E for All logs fewer test-drivers

18,000 turn out for videogame conference

There weren’t many lines and the hall wasn’t close to full of exhibitors, but the organizers of the first E for All videogame confab, essentially a public version of the old E3, say they’re pleased with the results and are giving it another go next year.

According to IDG World Expo, which ran the event, approximately 18,000 people attended E for All between Thursday and Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. By comparison, more than 60,000 people attended E3 at the same location in May of 2006, even though that event was limited to invited industry professionals.

This year, E3 was turned into a much smaller conference held in several Santa Monica hotels.

Midday Saturday, E for All was far from bustling. Well over 100 PCs and console demo stations were empty. The only long lines were for the two games making their public debut at the show: Nintendo’s “Super Smash Bros.” and Konami’s “Metal Gear Solid 4.” Other highly anticipated upcoming games, like “Guitar Hero 3” and “Rock Band,” had lines just a few people deep.

“It’s not all about the crowds for us and the number of people here,” said Carolyn Rauch, veep of event development at IDG. “We put great games in the hands of gamers and offered quality time with the products. We’re thrilled.”

While E3 filled up the entire convention center, E for All used only the South Hall, and only about two-thirds of that space was taken up by exhibitors. Major videogame companies that skipped the first E for All included Sony, Microsoft, Activision, Ubisoft, Vivendi, LucasArts, Capcom and Midway.

Only Nintendo, Konami and THQ set up somewhat elaborate booths that approached what they used to have at E3. EA’s space was a much more subdued affair, while Take Two showed off only one game. Many of the other 70-plus exhibitors were ones that cater to gamers, such as GameTrailers.com and Major League Gaming.

Given that, some gamers may have been put off by the ticket prices: $50 for Thursday and Friday, $75 for Saturday and Sunday, or $90 for four days.

Insiders at several game publishers, speaking on background, said they weren’t convinced that exhibiting at E for All would be a good use of their marketing dollars. Some also pointed to the mid-October date, when many of the top holiday games already have been heavily previewed. Others, like “Halo 3,” are already on sale.

Rauch granted that the October date wasn’t ideal, and was chosen because the convention center wasn’t available earlier. IDG has scheduled 2008’s E for All in late August. That should work better with publisher’s marketing plans and allow more students to attend on weekdays.

Rauch said she’s confident the new date, along with results from this year’s event, will help E for All grow next year.

“No matter what you’re bringing to market, whether it’s a business or a restaurant or a product, there are going to be people who take a wait-and-see approach,” she said. “Our view is that the early adopters had a great experience. … We are definitely doing it next year. There’s no doubt about it.”