E for All reporter's notes

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After a week in Los Angeles for the E for All Expo, allow me to empty out my notebook with some thoughts on Guitar Hero III, news and notes about assorted games, a look at a pair of prominent no-shows, and some observations about the future of this brand-new gaming trade show.

• If you haven’t been initiated yet, Guitar Hero III is the latest installment of a music game franchise in which you repeat a sequence of colored, flashing lights on screen using a peripheral that looks like a small electric guitar, all timed to coincide with rock songs you know and love, from “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘N’ Roses to “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent. Mess up, and you’ll hear the lead guitar mangle your rock anthem. Think of the old Milton Bradley game Simon, brought to a new generation, with a rock and roll soundtrack.

Guitar Hero III certainly doesn’t show any signs of slowing down the franchise. Target Stores expended quite a bit of effort to make the game synonymous with Target — it was their booth where you could play Guitar Hero III, and it was their stage where the Guitar Hero competitions were initially held.

Guitar Hero III arrives on the Mac and PC a bit later this year, thanks to the efforts of Aspyr Media. It promises to be a lot of fun. Folks who can’t wait will be able to pick up the game, bundled with guitars, for console systems beginning Oct. 28th.

Rock Band, the new Guitar Hero competitor, also took center stage. The game’s promoters—publisher EA and MTV Games—brought in a bus where gamers could test their abilities.

Rock Band is a bit different from Guitar Hero in that you don’t just play a lead guitar—you can also play bass, drums, and even sing vocals, using devices that attach to your game console of choice.

Rock Band has great potential as a party game, especially for karaoke nuts, but if I ever have to hear Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” (a song I never liked to begin with) or Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” (a song I love) butchered one more time by off-key singing and horribly rhythm-challenged nerds, it will be too soon.

• Konami’s latest installment of its stealth action game, Metal Gear Solid 4, drew lines that wrapped around its modest booth for much of the show’s four days. Gamers were anxious to get their hands on a playable demo inside Konami’s booth. This is purportedly the final installment of the game to feature its original hero, “Solid Snake,” and game series creator Hideo Kojima says this is the last Metal Gear game he’s going to design. Kojima has a rock star status in the game world, so it’s big news for fans of the series.

• Only one major console vendor appeared at E for All, but Nintendo made its presence felt, drawing crowds to see games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (two new titles for its popular Wii console ). The vast expanse of the Nintendo booth included kiosks were visitors could play games for the DS handheld system. Pokémon fans who brought their own DS systems with them were encouraged to download a special character—a Manaphy—for their copy of Pokémon Diamond or Pearl, two of the latest versions of the popular adventure game whose slogan is “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”

• While Nintendo was on the scene, Sony and Microsoft were conspicuously absent. Their absence was not unexpected—both companies were key in the decision to end E3 Expo in 2006 and replace it with a much smaller, private and more media- and business-centric event in Santa Monica. That event, held this past summer, was also considerably scaled down from E3 Expo, which had filled every square inch of the L.A. Convention Center the year before with hundreds of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors.

Undoubtedly, the absence of two-thirds of the biggest names in console gaming contributed to the attendance, which was lower than what event organizer IDG World Expo had anticipated earlier in the year by about one-third. Also absent from E for All, however, were any major announcements from game vendors. That fed bitter comments about the event from certain voices within the game press, who expected more.

Given the event’s timing—October—and its focus—on drawing the attention of gamers, not media or buyers—it seems obvious that E for All would not be a venue for any product announcements or major press coverage. That would have needed to happen months earlier for it to have an impact on the market, which depends heavily on stirring the pot in time for the holidays. And magazines need months of lead time in order to get product information in their pages.

IDG World Expo says that about 18,000 people attended E for All. The company is planning another E for All in August 2008—the same weekend, perhaps not coincidentally, that the Web comic strip Penny Arcade plans its next convention. PAX has a more “grassroots” connotation than E for All does—E for All can’t help be compared to E3 for a number of reasons: the same venue, the show’s management (largely the same team that brought E3 to life), the similarity of its name, and its endorsement by the ESA itself, the same organization that decided to kill E3 Expo after 2006.

Ultimately, neither PAX nor E for All really compare to the scale of international events like the Leipzig Game Convention or the Tokyo Game Show—annual game expos that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors. But despite huge attendance numbers from trade press and gamers alike, neither event has really amassed the reputation or the “buzz” of E3 Expo. It ultimately makes one wonder if the ESA’s decision to end E3 Expo was really that good an idea in the first place.

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