So you didn’t make it to Los Angeles for this year’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). That’s okay, because PandoDaily was on the ground to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

Big Takeaways

Haves and Have-nots — The thing that stood out to me above all else walking through the exhibition hall is the general top-heaviness of the industry. I’ve always felt that you could get a pretty good idea of the might of each market participant by the square footage of their booth. Sometimes this is a more accurate indicator of their strength or desperation. (See Apple’s absence from CES). But absent any other measurement tool it’s a pretty good gauge.

At E3 2012, the “Big 3” console makers, Microsoft (Xbox), Sony (Playstation), and Nintendo (Wii) collectively take up more than 50 percent of the floor space with the “platform hall.” Across the convention center, in the “independent hall,” it was all EA all the time and to a far lesser extent Ubisoft and Activision. What really shocked me was the observation by other E3 regulars (this was my first year in attendance) that despite the undeniable gravitational pull of these tentpole exhibitors, they were actually less dominant than in years past. That would have been a sight to see.

If I were to sum up the latest offerings from each of the three players it would be:

  • Microsoft:  Cross-Platform Integration, Voice Control, and Alternative Content
  • Sony:  Games (lots and lots of ‘em)
  • Nintendo:  Hardware (it’s new, but is it any good?)
Platform Life-cycles — During the keynote press conferences given by the Big 3 console makers, it was striking to see the contrast in their new product development strategies. Microsoft which unveiled its XBox 360 in 2005, and Sony whicj unveiled its Playstation 3 in 2006, actually saw an increase in sales of their legacy systems last year and declined to introduce an upgrade this week. Instead, they’ve focused on gaining additional share of the “living room” by introducing additional gaming and non-gaming content, as well as social elements.

Nintendo, on the other hand, has seen disappointing sales of its original Wii system, and as a result rushed the rollout of its follow up Wii U system. Based on a number of conversations I had, the Wii U has been met with intrigue but not wide excitement. In a lot of ways, it seems like a half-measure or stopgap (much like the iPhone 3GS or 4S) rather than a revolutionary upgrade. Being forced to make a move like this is the price of falling behind in a competitive market.

Absence of Mobile — The other big surprise for me was the absence of mobile gaming powerhouses like Rovio and Zynga. In fact, mobile seemed like an afterthought across much of the convention. It may not come as a shock, given the history of the E3 exhibitor roster and the traditional focus on console and PC gaming, that these newly dominant companies would not attend. That said, given the their weight in the industry and the overwhelming popularity and growth of mobile gaming, it seemed odd to not have them represented.

Non-News Anecdotes and Observations

  • Lines, lines, lines — Everywhere from the main exhibition hall doors to the gameplay stations throughout the event, to the lunch areas, day one of E3  2012 was all about lines.
  • Gamers — From the fashion, the hair, the hygiene, this was one case of stereotypes accurately reflecting reality. If there’s one place that engineers can go to feel cool, it’s in a room of hard-core gamers. Unless the engineers are themselves, hardcore gamers. Then we’ve entered a vortex of specialness about which I don’t even know what to say. Godspeed!
  • Girls — I’ve been to my fair share of conference. At every one of them, promo girls are a given. Companies pay lovely young women to dress in enticing outfits and hawk their wares. In most cases, this is a foolproof plan. At a gaming convention, be it due to social awkwardness or competing distractions, the gamers didn’t seem impressed. On a few occasions, when gamers were given the choice between taking their picture with a half-naked bombshell or a Stormtrooper-looking, costumed warrior, the warrior won out every time.
  • Expo Currency — The currency of the day was without question branded apparel and energy drinks. Exhibitor booths which were giving out one or both or these coveted items were sure to be swarmed with “adoring fans.”
  • Media Center “Furniture” Not that this applies to most readers out there, but I found it particularly interesting and wanted to share. The media hospitality room was furnished primarily with multi-colored beanbag chairs. I described it to other members of the PandoDaily team as a McDonalds ball pit for big kids. It was odd at first, but surprisingly comfortable and functional in the end.
  • Food – Conference food is notoriously poor. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Lousisiana Economic Development bureau (@LEDlouisiana) were kindly providing free alligator po’ boy sandwiches from a food truck, which were even more fantastic than they sound. And when food is free (and competing against $18 conference center hamburgers), the lines get loooooong. If you’re going later in the week, you’ve been warned.