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Sneak Peek: 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo

After a relatively dull past two years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo ("E3" for short) appears ready to deliver the goods this year.

E3

Kicking off in just under a month, the annual trade show of the video game industry is traditionally where secret projects are revealed, big holiday titles have their coming out parties and, every now and then, prices take a fall.

2007 and 2008 were relatively sedate years, as the show adopted a milder tone. This year, E3 is returning to its roots as a circus—an orgy of sight and sound with thousands of people roaming the halls and getting hands on time with new games. And game publishers seem set to get in the spirit.

Most participating companies, of course, keep their announcements confidential, hoping to make the biggest splash at the show. So any preview tends to be a mix of rumor, speculation and talk with informed sources. At the very least, though, they show what the gaming world is expecting—and would like to see—from E3.

While Nintendo rules the sales charts, Microsoft and Sony seem likely to make the most waves at E3 this year.

Microsoft , which likes to the set the pace of the show, will hold the first pre-E3 press briefing on June 1. And it’s already ramping up the rhetoric.

"Microsoft is gearing up for a big presence at E3 which will completely transform how people think about home entertainment," said Don Mattrick, Microsoft’s senior vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business in a statement distributed by the E3 organizing body.

xbox
xbox

Big words, but the grapevine indicates the company has some big things to show. One possibility is a new add-on for the Xbox 360 that detects full body movements and sound without the player having to use a controller. Basically, it would one-up the motion sensor technology in Nintendo's Wii. Imagine a fighting game where your punches, kicks and evasions in your living room are reflected onscreen. The peripheral reportedly has a video component as well.

We’ll hear about the big games of this holiday from Microsoft, including “Halo 3: ODST,” a standalone expansion for “Halo 3,” and most likely the racing simulation “Forza 3”. But the company has also said it might give fans a peek at games that are further down the pipeline. That opens up some intriguing possibilities.

We could see a teaser for “Halo 4”. The long-in-development “Alan Wake” could make an appearance. And Microsoft may have a new franchise for the core gamer that it wants to start building an early buzz around.

Sony , meanwhile, is said to be working on its own motion-capture device as well, which could be on display at its press event. While the PS3 does have motion-sensing technology in its existing controller, speculation on new technology is that it would be a separate peripheral that is much more precise.

The company is also expected to unveil a redesigned version of its portable gaming platform—the PSP. The new version will likely abandon the proprietary UMD disc drive, replacing it with built-in flash memory and a robust online store.

The PSP has been struggling mightily against the Nintendo DS and is facing increased competition from the iPhone from Apple. While Sony has been working hard to deflect attention from a revamp of the PSP, it needs to update the system if it hopes to remain competitive in the handheld market.

A MORE AFFORDABLE PS3?

What most industry watchers are curious about, though, is whether Sony will cut PlayStation 3 prices. If so, will it be by $50 or $100?

Should there be no price cut, it will be a disappointment to many, but won’t close the door on lower PS3 prices before the end of the year. Sony could easily wait until autumn to cut prices and capture consumer interest when purse strings are a bit looser.

Price cuts are less likely for Nintendo, but they’re not out of the realm of possibility. The CEO of specialty retailer GameStop (GME) has called for them—and analyst spot-checks of retailers show hardware sales for the Wii have fallen dramatically over the past month.

Like Sony, though, Nintendo could wait until the holiday season to have a bigger impact—and undercut momentum by its competitors as their new motion-sensor devices hit the market.

We’ll probably also learn more about Nintendo’s online strategy. Additional content in its existing online store is a virtual lock (with downloadable Game Boy and/or Game Boy Advance titles for the DSi a possibility). Fans of the company who have been clamoring for details on when they’ll be able to play more games together online may get some information as well.

And you can expect word on which of the company’s big franchises will hit retail shelves this holiday. Whether it’s a new "Mario" or "Zelda" game, it should give the Wii another boost this holiday season.

Among third-party publishers, we’ll see the big games of the year. Electronic Arts will showcase titles such as "Dante’s Inferno" and "Mass Effect 2"—along with its lineup of regular franchises, such as "Madden" and "Need for Speed".

Fans of Take Two Interactive Software are hoping for updates on three big titles. They might get some details on “Max Payne 3,” due out this winter. Chances are a little slimmer (but not hopeless) for news about “L.A. Noire,” which has been in quiet mode since 2006, and the long-in-development “Duke Nukem Forever”.

What’s likely to be the biggest game of the year, though, won’t make an appearance at E3. While Activision will be at the show, it will not be showing any of the games under development at Blizzard Software. That means no “Starcraft II” (expected late this year), no “Diablo III” and no “World of Warcraft” expansion updates.

When you’ve got titles that big, though, there’s not a lot of upside in trade show appearances. People buy them all the same.