Revving up for a pared-down E3

The Entertainment Software Association has drastically cut back its video game convention. Will smaller companies get shut out?

The once-massive Electronic Entertainment Expo has received a makeover, and few people are sure what to expect.

Last July, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) announced that its Los Angeles flagship event, arguably the most famous game conference in the world, would be slimmed. High-profile exhibitors had raised concerns that E3 had grown too big, with its original purpose as an industry gathering eclipsed by its reputation as a hot destination for hard-core gamers eager to test-drive the latest titles.

As a result, E3 has been transformed into the 2007 E3 Media and Business Summit, an invitation-only affair for industry professionals and select press members and analysts. Instead of using the massive Los Angeles Convention Center as a hub, the event will be scattered around several hotels in the quieter seaside city of Santa Monica from Tuesday evening through Friday, as well as the local airport's Barker Hangar. The hordes of 60,000 visitors to the "old E3" have been pared down to a more manageable 3,000 to 4,000.

As for consumer attendees, they'll have to settle for one of the video game industry's other trade shows--like the Tokyo Game Show, the Game Developers Conference or the new "Entertainment for All Expo" (or E for All) that the International Data Group publishing company has organized for the L.A. Convention Center in October in response to E3's recent turn toward exclusivity.

"When we asked key audiences what they wanted in a new event, they said they wanted opportunities for high-level interactions in a business atmosphere."
--Dan Hewitt, director of media relations, ESA

"Our entire goal for E3 is first and foremost about getting business done," said Dan Hewitt, the ESA's director of media relations. "When we asked key audiences what they wanted in a new event, they said they wanted opportunities for high-level interactions in a business atmosphere."

The metamorphosed E3 is less glitzy, for sure. And there are no massive hardware launches on the horizon, as there were last year when Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii were a few months away from stores. But game enthusiasts are still anticipating a few surprises, especially from the industry's biggest players.

The event kicks off Tuesday night with Microsoft's press conference, followed by fellow console manufacturers Nintendo and Sony on Wednesday morning. It's not yet clear what the console manufacturers will be announcing, but rumors have spread (many of them highly unsubstantiated) of upgrades ranging from hard drives in Nintendo's Wii to an HD DVD player in Microsoft's Xbox 360 to a "revamped" PlayStation Portable handheld console from Sony. The company has already announced, as widely rumored due to a leaked Circuit City flier, that it's cutting the price of the PlayStation 3 by $100.

There also will be scores of new games from some 30-odd companies: first-person shooters like the highly anticipated Halo 3, massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like NCSoft's Tabula Rasa, family-friendly titles such as Disney Interactive's Ratatouille movie tie-in, and revamped classic games like Midway's Cruis'n and Ultimate Mortal Kombat for the Nintendo DS--to name a few.

There may not be a whole lot of big surprises, because most new games have already been announced well in advance, some already showcased at smaller press demonstrations. The ESA, however, hopes the overall fabric of the event will give industry professionals, journalists and analysts a way of gauging current and future trends in the world of gaming.

"I would encourage (enthusiasts) to keep watching the news and keep reading to see where the industry's going to be heading," the ESA's Hewitt said, "because we're going to be making some pretty big news over the next week."

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