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E3 08: E3 Then and Now

If you've been following the games industry for any length of time you're keenly aware of E3. It was once the biggest show we had, a time of year when the entire world focused on the LA Convention Center and put on the loudest, craziest, busiest trade show video games could muster. Some loved it, others couldn't stand the shoulder-to-shoulder, body-odor addled conditions. Doesn't matter now, as the once proud and mighty E3 has shrunk like a pair of ice-cold balls immersed in liquid nitrogen.

Observe the LACC's exterior, usually blanketed by a 50-foot banner ad for something pertaining to videogames. In 2006 it was PS3. This year, blank.

Next, consider Nintendo's "booth" from earlier E3s. The term booth doesn't even apply to the small city that dwarfed all other exhibitors. Here it is in 2004, compared to the small stands that currently rest on the nerfed showfloor.

Yeah, that's right. There's nothing there at all. We snapped this pic while walking to Microsoft's press conference, which is the only game-related thing in the village-sized hall that once held dozens of booths. That empty space is where Nintendo's booth used to rest; this year it's in the showcase pavilion.

Compared to Nintendo's 2006 setup:

Whoo hoo! Every booth looks the same and are about an eighth as impressive. Look at the size of that 2006 booth! With no clamoring crowd to impress, the booths are strictly functional, making it easier to navigate and play, but far less interesting. Yeah, the games are what's important, but forgive us if we liked seeing our favorite pastime glorified in front of media from around the world.

Microsoft next, first in 2004, then today:

Former: Gargantuan. Multiple kiosks. Loads of stuff to see, hear and write about.

Latter: Utilitarian. Functional. Comparatively puny. Rinky dink.

What about the crowds? Journos would always complain about physically rubbing shoulders with hordes of EB Games and Suncoast employees who managed to con their way into the show, usually fighting to snap a picture of the booths or visiting celebrities. Here's a 2004 crowd crushing itself to get close to Vin Diesel.

And now what you can expect today while roaming the halls.

How about Square Enix?

Again, booths that dwarf everyone else. It's more of a stage and small environment you traverse. Come to think of it, the game-related houses in Home are built like old E3 booths. Today, well, you can guess where this is going.

Namco-Bandai?

From two-story-tall screen with t-shirt tossing babes to a glowing closet. Not an entirely fair comparison, as this is where appointments are held and as such isn't much different from previous E3s, but Namco's show floor presence was, ah, nothing.

And guess who had the largest booth? G4!

You know something's off when the biggest entity on the E3 floor is a TV station. Game TV or no, that's a little weird. In the show's defense, this year has been far more navigable than the others and we're getting plenty of game time. It's a streamlined experience that benefits those who have actual work to accomplish (ahem) but it's nothing like the old days. Some love the change, some don't, and it may not matter as E3's barely staying alive at this point.

Every year this banner, seen as you exit the LACC, would display the exact date of the following E3. Even the last big show in 2006, had a banner announcing 2007's dates, even though E3 was effectively canceled shortly thereafter. This year, nothing. No promises, people. For all we know this is the end. We hope not, as this year's setup is far better than last year's "stroll down the beach" crap.

Guess we'll know in a couple of weeks either way, huh?

Jul 16, 2008

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