E3 – Hits and Misses

E3 2009 is my fifth E3, though I managed to miss the recent “awkward years.”  While the rumor was that this E3 would return to prior glory, I’ve been a bit disappointed – the show is much more guarded than in years past.  The press conferences on Monday and Tuesday had some neat surprises, but few of those surprises managed to make it out to the show floor.

Microsoft: While Natal, their controller without a controller solution, is big news, I haven’t yet had a hands-on, and will reserve opinion until I get a better grasp for the system.  In many ways the demo reminded me of the Lab’s digital out-of-home solutions, but offered in-living room.  The stuff I saw at Microsoft’s booth that really floored me is the video and connectivity addons to the Xbox 360 framework.

The new Zune HD streaming solution is incredible.  The quality of the video stream was superb – much better than broadcast.  Albeit, the stream was likely running off a local server, but still, this is the closest I’ve seen a digital stream or download come close to Blu-Ray quality.

The notion of Facebook Connect integration is pure brilliance.  From a marketing perspective, this integration is going to be a key consideration.  So far the clear example would be the hyper-syndication of a sponsored Xbox 360 Achievement to all of the game audience’s Friend Feeds.

Facebook Connect in conjunction with the Xbox 360 video offerings and “party mode” viewing option are also paving the way for some interesting notions of social TV.  It will likely take a few revisions until it’s really embraced these concepts, but the Xbox 360 is increasingly less of a “gaming console” and more of a generic “media console.”

Ubisoft:  Ubisoft created a very interesting sub-brand called “Style Labs” targeting tween girls.  One game I saw was a make-over game that allowed girls to use the Nintendo DSi camera to snap photos and then give themselves makeovers.  In discussion with the brand manager, there had been a few brands approached for participation, but none had signed on.  It’s unclear why, but there are no brands attached to that product.  Another game was a jewelry designer, also on the DS, which allowed a completed jewelry design to be uploaded to a third party website from which physical products could be purchased.  Neither of these games are likely to be best-sellers, but the underlying concepts are extremely interesting in looking forward at “game” evolution for atypical audiences.

EA: In the same vein, while common practice has held that the Wii is a notoriously closed system to marketers, some of this is beginning to change.  Nintendo is still ad agnostic, but major casual developers EA and Ubisoft are thinking up new brand involvements.  Over at EA’s booth, I saw their Wii sports games up on the screen, and at least one of them was filled with ads for everything from automobile sponsors to insurance providers.  There are still issues in the sense that these were clearly “static in-game ads,” which can be difficult to plan around, but it does show an increased effort in selling ads for games on Nintendo systems.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking a closer look at some of Sony’s new offerings, as well as general insights into the shifts in the larger game landscape.  For others attending the show, I encourage you to shoot me an e-mail at Josh.Lovison@ipglab.com to arrange a face-to-face.