A Hint at What’s to Come at This Week’s E3

E3 is the adrenalin-powered, Red Bull-infused, brain-thumping event of the year for the videogame industry.

At the three-day show, which unofficially kicks off tomorrow and ends Thursday, hardcore gamers will get a preview of all the big-budget productions that will be released in time for the holidays.

But this year, in addition to the regular dose of blood and guts and first-person shooters, expect the videogame industry’s softer side to be on display.

Game companies are starting to recognize that in order to attract larger audiences, they need to appeal to a broader set of people.

The trend is being fueled by Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, which will be looking for ways to extend the life cycle of the major game consoles, all of which are about five years old now. The shift is also gaining acceptance as big companies are finding large audiences on digital platforms, like the Internet and Facebook.

Ubisoft’s SVP of Sales and Marketing, Tony Key, said they are pushing three things this year at E3: core, casual and online.

It will be talking about a wide range of games, including several Facebook games in the works, hardcore titles like the latest Assassin’s Creed, and casual titles like Rocksmith, which allows players to connect a real guitar to a videogame console to learn how to play the instrument. ”Online is just another point of excitement for the business–it’s just another platform,” he said. “I think this is the best E3 for publishers, like Ubisoft, to showcase how they are viewing the space and what the right strategies are at the moment.”

But while more traditional publishers will be announcing digital strategies, there are some purists in attendance, too. In fact, a contingency of more alternative companies at E3 are jokingly calling themselves “That Other Platform.”

In a message sent to reporters, the companies write:

You’ve been to all the press conferences. Now, please join us as we celebrate:

  • the one that DOESN’T have an army of PR people and a $50 million marketing budget.
  • the one that DOES have an installed base of greater than 1.5 billion.
  • the one that DOES have the world’s best developers.

All jokes aside, the show would not be complete without some hardcore talk. Here’s what to expect on the hardware side of the business:

  • Nintendo will unveil its new Wii console on Tuesday.
  • Plenty of new games for Nintendo’s recently released 3DS, a handheld game player, which has been slow to take off.
  • Microsoft and Sony’s respective motion-controlled systems, the Kinect and Move.
  • Sony’s new NGP, which is its latest handheld gaming device coming soon.

This year’s E3, short for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is the 17th annual event thrown by the Entertainment Software Association, which is dedicated to companies that publish games and develop video game consoles. This year, the association said it is expecting 45,000 attendees and 250 exhibitors at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

One of the companies that will be a prime example of shifting its focus from a hardcore audience to an entertainment focus is Microsoft’s Xbox.

It has sold more than 53 million Xbox 360 consoles and has more than 30 million Xbox LIVE members who access content digitally over the Internet. It has also sold more than 10 million Kinects to date.

Tomorrow at the company’s early morning press conference, it will discuss how its not just a gaming device, but an entertainment hub for your living room.

Already, 40 percent of all Xbox activity is non-game with video with video consumption hitting an average of 30 hours a month per Xbox.

As the console makers run out of new reasons for strict gamers to buy them, diversification is key.

In advance of its press conference tomorrow, Microsoft provide this chart from NPD to show the trend lines for consoles during their lifespan (and how Xbox is doing relatively well because of its focus on entertainment):


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik