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E3 2008: The wrap-up

The highs and lows from E3 2008, the video game trade show recently held in Los Angeles that may be on its last leg.

This year's smaller, quieter E3 video game trade show may well mark the end of an era, with no solid plans announced for next year's show, and many participants lamenting the stripped-down vibe. Despite powering a multi-billion-dollar industry, the big game companies collectively decided that the massive shows of previous years were too expensive to put on anymore--but the pared-down version of E3 that started last year failed to inspire the industry or generate much significant media coverage.

Despite the melancholy feel, the big stories driving the gaming business were clearly visible (even if almost all of the games themselves were demonstrated from behind the closed doors of meeting rooms, rather than on the small show floor.) We see the major trends coming out of E3 2008 as threefold:

Rocking out just before The Who took the stage at a Rock Band 2 promo event. Michael Mullen

First, the big console makers have sold pretty much all the consoles they can to "core" gamers, and now have to appeal to mainstream entertainment consumers based on price and nongaming features. To that end, Microsoft has cut the price of its standard Xbox 360 model to $299, and added support for the popular Netflix online streaming service. Sony has similarly cut the price of its step-up PlayStation 3 model to $399, hoping to capture users who are interested in both hi-def Blu-ray movies and just-announced downloadable movie and TV content.

Second, there's increased competition for noncore gamers: families, women, young children, older gamers, and even core demographic males who just don't have the inclination to learn and play complicated games that require massive commitments of time and brainpower.

To that end, Nintendo is continuing to serve the casual audience, announcing a sequel to the Wii console's original pack-in game, Wii Sports (which was easily one of the most-played games the last few years), along with a new music game, Wii Music, that doesn't even require the rudimentary note-matching skills of Guitar Hero. Microsoft and Sony are following suit, betting heavily on smaller, simpler games, some of which can be downloaded directly to consoles. Pixel Junk Eden for the PlayStation 3 and You're in the Movies for Xbox 360 are a couple to watch out for.

Finally, there wasn't a lot of high-profile original IP on display at E3 this year. Instead, we'll be seeing a lot of sequels to popular franchises going into the all-important holiday season and into next year, including Gears of War 2, Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Resident Evil 5, and others.

At the end of the week, Bethesda's Fallout 3, a modern take on a cult-favorite role-playing game from the '90s, was the clear audience favorite, with an especially strong showing from Rock Band 2, the sequel to last year's mock-rock hit, as well. Here's a roundup of my E3 2008 highlights:

E3 2008: Fallout 3
E3 2008: Dead Space
E3 2008: EA and BioWare working on a new Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic MMO
E3 2008: Resident Evil 5
E3 2008: Toshiba is a lonely hardware vendor
E3 2008: Trend alert--cooperative gameplay
E3 2008: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
E3 2008: Spore
E3 2008: Rock Band 2 set list revealed
E3 2008: Game over for the Electronic Entertainment Expo?

For a different take on the events of this past week, check out this post-show report from's Daniel Terdiman.