At Expo, Games Are Played and Opinions Aired

Game designers Jean-Francois Dugas, left, Patrick Fortier, center, and Colin Munson playing Sony's PlayStation 3 on Wednesday at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
Game designers Jean-Francois Dugas, left, Patrick Fortier, center, and Colin Munson playing Sony's PlayStation 3 on Wednesday at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. (By Ric Francis -- Associated Press)
Thursday, May 11, 2006

One of the many attractions of the Electronic Entertainment Expo is trying to get the head guys at game console makers like Sony and Nintendo to talk trash about their competitors.

In a year when new consoles are coming out, executives are jostling for attention and buzz. In an interview yesterday, George Harrison, senior vice president of marketing at Nintendo, quoted a blogger making a crack about rival Sony's definition of research and development: "ripping off someone else's work." That's in reference to Sony's new motion-sensitive controller, which seems to echo an idea that Nintendo is using with its new system. "It didn't surprise us," Harrison said. "The industry is sort of about copying."

Harrison said the $500 to $600 price for Sony's PlayStation 3 is good news for Nintendo. "I hear our stock went up 6 percent after Sony's press conference," he said.

Sony took a potshot of its own. Though Microsoft boasted that it will have a 10 million unit head start on the PlayStation 3, the head of Sony's PlayStation division said yesterday that he has his doubts about that -- and that he doesn't care, anyway. "We've never been first to market, and we've never been worried about being first to market," Kaz Hirai said.

Game publishers are candidly saying it's hard to transition to these new consoles and an uncertain period for the industry. That was true when the PlayStation 2 launched in 2000, but this year seems tougher, with many gamemakers posting earnings losses for recent quarters.

"This transition is far more complex than any other the industry has ever seen," said Frank Gibeau, general manager of North American publishing at Electronic Arts.

If you ever wondered whether these executives have much time to actually play games, it turns out they do. Gibeau got his start out of college as a lowly software bug tester at the company. He just finished playing Bethesda Softworks' Oblivion, still plays Civilization IV on planes and has three level-60 characters in World of Warcraft. For those not in the know, those titles all require substantial investments of time. "And I can actually hold a conversation at dinner parties," he joked.

As usual, this trade show is a loud spectacle, packed with game fans waiting in enormous lines and eager to gawk at the latest titles. This year's odd grab bag of celebrities scheduled to make appearances to hawk various games include Paris Hilton and Clint Eastwood, here to plug an upcoming "Dirty Harry" title.

Jake Forsland, a freshman at the University of Southern California, attended the show yesterday even though he had a final exam in Chinese history in two hours. Forsland was just a random guy buttonholed on the show floor, but his views seemed to jibe with the other game fans here: The Nintendo system's games don't look slick, but they seem fun, and the PlayStation looks pretty slick, but it could use a fresh mix of game titles, rather than the same-old, same-old.

We're trying to give a sense of E3 in a daily blog at http://blog.washingtonpost.com/posttech . Today, the most exciting thing on my schedule might be a look at the next Guitar Hero game. If I can tear my hands away from Black Sabbath's timeless gem "War Pigs," a song on the next version, maybe I'll blog about that sucker.

In years past I've handled these duties solo, but now we've gone multiplayer, with the Style section's Jose Antonio Vargas and our army of Weekend section game reviewers filing to the blog as well. Here's a small sampler from the week so far:

ยท Clint Eastwood was on hand yesterday at the small, invite-only news conference at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment's room. . . .

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