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Video Game Mecca: What's Hot and What's Next

Best Buy has nothing on this geek squad.

Scenes from the E3 Expo
Getty Images
Scenes from the E3 Expo

Los Angeles is under siege, with as many as 45,000 video game industry insiders and onlookers descending upon the Los Angeles Convention Center for E3—one of the loudest, glitziest—and sometimes gaudiest—trade shows of any industry.

E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, if you want to be formal about it, is primarily a business event. Deals get done at the industry’s annual gathering. And news comes out.

But to the outside world, it’s a celebration of video games, offering the first look at holiday line-ups and new products from publishers, as well as a sneak peak at what’s further down the road. While E3 officially begins Tuesday, companies aren't waiting. They've scheduled events as early as Sunday.

While the general public isn’t allowed onto the E3 floor, the show has never been more accessible. Console manufacturers stream their keynote speeches directly to fans via the game machines. Many major publishers do the same via webcasts—letting them speak directly to potential buyers, bypassing the media and controlling their marketing message.

This is the 16th E3 in the industry’s history. Originally designed as a showcase where publishers could meet with retailers, it quickly transformed into a media show, where business deals happen to get done in between demos.

Roughly 290 companies will be on hand to show off their latest games, peripherals and hardware this year; nearly a 50 percent jump over last year’s count.

“That’s a signal of the health and vitality of the show itself and its relevance as the global lunch pad for news in the industry,” says Dan Hewitt, senior director of communications for the Entertainment Software Association. “I think you’ll see that E3 kicks of the news cycle for the industry for the year.”

Many of those 290 companies will turn heads, but probably none will cause quite as much whiplash as Microsoft and Nintendo.

Microsoft kicks off the show two days before the doors open, with a rollout event for its motion capture control device, currently code named Project Natal. The device is a camera that tracks user movements—in essence, turning your body into a game controller. Microsoft is also expected to unveil functionality for the device that extends beyond gaming, perhaps allowing owners to play, pause, fast forward and rewind movies with hand gestures.

The company talked about the device last year, but 2010 is the big rollout, and Microsoft is doing it in style, hosting an event with Cirque du Soleil Sunday, as it announces full details about Natal, including its retail name and (perhaps) pricing information.

Nintendo, meanwhile, will take the fight to Apple, introducing a new handheld gaming system that projects images in stereoscopic 3D (the same 3D experience movie-goers have). But Nintendo says it has found a way to do so without the dorky glasses.

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Don’t count out Sony, either. The PlayStation manufacturer could announce a new handheld device of its own. And many insiders expect the company to announce a premium online service on top of its existing free one.

Big games will be on display as well, from both console manufacturers and independent game publishers. Among the titles gamers are interested in hearing more about this year are a new “Legend of Zelda” game from Nintendo, “Halo:Reach” from Microsoft (the last game the $1 billion franchise to be developed by its creator, Bungie Studios), a new “Call of Duty” title from Activision, a reboot of Electronic Arts’ “Medal of Honor” franchise and a new “Civilization” game from Take Two Interactive Studios.

“I think you’re going to see that this is a directional year for the industry,” says Hewitt. “You’re going to see a three-legged stool, with great titles, new hardware and new ways for companies to interact with consumers.”