SANTA MONICA, Calif. – A seasoned fan of the world's biggest video game trade show might be disappointed to find the sometimes-irreverent industry is now taking itself a little more seriously.
At this year's main venue for the Electronic Entertainment Exposition, a Santa Monica airport hangar, television screens demonstrate the hottest new games to a quiet few, while the scantily clad women at promotion booths and legions of fans who once typified the spectacle are noticeably absent.
Seeking to make this week's E3 Media and Business Summit more business-friendly than in previous years, organizers have locked out most of the gamers, culling a show once attended by 60,000 to just over 3,000 handpicked guests. And many of them didn't even venture onto the showroom floor.
With the show now headquartered at Barker Hangar and spread across hotel rooms in this Los Angeles-area beach city, many find it too small and no fun.
"I hate it," said Dan Hsu, editor in chief of video game magazine EGM, who like many is frantically shuttling from one hotel suite to another across Santa Monica in an effort to meet key executives and attend presentations.
"I knew I would hate it going in, and it only took an hour or two to confirm that this is the worst show ever," Hsu said.
Some of the most high-profile criticism came from Hideo Kojima, designer of Konami Corp.'s blockbuster "Metal Gear Solid" series.
Kojima credited the excitement of previous E3s as a motivation to create great games.
"I know that E3 is a business show, but it is also an important festival," Kojima told a crowd at a Konami news conference on Wednesday. "I hope that my E3 will return next year," he added, to loud applause.
FAIR PLAYING FIELD
But the massive changes may accomplish some of what organizers wanted — a saner environment in which professionals can ponder and discuss the industry's future.
A popular game like "Call of Duty 4" would once have had crowds three- to four-people deep waiting to play. Today the few-dozen booths — down from hundreds before — have room to spare.
At Capcom Co. Ltd.'s kiosk, a lone person played "Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles" using the recently announced Wii Zapper controller for the Nintendo Co. Ltd. console.
"I like it," said Joel Johnson of video game Web site Kotaku, who has attended four previous E3s. "I'll give up all of the spectacle to have every game judged on its own merit."
Much of the action, once concentrated in the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center, has moved to hotels nearby.
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has a small kiosk at Barker Hangar, but has also taken over the entire Viceroy Hotel, which is closed to the public for the duration of the show.
The lobby and lounges all bear the Xbox 360 logo, and industry professionals can be spotted relaxing by the pool.
Across the street at Le Merigot hotel, Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS), Sony Corp.'s (SNE) Computer Entertainment unit and others have similar setups, leading some to question whether there is a need for the Barker Hangar show floor at all.
"From a personal standpoint, I do kind of miss the crowds and walking through the crowds to get to your booth," Hirai said. "But from a business perspective, the whole show format was in need of a tune up. The jury is still out on what people are thinking."