5 Biggest E3 Surprises | Road to E3 2021

As we prepare for E3’s return we’re taking a look back at some of the biggest surprises in the show’s history.

After missing out last year, we are back on the Road to E3! All month long we’ll be sharing articles related to the big gaming event, hosting streams, and other goodies right up to our extensive coverage of the digital event itself in June.

There are a number of reasons why gamers love E3. It offers up tons of news, and fresh looks at the games we’re all anticipating. On top of that, however, we all love it when the show offers us genuine surprises. Something the rumors hadn’t hinted at, or seemed too farfetched to be believed. It’s one of the things we tune in for, hoping to be blown away.

Obviously, we have no idea what surprises might be in store this year, but I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the bigger surprise moments from prior E3 events…

SEGA Saturn’s Surprise Launch

It seems fitting to kick off this list with what is still one of the most memorable surprises from E3…one that came from the Expo’s very first show in 1995. Before then, gaming stuff was relegated to a small part (outdoors) of the annual CES tradeshow. When the game companies came together, however, magic was made.

The first E3 event brought a number of big announcements, including the release date and pricing for Sony’s highly anticipated PlayStation (1). SEGA, however, wasn’t looking to be outdone and wanted to remind people why they were a big part of the console wars. Their latest console, the SEGA Saturn had already launched in Japan (simultaneous world releases for consoles weren’t the norm as they are now) with a September 1995 release date announced.

As such, gamers were expecting the company’s keynote speech to reveal new games, pricing, and general reasons to pick up the console later that Summer. They certainly weren’t expecting Sega CEO Tom Kalinske to announce that the console would be available IMMEDIATELY.

The reveal that SEGA had 30,000 units of the console shipped to Toys R Us, Babbages, and other select retailers was incredibly shocking. Sadly, the surprise wasn’t as well received as hoped. Despite the surprise and limited quantities, a general lack of launch titles kept sales sluggish. Worse, other major retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, and KB Toys were pissed at being kept in the dark and announced they’d no longer carry SEGA products.

Though SEGA would go on to launch yet another console, many within in the industry, and those who’ve chronicled its history, often point to this Saturn launch as a major nail in the coffin for the company. Perhaps having the biggest surprise of the show isn’t always for the best.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Wasn’t a Joke

E3 2015 was one for the history books. Looking back on the sheer amount of announcements made during that year’s event is mind-boggling. That year gave us announcements for Mass Effect Andromeda, Fallout 4, Dishonored 2, Dark Souls 3, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, plus gampelay for Star Wars Battlefront, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Rise of the Tomb Raider, No Man’s Sky, and much more. Seriously, go look up all the reveals and see how insane that year was.

Somehow, among all of those, there was one major announcement that had everyone buzzing: the Final Fantasy VII Remake was actually happening. For years, the idea of a Final Fantasy VII remake had reached mythical status. At one point, the game was supposed to be remade for the PS2, but was canned as development time was focused to the future of the franchise.

Since then, rumors about a remake have cropped up like clockwork year after year, and were once again fueled by a PS3 Tech Demo that recreated the game’s intro. It was a seemingly cruel tease for fans who were hoping it was something more than a flashy video, alas….

Then came 2015. Any rumors of a FF7 remake announcement had been dismissed quickly as they had in years past, so imagine the shock when those gorgeous visuals appeared on stage! It’s a short teaser, but effective. Even watching it now (having PLAYED the remake) I get chills. It was finally real.

Gabe Newell Shows Up at Sony’s Press Conference

Somewhat infamously, Valve hasn’t done much at E3 for quite a while. Like many major publishers (they do still make games), they’ve opted to hold their own digital events instead. Even before, however, it was no secret that Valve co-founder Gabe Newell had little interest in the big show. More specifically, Newell seemed to have little interest in console gaming in general.

Valve has always been primarily focused on PC gaming, and the majority of their forays into the console world had been focused on the Xbox consoles. This was mostly due to the system being developed by Microsoft and its close ties to the PC world of gaming. Only a couple Valve games were ported to the PlayStation systems and they were notable for having many technical issues.

So imagine everyone’s surprise in 2010 when Gabe Newell walked out on stage during Sony’s press conference. Seriously, talk about a jaw-dropping appearance and an impressive way to announce Portal 2 was coming to the PlayStation 3 at the same time as the other versions. Not only were fans ecstatic to be able to play the sequel on the system of their choice, but actually getting Newell on stage seemed a Herculean task. It’s a memory that won’t be soon forgotten…

Keanu Reeves Comes On Stage

I think I’m technically cheating on this one, as this isn’t really a surprise announcement. It’s still a memorable moment, however, and I think bending the rules for Keanu is just fine.

E3 isn’t exactly known for celebrity appearances that people remember for reasons other than being weird/cringey. From stilted appearances of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, to Jamie Kennedy drunkenly getting through an interview, and an appearance by Pele that continues to baffle to this day, E3 hasn’t had much luck bringing in big names for the show.

That hasn’t stopped them from trying, however, which is all worth it for the genuinely delightful presence of Keanu. The actor took the stage during the Xbox Press Conference at the last E3 (in 2019) to show off more Cyberpunk 2077, also revealing that he himself plays a role in the game.

Filled with genuine charm and enthusiasm, it was almost impossible to not feel the hype for the game. It was a memorable moment, one that not only sparked plenty of memes, but kept players talking ever since. While the game’s launch itself has been less than stellar, we’ll always have the memory of Keanu telling us we’re breathtaking…

Grand Theft Auto 4 Announced

The Grand Theft Auto franchise found itself at the forefront of gamers’ minds during the sixth console generation. GTA III revamped the experience altogether, offering one of the first open-world experiences and tons of things to do. Those were followed up by Vice City and San Andreas, which pretty much gave the PlayStation 2 three of the biggest games for the whole generation.

Players were obviously excited to see what was next for the franchise, but no one would have guessed Microsoft would have been the ones to tell us about it! During the Xbox Press Conference at E3 2006 Peter Moore came on stage to roll up his sleeves and reveal a brand new—albeit temporary—tattoo (a play on how he revealed the release date for Halo 2). The tattoo revealed the logo for Grand Theft Auto IV.

This was the first confirmation of the game, something exciting on its own, but the real surprise was it being multi-platform. GTA had been a dominant franchise for the PS2 (hell San Andreas on PS2 is still one of the highest selling games of all time) with Xbox only getting a port of San Andreas almost a year after the PS2 launch.

The announcement that GTA IV would launch simultaneously on the Xbox 360, along with exclusive content just for the platform (though I don’t think that actually came to pass), made it clear that the Xbox 360 was no longer out to play catch-up. It was a signal to gamers that the modern console war was heating up in a big way.

Other Notable Moments

It’s hard to narrow it down to just five, but as a gamer who’s been following the events pretty much since its start, these were the moments that stood out most to me. There are several others, however, that nearly made the cut:

Fallout 4 Announced with Same Year Release Date
Metroid Prime 4 Announced
Reggie’s Body is Ready
Final Fantasy XIII Announced for Xbox 360 As Well
Shigeru Miyamoto Shows Up at Ubisoft’s Presentation

E3 has given us a ridiculous amount of surprises and reveals over the years and we can only hope the new digital format will bring the same. What are some of your favorite E3 surprises?

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Jordan Maison
Editor-in-Chief: Writer and cartoonist who went to college for post-production, he now applies his love of drawing, movie analysis, filmmaking, video games, and martial arts into writing.