Epic week awaits the world's video gamers
By Andy Goldberg May 8, 2006, 23:12 GMT
Los Angeles - Self-described video game junkie Hal Stricklen sat in his basement apartment Monday morning, absent-mindedly fiddling with his controller as he talked dreamily about the epic week ahead.
'I've been fantasizing about E3 for months,' said the 24-year-old game software programmer.
He was talking about the Electronic Entertainment Exposition - the world's biggest showcase for the video game industry. This year's event will have more pizzazz than an over-caffeinated video game pro.
That's because the typical five-year-cycle of innovation in the video game industry has reached its peak. The powerful Microsoft Xbox 360 console was launched late last year, to rave reviews and red-hot sales. Now its two main competitors are set to challenge it with their own new machines, offering some compelling alternatives.
The three-day event in Los Angeles officially kicks off on Wednesday, when 70,000 industry pros will burst through the doors of Los Angeles' Staples Centre to ogle at the goods of 400 different companies, all competing for a chunk of the 25-billion-dollar annual video game pie.
But in the industry's constant race for hype and media attention, Sony jumped the gun with a Monday press conference to unveil its hotly awaited and often delayed new video game console, PlayStation 3.
Later in the week, Nintendo will offer demonstrations of its own new console, originally named the Revolution but now called the Wii (pronounced We).
Microsoft, meanwhile, is believed to be saving a little something to renew interest in its Xbox 360, which could quickly appear dated if Sony and Nintendo deliver the magic they have been promising.
Over the last few years, Sony has dominated the console market. It has sold more than 100 million PlayStation 2 consoles, compared to 24 million Microsoft Xbox consoles and 21 million Nintendo GameCubes.
But the company has been in a financial and creative funk for several years and the PS3 will play a key role in the fate of the iconic Japanese company. Rather than just a gaming console, Sony sees the PS3 as the digital centre of the living room - the key home entertainment device of the digital media age.
'The PS3 is one of Sony Corp's most significant product launches in a long time,' a Sony executive told the Los Angeles Times.
The console features cutting edge microprocessors in a cell formation, which Sony claims makes it far more powerful than the Xbox 360. It has networking capabilities and Sony's next generation DVD technology, known as Blu-ray.
But the complexity of the technology forced Sony to delay its launch until November of this year, giving Microsoft a headstart of an entire year and 10 million units sold. The price of the PS3 is estimated to reach 500 dollars in the US - 100 dollars more than a top-level Xbox 360.
'As a consumer, different from any other console cycle, when I buy this thing, I'm getting a hybrid device - I'm getting a high-definition movie player,' said Michael Pachter, Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst.
Nintendo is the only game-focused company of the three console makers and dismisses the Sony and Microsoft approaches as missing the point of games - namely fun. Hence the Wii, which is offering a radically different mode of game playing, with a controller that reacts to moving it in the air rather than just pushing buttons.
The game company says the innovation allows it to produce better games more easily than the multimillion dollar investments needed for its competitors. Nintendo's decision not to maximize the machine's graphics ability means it can be sold for just 200 dollars and establish itself as the undisputed champion of family video game consoles.
Microsoft is also expected to make big news. The war game Halo 2 was one of the defining games of the previous generation with its online play options and rich environments. The company is rumoured to be planning the launch of Halo 3 to coincide with the debut of the PS3 and is expected to demonstrate the new blockbuster game at its press conference Tuesday.
For programmer Stricklin, success is assured no matter who comes out on top.
'The companies can battle it out - and we get the benefits with great new systems. They will all appeal to different people. Personally, I'd like them all.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur