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What's old is new again: the Electronics Entertainment Expo returns to its flashy form after two years of blandness.
Article by William Hong
Photos and captions by Oliver Chien
Before video game developers and publishers had their own annual trade show, they went to shows like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to display their latest titles. Developers became frustrated with CES after they were denied a private meeting space, so Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), the industry's trade association, decided to form an annual trade show exclusively for video games. The Electronics Entertainment Expo, E3 for short, was born in 1995 and was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was a showcase for upcoming games and a forum for game developers to speak out.
Aside from a two-year excursion in Atlanta, the event occurs annually in Los Angeles in May and June. It was initially open to the public, but eventually became an invitation-only industry trade show limited to game developers and the professional press. Despite the restrictions, E3 continued to grow as video games became a multi-billion dollar industry. Since its inception, other conventions have emerged, like Leipzig Games Convention in Germany, the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, and the Tokyo Game Show. But E3 remains the biggest of them all due to its ability to draw the best of the best from the industry. To many, E3 is video game mecca, where all the big game developers and journalists inevitably converge every year to take part in the ultimate showcase in interactive digital entertainment.
With their own forum, the big companies reveled in showmanship and tried to one-up each another. At the first E3 in 1995, Sony famously announced that the original PlayStation would only cost $299 after Sega announced their Saturn console would retail for $399. At E3 1996, Nintendo mesmerized the American public with the revolutionary Super Mario 64, Mario's first 3D adventure on the Nintendo 64. Sony Computer Entertainment of America President Kaz Hirai boldly (and correctly) declared at E3 2002 that "the console war is over" after the PlayStation 2 had reached an insurmountable lead in sales over the Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft Xbox. Reggie Fils-Aime's electrifying debut at Nintendo's press conference at E3 2004 helped reverse the struggling company's fortune, giving Nintendo the charismatic spokesman it desperately needed. Along with the highs, there have been some infamous miscues. Like Sega's shocking announcement that they had prematurely launched the Saturn the day of their press conference, effectively alienating developers and retailers left out of the loop. Then there's Sony's disastrous E3 2006 press conference that turned many gamers against the then-reigning market leader.
Celebrities were invited to promote games, popular bands performed, and sexy models were hired to entice gamers to check out their (company's) goods. It grew bigger, flashier, and louder, until the game developers and the media bemoaned that all the glitz diverted attention from the actual games. Small companies that couldn't afford the flashy excess of their wealthier competitors were overlooked on the show floor. The media complained that the lines to play games on the show floor became exorbitant because of all the non-industry attendees that somehow got their way into the show. It was also difficult to properly gauge a game in a distractingly loud and open environment. Their complaints were acknowledged, and in 2006 the Entertainment Software Association, the organization formerly known as the IDSA, announced it would downscale and restructure E3 to shed all the excess distractions to focus solely on the games and developers. No more elaborate booths and booth babes, and the event would be strictly invitation-only. This new format would bring a much needed change to E3...or so every one thought.
E3 was moved from one centralized location in the LACC to various hotels spread throughout Santa Monica in 2007. It also took place in mid-July, allowing game developers more time to polish their products for the show. The format proved to be a logistical nightmare for many, with the hotels being too spread out and difficult to find. The ESA listened to the complaints again and E3 2008 returned to the LACC. By then various game publishes like Activision were fed up with the ESA's shifting policies and outright skipped E3 in lieu of their own press events. Transplanting that small-scale E3 format into a forum meant for spectacle resulted in a very quiet and empty LACC. E3 was depressing, cried the media. Suddenly the industry was nostalgic for the old E3 format it had criticized. So the ESA acquiesced and promised to make E3 a show once more. And oh yes, even the booth babes were allowed to return.
This year's E3 lacked any real surprises or drama, since a majority of the games displayed were all to be expected and news leaks ruined a lot of surprises, most notably Sony's PSP Go, a redesign of the portable device with a slide-up screen, 16 gigs of internal memory, and no UMD drive. The most noteworthy celebs on hand were Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr with Microsoft to promote the much-anticipated Beatles Rock Band.
In a move that surprised no one, Microsoft and Sony announced their own motion-control devices to counter the Wii's motion-sensing remote. Microsoft unveiled Project Natal, a motion-sensing add-on camera rumored to be the basis for the Xbox 360's successor. Famed Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima announced that the next Metal Gear Solid title would also appear on the Xbox 360. Square Enix also demo'ed Final Fantasy XIII at Microsoft's event. Both franchises were once exclusively available on the PlayStation 3, so these announcements were major coups for Microsoft. They also announced the latest entry in the hit Halo series, Halo ODST, and showed off exclusive third party games like Splinter Cell Conviction and Left 4 Dead 2.
Sony unveiled its own unnamed motion-sensor controller prototype with an impressive tech demo. They also had a solid stable of sequels like Uncharted 2, Gran Turismo 5, and God of War 2, along with new titles like the massively multiplayer action game MAG, the much anticipated Last Guardian, and the noir murder mystery Heavy Rain. To complement the PSP Go, Sony displayed much-needed software with PSP adaptations of Little Big Planet, Soul Calibur, and Gran Turismo.
Nintendo played it safe with a new Wii Fit sequel and announced the Wii Vitality Sensor, a Wii remote add-on that monitors the player's pulse and "inner balance," an announcement that hard-core Nintendo gamers won't care about. Not forgetting that hard-to-please demographic, Nintendo also announced the latest entries in their long-running Mario (Super Mario Wii), Zelda (The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks), and Metroid (Metroid: Other M) franchises. The real announcements and excitement are usually found at these press conferences and closed doors events, but that draw is somewhat diminished now that they are easily viewable to anyone thanks to the Internet.
It remains to be seen how long game companies will be content with the current format, but critics overwhelmingly welcomed E3's return to form. It was slightly low-key in comparison to the previous glitz blitz E3s in 2005 and 2006, but it was the show everyone wanted after those two dreadful years. There was also one ongoing rivalry on full display on the show floor: Steve Wiebe once again attempted (and failed) to break Billy Mitchell's world record score for Donkey Kong. Despite the lack of any truly shocking moments and drama, the developers, the media, and the gamers were just glad to have the show back the way it was meant to be: fun.
Date Posted: 6/19/2009