Expo returns to form with hyped-up atmosphere

The videogame industry prefers a hyped-up atmosphere when it comes to touting its new interactive titles — and the Electronic Entertainment Expo returned to form this year after downsized versions the past two years.

E3 wrapped Thursday, with more than 41,000 attendees hitting the confab’s show floor at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The event treats gamemakers as celebrities and offers first-looks at new games to boost buzz around a property created for consoles, handheld devices, personal computers and the Internet.

At the confab two years ago, major console makers and videogame publishers mostly held invite-only meetings with the news media, bloggers, retailers and other games biz players in hotel suites in Santa Monica and the Barker Hangar at the city’s airport.

Last year the gathering moved back to the convention center, but having fewer than 5,000 attendees roam around the large downtown venue — compared to the 60,000 that flocked to E3 in 2006 — hardly created a feeling of excitement around the games on display.

That clearly changed this year.

Companies spent lavishly on press conferences and parties, taking over the Shrine Auditorium, Club Nokia, the Wiltern, USC’s Galen Center, the Standard hotel and various other high-profile locations in downtown L.A. Big multi-story booths with massive videoscreens, extensive lighting displays and private suites were also back on the show’s main exhibit floor.

Hollywood star wattage included Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Jay-Z, Eminem and Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

The celeb factor, bright lights, stunning visuals and more critically embraced product certainly translated into considerable coverage on TV, websites and print as well as tweets on Twitter.

The move to a smaller event two years ago had been undertaken to help offset the financial burden for publishers looking to promote their games.

But the videogames biz has been on a winning streak over the past several years, earning a record $22 billion last year.

Deals were available to those who sought them, with hotels in the area greatly discounting room rates and venues eager to offer lower rates to land the business.

The biz needed to make some noise this year around its titles considering that consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have hit the midpoint in their life cycles.

Executives from heavy hitters like Microsoft and Electronic Arts as well as smaller publishers like SouthPeak Interactive Corp. endorsed the move back to a bigger format, declaring that E3 was “rejuvenated,” reflecting a rapidly growing industry.

Disney Interactive Studios exec VP-general manager Graham Hopper said the excitement the show generates “is an important business driver.”

Richard Iggo, VP for marketing at SouthPeak Interactive, agreed.

“For us, E3 is about building our brand, showcasing titles and making the business connections necessary to deliver high-quality entertainment,” he said. “This is once again the industry’s launchpad for computer and video game news.”

Overall, more than 216 exhibitors were on hand to push product bowing through the end of next year at the show, according to the Entertainment Software Assn., which produces the confab.

Attendees from 78 countries visited the show during its June 2-4 run and in the days leading up to it.

“We are pleased that this year’s E3 Expo was so successful for our members and exhibitors in terms of sales, business development and profile-building,” said Michael D. Gallagher, prexy-chief exec of the ESA.

Next year’s event will be back at the convention center June 15-17.

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