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E3 2011

This E3 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on June 10, 2011. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.

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The Electronic Entertainment Expo returned to the Los Angeles Convention Center June 7-9, 2011, heralding the arrival of the year's hottest video games! This year the big Electronic Arts (EA) title "Battlefield 3" held the coveted prime advertising spot on the front of the convention center, this is the third year in a row EA games have been featured in this way, go team! (disclaimer: I am an EA employee.) Also catching my eye was a cost-effective marketing stunt by id/Bethesda promoting their upcoming game "Rage", which covered the front of the convention center with blood-crazed mutants!

The Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) has four convention halls, with the two big halls, South and West, filled with exhibits and open to attendees. Typically the South Hall is for more general gaming, with the West Hall targeted at dedicated consoles. Leading video game publisher Electronic Arts has long held the best booth position in the South Hall, it's the first thing you see as you walk through the doors, and it is jammed to the gills with people from the moment the show opens until closing time. This year EA featured a smaller set of big, high-quality games including Star Wars: The Old Republic (booyah!), Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, the Curt Schilling-developed game "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning", and of course the EA standards Madden 12, FIFA 12, and the Sims in various forms. This year it was unusually difficult to pick the "winner" at E3, but based on the widest, deepest product line of strong games, I give that award to Electronic Arts!

However, I would like to say that I personally dislike the design of the EA booth, it is not photo-friendly at all, making it very hard to tell EA's E3 story in pictures. EA focuses on closed-door presentations, delivering a consistent, focused marketing message in a controlled environment, which is great for the company's needs, but as a photographer the booth comes across as a little sterile and corporate, kind of like a really attractive person with their shirt buttoned up one button too high. E3 is primarily a dog-and-pony show, can we bring some dogs and ponies next time?

In that vein, I have to give the award for "best marketing stunt making me think about a game I've never thought about" to "World of Tanks", which had a seemingly omnipresent parade of armored vehicles appearing around the convention center. I think this is an RTS-MMO style game featuring tank battles, I will definitely give it a look after having my consciousness raised by some inexpensive clever marketing. Well played, panzer dudes, well played.

One recognizable trend that is still going strong is dancing games, my personal favorite, "Dance Central" from Harmonix, had a nice booth in the Microsoft area featuring the sequel to last year's smash Kinect hit. I believe Dance Central 2 can actually score two dancers simultaneously, which would be fantastic, making the game more of a competition than just a solo thing. This is a definite buy for me. Also with strong showings in the dance category was "Just Dance 3" from Ubisoft for the Wii, and "Glee", which is kind of a karaoke dance game inspired by the TV show of the same name.

Speaking of Kinect, Microsoft featured it very strongly with many, many games now supporting this unique device. Developers have only begun to exploit the potential of this amazing technology, I would love to see Kinect-inspired tech influence other areas of consumer devices, like cameras for instance, would be so great to have a "smart" camera that recognized people, could hold focus on the eyes automatically, detect depth in the scene, etc. I salute Microsoft and the Kinect developers for introducing something truly new to the videogame and technology worlds, now we just need more games that truly deliver on Kinect's potential. I give credit where credit is due, so yes, Microsoft, I consider the ass kicked.

There were two new platform announcements at the show, but they were surprisingly-low profile. Sony offered up the PSP sequel "PS Vita", a portable gaming device featuring Wi-Fi and 3G networking, and Nintendo introduced the oddly-as-ever-named "Wii U", which is a giant controller featuring a six-inch embedded screen with motion controls. I couldn't actually try these out myself since there were multi-hour lines to see them, and I don't do lines because if I did I wouldn't have any time for photos, but I'm sure we'll hear more about these as they get closer to release. Sony and Nintendo both had big booths, but for some reason they didn't make much of an impression on me.

In past years, E3 gained a reputation for being an "anything goes" show with outrageous marketing, especially involving scantily-clad busty women. That has been toned down very strongly in recent years and now it's actually pretty tame, in fact IMHO they have erred too far to the other extreme of being a little too politically correct and concerned with criticism of past practices. There were quite a few pretty ladies at the show, but for the most part the in-your-face sexiness is gone, I get the impression show organizers have introduced some kind of secret dress code and they no longer allow really skimpy outfits. For example, the Take-Two booth featured a photo-op for the explicitly sexual game "Duke Nukem Forever", but the "booth babes" in that area were dressed in very mild outfits that could have been a lot more appropriately outrageous, considering the game they were promoting. Whoever is in charge of enforcing political correctness at the ESA, here's a clue for you: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS BORING. I would prefer a "this is what I am and what are you gonna do about it?" attitude, this is the video game business, not a PTA meeting, jeez!

Video game network G4TV had a very high profile at the show, sponsoring the official swag bag and doing many hours live from the show floor. I spotted all the hosts from "Attack of the Show" and "X-Play", and I caught pretty lady Sara Underwood doing a wacky promotional spot involving well-armed women. G4 really went all out, bringing back their G4 Girls, four lovely gamer ladies, in sexy outfits who very graciously posed for photo-op after photo-op with great smiles. You go, girls!

Video game giant Activision returned to the show floor after being absent last year. I don't know the story behind the scenes of Activision's reluctance to participate in the show, but they had a large booth this year featuring "Modern Warfare 3", the latest entry in their smash hit military shooter series. Their booth was very crowded with people watching the marketing videos for it and several other games, but I wish this company had done more. For instance, Blizzard, the incredibly successful other half of Activision/Blizzard, did not attend at all, preferring to hold their own BlizzCon show later in the year just featuring Blizzard games. Considering BlizzCon isn't until late October, and Blizzard is LA-based, I think they easily could have participated in E3 and were definitely missed, since their World of Warcraft game has been dominating the MMO business for years.

Speaking of things missing from the show, the video game business has changed greatly since the first E3 almost 20 years ago. Instead of games being packaged in boxes, sold in retail stores, and marketed in printed magazines, now we have Internet distribution, Facebook games, the iPhone, tablets, bloggers, Twitter... it would be nice to have a show that reflected these new realities. For example, smash portable hit "Angry Birds" was nowhere to be found, Zynga's hit games including Farmville were not there, and Apple, whose visionary smart portable devices have changed gaming, was not only not at the show, they scheduled a competing event directly against E3!

Anyway E3 2011 was fun as always, there are many great games coming out over the next year, this is a time of rapid change in the games business, and the meteoric rise of new market participants definitely reflects that. I can't predict what the future holds other than having absolute confidence there will be more and more great games to play for all types of people.

See you next year!

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