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Analysis: How Important Is This Year's E3?

Analysis: How Important Is This Year's E3?

June 4, 2011 | By Chris Morris

[Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris considers how important E3 now is to the gaming industry, noting that "the industry has changed " and so have the marketing strategies of its players."]

As the circus comes to Los Angeles and the gaming industry prepares for the weeklong bacchanalia that is E3, there's already plenty of hype about what to expect, what will be said and what will be the biggest thing at the show.

These are all fun questions " but as E3 enters its 17th year, it's worth a look to see if the show is as important and as relevant to the industry as it was in years past. While E3 used to be a Mecca for game developers and publishers to show off their wares, the industry has changed " and so have the marketing strategies of its players.

E3, of course, is a show that is very console and dedicated handheld system focused. Mobile games for the iPhone, iPad and Android have a presence, though they certainly aren't center ring. And social network games, with the exception of Kabam and a few smaller players, are barely represented at all.

While graphically intense titles like Battlefield 3 and Uncharted 3 certainly make for better b-roll and have rabid fan bases, they're part of a field that hasn't shown a lot of growth in recent years.

And analysts say even with a new system reveal pending from Nintendo and more NGP details coming from Sony, the impact of those systems won't be as big as the previous generation.

"Platforms in the past were defined as something like a 10x improvement in graphics output and a bunch of other services," says John Taylor of Arcadia Research. "My sense is if you think that consoles equal platforms, the days of that parity are over. We've already started to see a platform transition."

"It just wasn't started by one of the big three we think of as platform transition initiators. It was started by broadband and Apple. If you look at who the audience is, the video game business is watching its share of wallet and coolness shift somewhere else " and a lot of those companies aren't represented at E3."

The two biggest of those players, of course, are Apple and Zynga. Apple has its own event going on up in San Francisco, while Zynga will stay on the sidelines. The ESA, to its credit, knows that adding Zynga to E3 is important to positioning the show as an all-inclusive trade event for the gaming industry.

"I would say Zynga is an opportunity for us," says Mike Gallagher, CEO of the ESA. "Obviously, they're enjoying meteoric growth. We believe there's a home for them at E3 and would very much like to see them at the show. I think that over time, they will find the path."

Whether E3 is at risk of becoming a bit niche-y on a broad scale isn't real important for the companies that will attend, though. And this year, no one needs to have a breakout show more than Nintendo.

Sure, Sony is still doing cleanup from the PR nightmare that came from its recent security lapses, but even without the NGP and whatever surprises it has up its sleeve, the company is already positioned well for holiday 2011 " with a trio of almost certain blockbusters: Resistance 3, Uncharted 3 and Twisted Metal.

Nintendo, though, is being closely watched after the 3DS has failed to gain " or even maintain " momentum. And while people are certainly curious about the system the company will showcase, "Project Cafe" (assuming that's an accurate guess at the code name) will have to strike a perfect balance. It can't be too similar to the Xbox 360 and PS3, since that won't be a strong incentive for customers to buy one. But it also can't be too much of a giant leap forward, since that could substantially increase development costs and risk for third-party publishers (especially if they can't port the games to other systems).

"For Nintendo, the show is critical," says Mike Hickey of Janco Partners. "They have to prove how their next generation console is going to find some demand. This is a monumental time for them."

With the industry's expanding focus and the number of competing shows (including PAX, BlizzCon and publisher-centric events) becoming venues for big announcements and unveils, E3 might not be absolute center of the gaming world like it once was " but let's face it, it's still a show you'd be a fool to miss.

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