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E3: Final thoughts

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - This year's E3 wasn't quite as quiet and low-key as it was last year, but it didn't manage to be what it once was (bombastic yet important) thanks to a lack of meaningful announcements on one hand, and on the other a continued effort to keep it small. But can it survive this way?

Blogs were abuzz over the weekend with commentary on the fact that EA head John Riccitiello said he "hated" the current E3, and in general few industry and press were happy about the direction it has taken.

If you can bear my editorializing, E3 has reaped the audience it had sown years ago with an endless and desensitizing parade of spectacle. Last year the attempt to reorganize itself as a business summit failed completely – the fan-boys weren't happy and the industry wasn't well served either.

This year's near-middle ground, where a large quotient of fan-boy press covered games and press conferences while established press struggled to make interviews and appointments in a confusing landscape of competing time slots and meetings, didn't seem to do anyone any favours either. Especially the industry – whereas E3 was once of at least some use as a place to do business with buyers and publishers, I find it hard to see what use it has for that now.

So what can be done?

E3 either needs to get a hell of a lot larger again, or stick to the plan and get even smaller and more business-oriented. Larger, it'll make the fan-boys of the internet more happy with more news and more spectacle. Smaller, it'll serve the industry better (as long as anyone still wants to come by if the show shrinks).

My personal view? Have a real press accreditation system and make it a festival of meaningful interviews with creatives and executives that will serve readers with interesting content, while allowing a space for publishers and developers to show upcoming titles to specifically business orientated guests. It'll never happen, though.

Anyway, even if this year's E3 was generally considered a failure, there were several things to take away from it. Here's CBC Tech Byte's "cheat sheet" on all that was important from E3 2008:

  • The iPhone's app store might have launched with a bang, but games companies still have no idea what to do with the iPhone itself. Companies such as THQ Wireless are releasing weak cellphone ports that fail to use the touchscreen in a meaningful way, and even titans like EA are releasing lame-duck titles like Scrabble and Sudoku. It really could be one of the most important gaming devices there is, but on the basis of what was on display at this E3 it won't happen for a while.
  • First/Third-Person Shooters set in destroyed cities are hot, hot hot! From Gears of War 2 through Project Origin to Resistance 2, this is one genre that's getting played out fast.
  • Retro games are back in a big way. Not just Capcom's Megaman 9, but small publishers are being very canny with their game selections – up-and-coming publisher XSeed is localizing both a new version of classic god-game Populous for DS and a game entirely about the retro experience, Retro Game Master.
  • Music games aren't losing any momentum. This holiday season is going to be a cutthroat battle between Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2. We're betting on Guitar Hero reclaiming its crown as king of the genre.
  • Nintendo is making so much money it genuinely couldn't care less about the hardcore gamer. Microsoft is aiming for that middle ground (both hardcore and casual). Sony doesn't have a clue who it is aiming at – but as long as it funds amazing experiences like thatgamecompany's Flower, I'll let them get away with it.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)

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