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Video Game Boxes Do Battle at Entertainment Expo


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, is the trade show for the video and computer games industry. It gives game makers a chance to preview their upcoming releases and hopefully create a little buzz. But as the show winds down today, the biggest buzz isn't about a game. NPR's Laura Sydell reports that it's about the consoles used to play them.

LAURA SYDELL reporting:

When E3 comes to the sprawling downtown Los Angeles Convention Center, the place is transformed into what may be the world's largest video game arcade--for adults, that is. Signs at the doors say `no one under 18 admitted.' Nubile young women in tight skimpy tops and miniskirts pass out promotional packages and urge on geeky guys playing games.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, my God, these guys are never stopping! Make some noise for these guys, keep them going!

SYDELL: Shoot-'em-up games abound here...

(Soundbite of computerized gunfire)

SYDELL: ...and this year, war is brewing. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have all announced the coming release of their new game consoles. The first shot was fired by Microsoft. Breaking with E3 tradition, the company gave previews of its Xbox 360 more than a week before the show began with a half-hour special on MTV hosted by actor Elijah Wood.

(Soundbite of MTV special)

Mr. ELIJAH WOOD (Host): You've waited long enough. I give you the future of gaming!

SYDELL: For Microsoft, the future of gaming is, well, not just gaming. Gamers will be able to do more with their Xbox 360--go online wirelessly, play music, watch movies, and look at photos. Robbie Bach is senior vice president and chief Xbox officer.

Mr. ROBBIE BACH (Senior Vice President, Microsoft): Our customers said, `Hey, while I'm playing my game, I like to listen to my music. And there are times where I want to go back and forth between my game and a movie, or times when I want to be with my friends, and we'll be watching a movie, then we want to switch to a video game, etc.' So we want that interactive entertainment experience.

SYDELL: Sony is emphasizing the visual experience of its PlayStation 3. Its officials say a new powerful IBM chip will make it 35 times faster than the previous PlayStation and create unprecedented realism.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: I'm deep in the trenches training for months, I'm like a crime fighter giving left jabs, left hooks, over here...

SYDELL: A demo of the visuals to audiences at E3 of a boxing game depicted two boxers duking it out in the ring. The players are so lifelike, it's possible to see beads of sweat and tiny hairs. At a press conference two days before E3, Kaz Harai of Sony explains they want this to be the most immersive game experience ever.

Mr. KAZ HARAI (Sony): It's all about, like, hey, having the person playing the game really feel those same kind of emotions and reactions that a boxer in the ring would feel, and then using those emotions to, like, tell the story of our fight.

SYDELL: Like Microsoft, Sony is giving its customers an interactive entertainment experience on the new console that will include wireless, movies and music capability. Forrester analyst Paul Jackson says Microsoft and Sony are battling over who will be the dominant entertainment player in the living room. Both are hoping that even non-gamers will use their consoles.

Mr. PAUL JACKSON (Forrester): Basically, it boils down to price. If the cheapest way of getting something in your living room which will play movies, stream video content from your Media Center PC, if it's the Microsoft vision, or directly off the network if it's the Sony vision, for 300 bucks, that's a lot cheaper than today's media streamers or even TiVo-like devices.

SYDELL: Sony has been the dominant player in the console game with close to 70 percent of the global market, as compared to 17 percent for Microsoft and 15 percent for Nintendo. Still, with its next console called Revolution, Nintendo doesn't want to dominate your living room. Revolution doesn't play DVDs; it's about games, says the company's George Harrison.

Mr. GEORGE HARRISON (Nintendo): In the end, what gamers respond to or what the consumers respond to is a great game. So, you know, the search for, you know, what is that great interactive experience is really what we think will drive the consumers, and we think we've got a great internal development group that has the best shot of delivering that.

SYDELL: Still, Microsoft's Xbox has the advantage of coming on the market first. It's due out in time for next Christmas. Nintendo's Revolution and Sony's PlayStation 3 aren't expected until 2006. The companies are still keeping prices secret. What all the console makers are not hiding is that they are launching a marketing blitzkrieg that will stop at nothing less than global domination. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.