When the annual trade show once known simply as E3 kicks off this week, attendees will discover a distinctly downsized event.

The video game industry's premier trade show has been scaled down considerably after years of an escalating arms race of ever-larger booths, expensive parties and legions of game fans hoping to skirt the Electronic Entertainment Expo's notoriously lenient trade only attendance policy.

Following E3 2006, the Entertainment Software Assn., a trade organization that represents U.S. video game publishers and runs the event, decided changing times necessitated a new approach, described by the organization's then-president Douglas Lowenstein as more personal, efficient and focused.

The new event, renamed the E3 Media and Business Summit, will be held Wednesday-Friday. After spending 10 of its previous 12 years at the Los Angeles Convention Center (the 1997-98 shows were in Atlanta), the show is not only moving from its usual spot in May but is going west to a series of smaller venues in Santa Monica.

The need for more intimacy has turned E3 into an invite-only affair, with far fewer game companies and media attendees. The 2006 show claimed about 60,000 participants, while organizers expect only 3,000-4,000 this year. More than 400 companies exhibited last year at the convention center, but the current count of participating companies stands at 36.

Darren Gladstone, senior editor at Games for Windows magazine, said the reduced number of attendees and exhibitors is cause for concern. It appears that all E3 has done is keep the big companies, weed out the up-and-comers and make the show less convenient for those attending, Gladstone said.

Sean Kauppinen, vp at Kohnke Communications, a major video game PR agency, sees the advantages of a streamlined show. The new format definitely has its critics, but I think we'll be surprised that it's actually set up to accommodate a smaller group of more relevant game industry professionals, he said.

Participating companies, many of which are also members of the ESA, are reluctant to speculate on the record about the new format's chance of success.

E3 had lost its effectiveness over the past few years; it will be interesting to see if the new format will be the show's revival or its death gasp, said a marketing executive at Sony Computer Entertainment America, who asked that his name not be used. E3 has gone from one extreme to the other, from too large to get anything accomplished to too small to care.

The new format for the show is radically different from previous incarnations. Instead of centrally locating each company's exhibits in a large convention center, game companies will host individual events spread out among seven hotels in Santa Monica. Additionally, a multicompany software showcase will be housed at the Barker Hangar, an event space at Santa Monica Airport.

Said Kauppinen: I think we'll find the format has the ability to create a less stressful environment, although I know the media have a lot of skepticism about the traveling from hotel to hotel for meetings.

While many of the hotels are within walking distance of one another and shuttle buses will be provided, the multiple locations has some attendees worried.

Noted Gladstone: On paper, it looks like a logistical mess, but who knows -- maybe it'll work. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter