The video game industry's biggest trade conference -- E3 -- revs up this week. It's the equivalent of fashion week for gamers, the opportunity to reveal the best of what the nearly $50 billion industry is cooking: consoles, games, the works.
This year the big buzz is about players generating their own content and companies chasing a growing group of casual gamers -- users who never thought of themselves as hard core fans. Unlike previous years in which consoles generated the biggest news, E3 14 is about the games themselves.
And while some E3 critics say the conference is a half-baked, lackluster affair, that doesn't mean there's nothing to salivate over. Here's a quick preview of what to expect from the conference, which wraps up Thursday:
User-generated content games -- games in which players develop and program the video world themselves -- are going to be big this year.
"They're Web 2.0 for video games," said Guy Cocker, the features editor for GameSpot UK, "and all the big game companies are jumping onboard."
One of the most hyped games in this category is "Spore" from Electronic Arts. "Spore" was designed by Will Wright, the creator of "SimCity" and "The Sims," one of the most successful game franchises ever created. In the game, Charles Darwin-esque players control the evolution of a species, from microbe to intelligent being to galactic explorer. They even create the characters.
While "Spore" is scheduled for release in September, Wright said players have already created more than 1.7 million imaginary species on the game's demonstration version. That's more known species than inhabit Earth, Wright told a crowded theater during an EA press conference Monday.
Another user-generated game is "LittleBigPlanet" from SCEE on PlayStation 3. In this world, players make all the choices for their characters, "Sackboy" or "Sackgirl." Everything is customizable, and players build their own locations and generate their own levels.
"Venture capitalists are putting a lot of money into games like "LittleBigPlanet" and "Spore," said Brandon Sheffield, editor in chief of Game Developer Magazine. The buzz is that these games are going to usher in a new generation of player-driven video games, he said.
However, questions about how these games will make money after the initial purchases are already creeping up.
"'The Sims' games made so much money because players purchased extra clothing and packages for the characters. How will these new user-generated games make money if the players are making all the extras themselves?" said Cocker.
"There's going to be a proliferation of music, rhythm, singing and dancing games this year," said George Jones, editorial director of GamePro.com.
Titles like Activision's "Guitar Hero World Tour," EA's "Rock Band 2," Konami's "Rock Revolution" and Microsoft's "Lips," which enable players to rock out on real instruments, are expected to generate some of the biggest attention in this category.