(CNN) -- In the ever-growing society of video-game culture, E3 is the coming-out party.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, started in 1995 as an annual showcase for the gaming world, begins this week in Los Angeles. Hundreds of showcasers, from multibillion-dollar corporations like Microsoft to scrappy, little-known software developers, are hoping the expo's bright lights will launch them toward digital success.
"It's huge," said Martin Rae, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. "If you're going to come out of nowhere, you do it at E3. If you can come out of E3 and there's a buzz around you ... all of a sudden you've got a title with legs."
The expo officially starts on Tuesday. But two of the event's biggest newsmakers, Sony and Microsoft, will kick things off early on Monday with press events they hope will start the buzz machine spinning.
The single most widely anticipated unveiling, though, may happen on Tuesday. That's when Nintendo is expected to roll out a new generation of its motion-activated Wii gaming system.
A new Wii
The Wii is the most popular of the three major gaming consoles (surpassing Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox). But sales of the device, released in 2006, have been dipping and Nintendo stood pat last year, when Microsoft and Sony unveiled new motion-sensor systems of their own: the Kinect and Move.
Details on the new console remain a mystery. But gaming analysts expect that a high-powered machine meant to woo hardcore gamers who have sometimes been lukewarm to the Wii's more family-friendly titles.
"They know they've kind of lost touch with that market, and we're really curious to see if they're going to go out against Sony and the Xbox and compete for that audience," said Dan Hsu, co-founder of gaming site Bitmob.
"Nintendo's done a great job of reaching out to that casual market ... so it might be a situation where they've seen how well games like the 'Call of Duty' series have done and they say, 'Let's try to get back a little into that (hardcore) side of the market.' "
On the hardware front, Sony may be next in line for pre-show buzz.
The company hasn't hidden what it's big announcement will be. It's a handheld gaming system being called the NGP -- Next Generation Portable -- that was first teased in January.
"Blurring the lines between interactive and entertainment," reads Sony's add for the unreleased device, which is expected to have impressive specs and will support top titles like "Call of Duty."
"It is a bit of a breakthrough," said Rae, whose group hosts an annual video-gaming awards ceremony. "You've got the controller and gameplay that will allow you to do some things on that handheld that you haven't been able to do before."
Sony also has another task on its plate: making nice with its customers after a malicious online hack knocked down the PlayStation Network for more than three weeks.
Both Hsu and Rae expect Sony to address the problem head-on.
"Historically, Sony's been pretty smart about their messaging during E3," Hsu said. "They've very crafty and also can be pretty self-deprecating. I feel like, knowing their corporate personality, they'll probably address it, have a little fun with it and move on."
Xbox, Kinect and new games
Of the Big Three, Microsoft has experts in the dark the most over what it may roll out for its Xbox system.
The company, which made a splash with its motion-sensing Kinect system at last year's show, isn't expected to roll out hardware like its two major competitors (unless a surprise of epic proportions is coming).
"I think they're going to have some interesting software to show," said Rae. "Xbox Live has been very well received and really enthusiastically embraced by gamers. I think there will be great software around that, and I think we're going to be looking at a second generation of games around the Kinect that aren't just the point-and-move type early generation games."
Cloud-based gaming and the continued growth of casual games (think "Angry Birds" and "Fruit Ninja") may also get some attention at the show.
For many gamers, getting a first look at upcoming games is the really big draw for a show like E3.
While there have been leaks and short clips online leading up to E3, fans of all gaming genres will be their first real look.
"Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception," "Batman: Arkham City," and "Bioshock Infinite" are all expected to demo at the show.
Hsu says he's looking forward to a closer look at "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" while Rae has bookmarked "Bioshock Infinite," the next chapter of the wildly imaginative game set in a utopian future gone badly wrong.
Other titles that will get some buzz: "Batman: Arkham City," "Battlefield 3," "Star Wars: The Old Republic," "The Darkness II" and the long, long, long-awaited "Duke Nukem Forever."
CNN contributor Larry Frum contributed to this report.