The Electronic Entertainment Expo is big. Mind-bogglingly big. That's the first thing you probably want to understand about this annual trade show, which was held last week in Los Angeles. It boasts fewer attendees than Macworld Expo, actually, but the 50-60,000 persons who do attend either have a professional connection to the industry or pay $200 each for an exhibits-only pass ($250 at the door). And it's not just well-heeled gaming fans who spend a lot of money on the show: booths are fabulously expensive, with every exhibitor pulling out all the stops to compete for attention in a market that's used to high-tech flash.
E3 has grown to fill all four halls of the huge Los Angeles Convention Center: several football fields' worth of floor space. This year's Expo was substantially larger than the last I attended, sometime in the late '90s and, mercifully, quieter. Gone were the competing two-story high speakers towers pounding ears into jelly. Aural and visual stimulation still floods the senses from every direction, but at least this year an exhibitor could describe his upcoming wares to someone standing two feet away without using a microphone.
Little expense seems to be spared on the show floor at E3, what with booth design and construction, sound systems, video screens ranging from merely large to gigantic, and personnel. Microsoft, for example, claimed to have brought 800 to 1000 employees to E3 (depending on whom you asked no more than one or two hundred were ever in evidence on the show floor).
Many of the publishers seemed to have restrained themselves this year, however, when it came to hiring the "booth babes" for which E3 is so justly famous, and while there were still models aplenty, the extremes of earlier years were avoided by those companies who may not have wished to appear ridiculous.
Nor was expense confined to the show floor. Sony, for example, is rumored to have spent on the order of one million dollars this year on their off-site party, which featured the band Aerosmith. (Mac press don't get invited to the console parties, alas, but then almost any E3 party would be anticlimactic after the late-lamented Inscape's party one year featuring Stan Ridgway.)
The second thing to understand about E3 is that the PC gaming industry is the small fry. Consoles dominate the show. Microsoft's black polo-shirted legions, for example, weren't there to promote their PC games, but rather the Xbox. (The company did have some PC gaming folks there, but they wore white polo shirts, and they were far fewer.)
The importance of the PC gaming industry at E3 is not in the size of its business (as large as it is in its own right, it pales next to the console market), but in the leading role it takes in the development of new titles, many of the more successful of which will find their way to the consoles. Almost no one shows currently released titles at E3; all of the attention is on what's coming next.
Later in this retrospective I'll be giving my impressions of some of the more memorable games from the Expo likely to come to the Mac, those that haven't already been covered by my IMG colleagues Lucian Fong and Michael Yanovich.