Scaled-back event loses some of its luster

What if they threw a vidgame confab and no one came?

The Los Angeles Convention Center, site of the much ballyhooed annual E3 show, was eerily quiet last week. Packed with more than 60,000 industryites just two years ago, the LACC had fewer than 5,000 this time around.

It’s the second year since the Entertainment Software Assn., which puts on E3, radically downsized the event to allay publishers’ concerns over costs. But unlike last year, when E3 was scattered across an unwieldy group of hotels in Santa Monica, the confab was back in its traditional home, and the contrast was striking.

When E3 scaled back two years ago to become an intimate “summit” for industry heavyweights and press, new events aimed at the gaming public like the Penny Arcade Expo in August and E for All in October started taking some of the marketing dollars that publishers used to spend on E3.

Now, with so few attendees, and major publisher Activision Blizzard entirely absent, the E3 site took on an eerily muted vibe.

Lines (even to the restrooms) were non-existent, hallways were wide open, and there was a distinct lack of excitement, with few new games or partnerships unveiled.

Biggest news of the week, in fact, was a fight between Microsoft and “Halo” developer Bungie that led to a much- anticipated game announcement being canceled.

Company CEOs and developers say the ESA scaled back the show at the request of publishers, many are now putting on their own events at other times of the year. A senior executive at one big publisher says all the press and investors he met at E3 were people he’d already talked to at other events in recent months. Indeed, the fast-growing Game Developers Conference in March saw much of the action already.

While many upcoming games got their moment in the spotlight, numerous attendees says E3 simply no longer has the energy and excitement a red-hot industry deserves.

And for a biz built on frantic button-mashing action, the pall was palpable.

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