July 11, 2007 5:08 PM PDT

At E3, entertainment is the name of the game

SANTA MONICA, Calif.--The major game-console makers at this year's E3 Media and Business Summit had a similar message: it's not gaming, it's entertainment.

Of course, the three companies--Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony--were all eager to highlight their successes and differentiate themselves from their rivals. Nintendo is at the top of the heap this year after the wild and serendipitous rise of its Wii console, a status exemplified by Nintendo America President and CEO Reggie Fils-Aime's onstage declaration, "My name is Reggie, and I'm happy."

But beyond that, the "Big 3" at E3 were all about the "E" word. All three presentations stressed a common goal of establishing video games as a form of entertainment that's unquestionably on a par with television or film. As a result--despite the fact that the revamped E3 is smaller, quieter and more exclusive than its massive predecessor--there was nothing low key about the console companies' presentations. With massive video screens, surround sound and fancy lighting, the atmosphere had the feel of a movie premiere. Game previews, with their emphasis on action and storyline, were virtually indistinguishable from film trailers.

The exception was Nintendo, which spent nearly as much time running third-party clips about the Wii and the DS Lite--from news reports to YouTube videos to The Colbert Report and South Park--as it did showing off new games. It's notable, because not only does the Wii have the cultural impact factor and the potential for visual-friendly imagery of people swinging "Wiimotes" like tennis rackets or bowling balls, but it also has the disadvantage of lower-end graphics that just aren't as eye-catching on a big screen as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.

Special coverage
E3 2007: A gathering of game makers
Although the game conference has been pared down, hopes are high for a strong slate of new games.

"Looking back, E3 here in 2007 may well be seen as a coming-out party for an entire industry," Nintendo's Fils-Aime said in his speech, "the moment that it became finally clear that video games would take their place alongside TV, music and movies as a staple of leisure entertainment."

Peter Moore, Microsoft's corporate vice president of interactive entertainment, highlighted statistics from PricewaterhouseCoopers that predicted the gaming industry would surpass the music industry in the amount of cash raked in this year.

Additionally, focusing on the entertainment factor was one thing that the companies could use to get the attendees excited. It was a bit of a catch-22 for the console manufacturers: the "new E3" was supposed to cut down on the glitz factor, but at the same time, it was clear that the likes of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo needed to use some smoke and mirrors (literally) to mask the fact that there weren't going to be a whole lot of shocking moments.

The vast majority of games had already been announced and many had been previously demonstrated, and hardware announcements were minor. Sony made some improvements to its PlayStation Portable, trimming down its size, improving its video quality and battery life, and touting the Darth Vader-emblazoned Star Wars edition; Microsoft unveiled a new Halo 3-themed Xbox 360 and a special new controller for casual games like Scene-It; and Nintendo introduced some new Wii accessories like a zapper gun, an exercise balance board, and a steering wheel.

It probably won't be clear until the end of the week whether the eye-catching game trailers and lavish demonstrations like Microsoft's smoke-machine-laden debut of the Rock Band will have been enough to keep jaded press members and analysts at bay, but Microsoft executive Peter Moore's "rendition" of the Hives' Main Offender on the new music game certainly elicited some laughs.

Gaming can be social
Aside from entertainment, the three press events shared two more-common buzzwords: connectivity and versatility. The companies highlighted their individual online hubs--Microsoft's Xbox Live, Sony's PlayStation Network and Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console--as responsible for breaking video gaming out of its solitary shell and making it a legitimately social experience. Sony spent a significant amount of time highlighting the "Home" virtual world associated with the PlayStation 3, with Sony Computer Entertainment America president and CEO Jack Tretton using his Home avatar rather than a physical appearance to greet the audience (though he did walk onstage several minutes later). Nintendo announced a new "channel" for the Wii completely devoted to players' "Mii" avatars, which have become a phenomenon themselves.

Microsoft doesn't have any kind of formal social network associated with the Xbox 360, but the company instead touted the sheer volume of its Xbox Live network. "This is the largest community connected to the television," said Jeff Bell, Microsoft's corporate vice president of global marketing. "Last year at E3 we said that Xbox Live would grow to 6 million members by now," he said, noting that it proceeded to hit 7 million. "We've added a new member every eight seconds. This community continues to grow, and before next year's E3, we're forecasting that we will cross the 10 million member mark."

Then there's versatility. All three companies cited examples of how their consoles can be used as living room media centers rather than just gaming devices: Sony showed off the American Idol-like game SingStar, coming to U.S. markets for the first time on the PlayStation 3, and repeatedly emphasized the Blu-ray player built into the console. Nintendo, following in the success of its Wii Sports game suite, demonstrated Wii Fit, which deviates even more from the gaming norm by using the console for aerobics, yoga and even posture improvement games. Microsoft catered more to the couch potato demographic with its announcement that select movies from Disney will be available for purchase through its Xbox Live Marketplace download service, and hyped its new version of the popular movie trivia game Scene-It, previously available only as a DVD game.

There was still plenty of catering toward the hard-core audience, especially at Microsoft's Halo-heavy event. But it was clear that expanding the consoles' functionality to encompass everything like movies, karaoke and even fitness has been a hot priority for all three companies since their launch. The video game industry obviously does want to achieve the privileged status--and it's getting there--of being considered alongside movies and television as a mainstay of entertainment, art and culture.

But there's also the simple drive to maximize profit. The more versatile a pricey video game console is, more consumers, particularly those who don't consider themselves "gamers" in the traditional sense," will be more likely to consider forking over the cash for one.

See more CNET content tagged:
Nintendo Co. Ltd., entertainment, Nintendo Wii, console, games

3 comments

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Heres a question
If you created a co-operative group that propergated loads of nature (trees,srubs,creatures) everywhere.
Technically were doing this alongside the oppisite(clurination, destructive viruses, nuclear testing, deforestation).
What would you need to help it all grow.
Coal fired power planets thats what.
everwher right now life can grow it is more so than 15 years ago.
Um lovley c02.
By the way Isreal is more lightly to launch nukes to control islam some more from evolving and not wanting war than islam is evolving and wanting any kind of war at all Not that it all isn't islam anyway.
Oh and by the way someone please help china to ban the one child rule and work on a more equlibrious solution where the gender balance is restord.
Plus lets get these exsses hormones out of our food supply causing our western gender balance to go the other way.
Who here knws what peganism is really about.
The earth have spoken and it's decided to propergate life more and stop being so cruel to us for a while.
We must make sure those o2 levels don't get to high generations from now.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
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right the offering.
Um what sony could do next
thinking..........
First things first whats sony got.
Music access, graphics chip market access, Movie industrial access, IBM Cell technology.
All very usful.
just inventing somthing a minute..............
..............................
my brain is actually finding looking for a bone difficult.
Lets pinch some new technologies
high speed ram and flash chips.
ok lets pinch some more developed stuff.
chi technologies for hands (blood monitoring).

ok i got a small bone.
like an old light gun but can point at screen and go back and forth for new types of god games (would make great use of cell and show of physics and graphics better).

ok lets expand interests further to invent somthing.
lets bring in the DLP.
ok lets hunt for somthing more to work out how to trump the wii VR edge.
my mind is now entering the uninvented looking for what you could do with the ps3 right nowish.
......................................
ok now to use only uninvented infared technlogies and DLPs.
Still contemplating this difficult invention calculation.
Do you know what the great mind of mr marsh has cracked it.
Ok i'm getting somwhere here i'll be back with another post as to the solution.
I say this becase i want the cybertronics industry this all could fund in Japan so rest assured Sony i'll be back.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ok then Sony
I've done a bit of thinking and will email you guys personally after i've invented some more.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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