E3 trade show attendance rises

Electronic software professionals partied at Staples Center to the booming hip-hop sounds of Eminem and Usher. Video game reviewers from around the world spilled out of the Los Angeles Convention Center to stand in line for more than 15 minutes just to buy a cup of coffee.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo was back in town this week, bigger and more raucous than last year — a sign, according to city officials, that Los Angeles is fast becoming a top-notch convention town.

The electronic games and gadgetry expo known as E3, wraps up its three-day run Thursday, attracting about 45,000 attendees and nearly 400 exhibitors. That’s up from about 41,000 guests and about 220 exhibitors last year. It remains one of the city’s largest conventions.

Los Angeles officials credit several new downtown hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues that have opened in the last few years for attracting bigger crowds of out-of-town visitors.

But attendees and exhibitors — mostly industry professionals and the media — say the booming popularity of electronic games and product launches by major console manufacturers Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and Nintendo Inc. also helped boost participation.

“Between Sony’s Move, Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Co.'s 3 DS, you have three significant products launching between now and next March,” said Edward Williams, an analyst with BMO Capital who has attended all 16 E3 conventions.

In 2006, attendance at the expo peaked at more than 60,000. But the Entertainment Software Assn., which organizes E3, decided to do away with the excessive parties and over-the-top booths in 2007 and 2008 in favor of small, quiet meetings.

Last year, the industry turned back to party mode.

This year, highlights of the expo have once again been the parties and the crowds.

“Look at the people,” said Brian Farrell, chief executive of THQ Inc., a video game developer and publisher based in Calabasas, as he gestured to the crowd in the convention center’s South Hall. “That’s a lot of money being spent on hotels, taxis and restaurants. I know our booth is stuffed.”

THQ threw a bash Wednesday night at the Standard Hotel featuring actress Rachel Bilson as a guest. Microsoft, after spending millions to hire Cirque du Soleil to perform Sunday and Monday night at the Galen Center to promote its games, hosted parties at the Edison nightclub Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Activision, the Santa Monica-based software company, hosted a bash for thousands of guests Monday night at Staples Center, featuring performances by Usher, Eminem and Rihanna.

The larger crowds at E3 are just the latest sign that downtown is fast becoming a magnet for trade shows and conferences, said Mark Liberman, executive director of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Downtown Los Angeles is the place to be,” Liberman said.

Among the new amenities are the development of L.A. Live, the entertainment complex next to the convention center, as well as the nearby J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel complex that opened this year.

In the last two months several conventions have booked events at the convention center, including Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, a gathering of the company’s staffers and business partners set for July 10-14, 2011.

Tourist officials expect the conference to draw about 15,000 attendees who would spend an estimated $45 million.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Assn. announced that, for the first time, it was holding its annual national convention in Los Angeles on Nov. 3-7, 2012.

More than 28,000 delegates are expected to attend the four-day event that will use approximately 45,000 hotel room nights.