The circus is coming to Los Angeles.
E3, the video game industry’s annual trade show, is back – with blaring speakers, scantily dressed booth models and enough flashing lights to cause a seizure two blocks away.
Make no mistake, business gets done at the Electronic Entertainment Expo—lots of it—but since it serves as the industry’s rallying point for fans and the general public, the fun factor is given a massive dose of steroids. This year’s extravaganza runs June 2 through 4.
Traditionally, E3 has been the venue where game publishers introduce their holiday line-up and give sneak peaks at games that often won’t hit store shelves for a year or more. New consoles are introduced there - as are major new system features.
It’s a time when video games take center stage in the pop culture world. For a week, movies, television and other forms of entertainment fail to overshadow the industry that, despite taking in over $21 billion in the U.S. alone last year, still struggles occasionally for mainstream acceptance.
This year, over 200 companies will be on hand to show their latest titles, peripherals and hardware. They’ll be spread out over 350,000 square feet at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The show, once again, isn’t open to the public, but the Entertainment Software Association (which owns and operates E3) says it expects roughly 40,000 people to attend.
Over 300 new products and games will be introduced at the show this year, but it’s the console makers who will likely grab the headlines.
Microsoft is expected to introduce a new motion control technology that will let Xbox 360 owners play games without a controller. The company will also finally integrate the Xbox with its Zune media player, in preparation for the fall launch of the Zune HD.
Sony, meanwhile, is almost certain to unveil a redesigned PlayStation Portable and possibly new motion controller technology of its own. And Nintendo will show major new titles that will be on store shelves before the end of the year.
Big games on display will include "The Beatles: Rock Band" from MTV, "Batman: Arkham Asylum" from Eidos and Warner Bros. and the latest versions of several major franchises, including Sony’s "God of War III," "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II" from Activision and "Bioshock II" from Take Two Interactive.
When E3 began in 1985, it was a showcase for retailers, who were there to place holiday orders. With the rise of the Internet and innumerable gaming news and fan sites, though, it soon morphed into a media-centric show.
Publishers began competing for attention, building more and more elaborate booths—and throwing lavish parties. Despite attempts to screen attendees, the show peaked in 2005, with well over 60,000 people roaming the show floor. Many of those were fans that had snuck in, making it hard for journalists, analysts and retailers to get any work done.
Attempts to scale the show back in 2007 and 2008 went too far, dampening enthusiasm among industry enthusiasts and publishers. As a result, the party environment is back this year.
"This is exactly what the industry wants," says Dan Hewitt, spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association. "They want a show that reflects the innovation and growth of the industry. Everybody’s taking steps to be responsible, but at the same time, we’ve very excited about the titles and products coming out at the end of the year."