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Game Expo E3 to Scale Down

Times Staff Writer

For E3, it’s game over as many gamers know it.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, the video game industry’s annual trade show in Los Angeles that had morphed into a mecca for fanatics and a spectacle complete with “booth babes” and Lara Croft look-alikes, will be scaled down, a move that could hurt the city’s tourism economy.

Organizers announced Monday that the 2007 event would be held at hotels throughout Los Angeles, rather than in the downtown convention center.

The news caught convention center officials by surprise. E3, held here since 1995 except for two years when it was in Atlanta, is one of the largest events at the Los Angeles Convention Center, drawing 60,000 attendees, who inject $19 million into the local economy.

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The trade show, sponsored by the Entertainment Software Assn., sprawled over more than 1 million square feet, with companies such as Electronic Arts Inc. pouring millions into attention-grabbing displays.

This year’s show featured extravagant after-hours parties that included Nintendo Co. renting out a Hollywood nightclub for a Black Eyed Peas concert and Sony Corp. throwing an Incubus concert at Dodger Stadium. Scantily clad women -- whose costumes included gun-slinging assassins and cheerleaders -- paraded around the show, despite efforts to crack down on provocative attire.

“It’s not good news,” said Michael Collins, executive vice president of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, on the show’s move away from downtown. “There is no question that we are going to feel the loss of 36,000 room nights, certainly in ’07 and ’08.”

Collins said he did not know the extent of the loss because the software association’s plans for the 2007 event were still being developed.

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The news comes as the city is trying to lure convention and meeting planners who have long ignored Los Angeles because it lacked adequate hotel space. Plans for LA Live, the 27-acre entertainment-sports complex near Staples Center -- and the recent announcement of two new hotels there -- have injected optimism into the city’s convention business.

The news shocked hard-core video game fans, who lamented the change on Internet message boards.

Entries on blogs and message boards Monday read like this: “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” and “Am I dreaming? ... Someone tell me this is a cruel, late April Fool’s Day joke.”

E3 is meant to be a showcase for companies to launch their goods before the media, investors and retailers. It is not open to the public, but joystick-hugging teenagers managed to finagle their way into the show, along with hundreds of gaming bloggers and video game fanatics.

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Entertainment Software Assn. President Doug Lowenstein said the organization’s board of directors -- consisting of chief executives and presidents of the major video game companies -- voted Wednesday to reformat the annual trade show. In addition to being scaled down, it will be held in July rather than May, closer to the fall release date of many products.

“E3 had become an environment in which it was increasingly difficult to do business in a professional way -- the scale of it, the noise of it,” said Lowenstein, who was in Los Angeles on Monday to meet with convention center officials. “All these things conspired to make it more difficult for companies to get the critical business accomplished.”

In recent years, company executives have been grumbling about the costs and staffing required for the show. But Lowenstein attributed the changes to the maturing industry. The $11-billion video game business no longer struggles for visibility and attention and has cemented its place in mainstream culture. Video games are so popular now that they are spawning television shows and blockbuster movies.

“The question becomes reaching the right audience in the most efficient way,” Lowenstein said.

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Lowenstein said the format was still being worked out. “We’re not going about to create something that’s boring and uninteresting that nobody wants to be a part of,” he said.

Next Generation, an Internet news site that tracks the video game industry, blamed the changes on large exhibitors who “jointly decided that the costs of the event do not justify the returns.” Several Internet sites suggested that big manufacturers and game publishers, including Electronic Arts, had pulled their support for E3.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts, maker of bestselling games such as “Madden NFL” and “The Sims,” said it supported the decision but denied rumors that it initiated the change.

The company “will participate in any event they create for next summer,” spokesman Jeff Brown said. He said the issue wasn’t that the size of E3 had grown out of control but that it was becoming increasingly difficult to finish sneak peeks of products in May that were not set for release until months later.

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“A demo that you might create in July is a lot more reflective of a holiday game than something they might have cobbled together in May,” Brown said.

Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, said the change to E3 made sense.

“I think that E3 evolved from a show that was for the important decision-making constituents of the industry and became something that was for the fan,” he said. “As a business decision, it was an excellent one. As a gamer, I would rather see E3. It’s a fun spectacle.”


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