The video game industry’s annual showcase is saying goodbye to scantily clad booth babes, extravagant multimillion dollar exhibits, blaring lights and pounding music. Celebrity appearances from the likes of Paris Hilton or Snoop Dogg are a thing of the past, too.
This year’s version of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, renamed the E3 Media & Business Summit, will be a toned-down affair as organizers hope to have a far less flashy discussion on new and upcoming video games.
The event, which starts Wednesday, looks to be more like a country club getaway, an invitation-only gathering complete with luxury beach-side hotels, sushi restaurants and meetings in private conference rooms.
To put it more diplomatically, "It’s about the quality of connection for leaders of the industry," says Michael Gallagher, a former telecommunications policy adviser under the Bush administration who now heads up the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that puts together the show.
After last year’s expo, organizers decided it had become too big for its own good. With more than 60,000 people cramming into the Los Angeles Convention Center, there was a feeling that the needs of no one — be it the media, retailers or video game publishers — were being addressed particularly well.
"It had gotten out of control and needed to die," said Mike Wilson, chief executive of Austin, Texas-based game publisher Gamecock. "It was hot, techno was blasting everywhere, there was no place to sit and the microwave cheeseburgers were $8. It just wasn’t pleasant."
Wilson’s company wasn’t invited to the new E3 that’s being held in a handful of hotels along the beach in Santa Monica, California. He isn’t the only one.
Only about 30 of the largest video game software and hardware companies are attending, down from the hundreds that packed the sprawling Los Angeles Convention Center in previous years. Also missing will be the army of small-time bloggers, zealous game fans and others who somehow managed to infiltrate the trade-only event.
As someone who was at the first E3 in 1995 and attended every one since, Dorothy Ferguson said she believes the new format will benefit the 3,000 or so people attending.
"It kind of got away from what was important, which is really the content," said Ferguson, a vice president of sales and marketing for NCSoft Inc. "At the end you felt like a pinball in a pinball machine. It was sensory overload and it was really difficult to hear anything."
This week’s event, which runs through Friday, will focus on the industry’s largest players, including No. 1 game-software maker Electronic Arts Inc. and console makers Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Nintendo Corp.
The big story last year was Sony’s decision to price PlayStation 3 at up to $600 and whether it would catch on with consumers. Nintendo, meanwhile, promised to bring more non-gamers into the fold with its interactive Wii. Microsoft continued to build on its Xbox Live online gaming platform.
Since then, both the PS3 and the Wii have been unleashed on the marketplace. (Microsoft launched its next-generation console, the Xbox 360, in 2005.)
Analyst Ted Pollack of Jon Peddie Research said he doesn’t see any losers in the current crop of consoles and believes they will be a boon for the industry for at least the next five years.
"They’re all doing well in their own way," he said. "All three consoles will win battles in the console wars and at the end everyone will be left standing."
And now that all of the hardware has been available for a while, consumers can expect to see a flood of new video games.
Josh Larson, director of the online game review Web site GameSpot, said he is looking for this year’s show to shed more light on software that takes advantage of each system’s unique capabilities.
He also expects more details on big video game franchises like "Halo 3," "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" as well has more information on Sony’s strategy to compete online with Microsoft’s Xbox Live service.
Other top games could include Konami’s "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots," a "Killzone" sequel from Sony and the latest chapter in the "Final Fantasy" saga from Square-Enix Co.
"It’s ultimately about the games," Larson said. "The PS3 box can look real shiny and have lots of powerful specs but it’s ultimately the game experience that causes you to go out and get that gaming system."
In another twist, the ESA is hoping to appeal to the general gaming consumer later this fall. The "E for All 2007," an event which will be open to the public, is scheduled for October 18-21 at E3’s former home, the Los Angeles Convention Center.