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Video game industry looks to make E3 giant again

After two years as essentially a press event, E3 seems headed once again for throngs of people and headache-inducing noise.

The line to get into the Microsoft press conference at E3 in Los Angeles in July, 2008. In 2009, E3 will stay in Los Angeles, but will for the first time be open to the public. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Update (11:31 a.m. PST): This story now reflects the ESA's response to a request for comment on this story.

If ever there was an event with an identity crisis, it's the video game industry's signature confab, E3.

For years, E3 was known as one of the largest, loudest, and most exhausting industry events in the world. Held each May at the Los Angeles Convention Center, it attracted more than 60,000 people--who had to be at least vaguely associated with the industry--most of whom departed at the end of the week with sore feet from walking long distances between halls and ringing in the ears from the over-the-top displays.

But after the 2006 event, the industry's overlords at the Entertainment Software Association decided to radically alter E3's format, and in 2007, it was held in July in nearby Santa Monica, Calif., with an invite-only crowd of press and analysts. It was far smaller--with well under 10,000 attendees--and by all accounts was an entirely different show.

Not content with that format, the ESA moved E3 back to the L.A. Convention Center for the July 2008 version, but kept it press-only. Of course, the video game press is a rather large, hard-to-define beast, and there were still several thousand people on hand.

Now, after finding that the 2008 edition of E3 didn't really meet its needs, the ESA is once again changing course, and according to Dean Takahashi over at Venture Beat (via N'Gai Croal at Newsweek), has decided to open the event up to the public for the first time, to move E3 to early June and to cap the attendance at 40,000.

The idea seems to be that the press would be invited in starting Tuesday, June 2, while the public would only get in starting on June 5.

Of course, it will still be at the L.A. Convention Center, just to keep some sort of continuity.

For its part, the ESA said it had no comment and said it would make an announcement about any changes to E3 "when it is appropriate.

It's not clear why the ESA is making this choice, nor is it clear precisely what the new, new, new E3 will look like. Suffice it to say that because tens of thousands of people will be there, it will almost certainly include the kinds of massive, ear drum-destroying displays the show used to be famous for.

But to me, E3 seems doomed. It's hard to fathom how an event can survive when it changes every single year, both in the dates it's held on and in its size and format.

The ESA is run by the video game industry's major companies, so I suppose they know what they want. But with a slew of major game events around the country and the world each year--such as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the Tokyo Game Show, the Leipzig Games Convention, the Penny Arcade Expo and so on, it's hard to see why E3 is so indispensable. And by confusing everyone year in and year out by changing what E3 is, I feel like the ESA is simply killing the E3 brand.

But, come June 2, 2009, I suppose I know where I'll be: At the L.A. Convention Center, hopefully sporting good footwear and maybe some earplugs.