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Kai Ryssdal: Industry conventions aren’t usually the most dynamic of affairs. Bland conference rooms and stale speakers come to mind. But just down the street from Marketplace world headquarters here in Los Angeles there’s something entirely different going on. The Electronics Entertainment Expo wraps up today.
Huge digital displays dwarf the thousand of people walking the floor. Costumed characters mingle with retail executives. Video games of all descriptions are everywhere. Which is why yesterday morning I went to meet up with our technology guy Kevin Pereira from G4 television.
Kevin Pereira: Welcome to E3, Kai.
Ryssdal: Tell us where we are. What this place is.
PEREIRA: We’re at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which is sorta of like nerd prom, if you will. It’s the geek Super Bowl. It’s all the big developers, and game producers, and creators, and manufacturers, they get together at the convention center. Crowds from 40 to 60,000 in attendance, checking out all the latest in digital entertainment.
Ryssdal: It looks like people are walking around playing video games, basically.
PEREIRA: That’s exactly it. Yes. That’s the one sentence, easy description of what’s happening.
Ryssdal: Just thought I’d wrap it up.
PEREIRA: No, there’s actually a lot of business being done here. In addition to showing off the games to casual consumers and what not, this is where Best Buy will send their head retailers to come and figure out which titles they’re going to order, how many thousands of copies they’re going to order, which peripherals they want to get on store shelves. So there’s a lot of actual business transactions taking place in between people dressed as cows with giant electronic utters…
Ryssdal: What is hot this year then? What are we going to see come Christmas?
PEREIRA: Well, come Christmas we’re going to see more of the same. We’re going to see bigger and better exclusive titles for all these consoles.
Ryssdal: So it’s the Wii and the Xbox, and all that.
PEREIRA: Correct. Playstation 3, Wii, Xbox 360. You’re going just going to see bigger and better games for it now that the developers have figured out how the hardware works. Next year, in the coming years, you’re going to see new ways to actually experience those games.
Ryssdal: So there is, for want of a better phrase, a killer app here, right? There’s new technologies coming out.
PEREIRA: It’s getting rid of the controller. Nintendo was first to figure out that a controller for many is a barrier to entry. I could put the controller in my mother’s hand, and she would ask what these buttons do and probably gnaw on them confused. And that’ll be that. It’s my mom. But when you get rid of that controller, and you tell somebody just stand in front of the television and a webcam is going to turn your body into the controller, which is Microsoft’s approach, that just works.
So they demoed a thing called Project Netal, which literally turns your body into a virtual skeleton on the screen. And you can then control your game. If you want to race, put your arms in front of you and move it around. If you want to interact with a character, well if you break eye contact, the character is going to ask you why you’re looking away from him. It’s these kinds of experiences that we’re going to see unfolding over the next few years that are going to change the way the games industry is viewed and approached by so many people.
Ryssdal: Is that going to widen the audience?
PEREIRA: Absolutely. I mean, again, the controller for most is a huge barrier to entry and they know that. So, Nintendo did a great job of getting my parents and my grandparents interested in playing tennis on the TV. Then they came out with the Wii fit, which got people interested in fitness. Sony and Microsoft they took note. They said we have these giant consoles in households that are so powerful. How can we take advantage of that? And so they’re each trying their own different approach into making your body the game controller. So now anybody can literally get up off the couch and just play.
Ryssdal: Have none of these companies that are here — and the people who are coming to buy for the big corporations — have none of them heard that’s there’s a recession on?
PEREIRA: No, they haven’t.
Ryssdal: I mean, it’s crazy.
PEREIRA: I mean, look, last year, E3 scaled back, and it was in Santa Monica at the Barker Hangar. And we’re talking it was 4,000 people. And they said this is bad for the industry because it makes us look small at a time when every industry is weak. So they said let’s come back, let’s do it at the convention center, let’s spend millions of dollars, let’s put on press conferences, and have karaoke parties, and do the big press blitzes. And it’s working. And that’s because they know that even in a recession games do well.
Why is that? Well, because you can spend $4 on a casual gaming experience online, you don’t have to even leave your house. Or you can go out and spend $60, which sounds like a huge investment, but gamers know that they can get 60 to 80 to 120 hours of game play out of that. So your return on investment there is incredible, especially if it’s online.
Ryssdal: Kevin Pereira, G4 television broadcasting live here I should say.
PEREIRA: Twenty-three hours of live TV.
Ryssdal: Which is why he sounds a little raspy, Kevin, thanks a bunch.
PEREIRA: Yeah, my apologies. But thank you.
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