But there were lots of genres there that you would never find at today’s E3. Jane’s Combat Sims showed off a bunch of flight sims. Talonsoft was there with five different wargames, including the second part of Operational Art of War and Battle of Britain. In fact, wargames and flight sims were all over the place.

The 1998 game list is a nice snapshot of just how different the gaming landscape was ten years ago. Despite all the talk about how Baldur’s Gate “saved” RPGs, there were certainly a lot of good ones in development at the same time. This was the afterglow of the runaway success of Myst, so there are lots of 3D adventure games, too.

You would never know from the coverage that the PS2 was only a couple of years away, and the Xbox the year after that. The late nineties were probably the high water mark of PC gaming development as far as variety and titles being produced.

I don’t want to sound despondent, of course. There is still a lot of PC development going on, and good independent developers can still find places to distribute their stuff. And there are now alternatives to E3, many more friendly to smaller developers than the still relatively costly E3. The Penny Arcade expo, E for All, GenCon and Origins for some genres…Plus, the internet is so widespread that it is much easier for press releases, game trailers and interviews to be readily accessible to anyone who wants them.

I’ll have more to say about E3 when I go in ten days. I’m aware that I’ve missed the glory days of the expo, but I hope that I can find some value added in the event. It’s going to be nice to make some new contacts and meet some of my editors and colleagues for the first time. But I’ll also be working like a dog, writing content and getting it uploaded to Game Shark before it becomes dated.


One Comment so far ↓

  • GotGame.com

    Wow, it’s kind of amazing how far the gaming world has come if you just take a step back and look. It is kinda sad how they are trying to make E3 into a more “corporate” even thought =/