E3 2011: The name alone gets gamers to lean forward, even though, technically, only industry insiders are invited.
If you want a sneak preview of "Halo 4" or the successor to the Nintendo Wii, word will come from the giant E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo, officially kicking off Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Major trends we'll see in the coming months (as previewed at E3) include a push toward bigger, more blockbuster gaming experiences at retail, a growing emphasis on digital and downloadable content and the rise of more intricate online experiences.
In addition to more powerful consoles -- Wii 2, Sony's handheld NGP (which reputedly packs as much graphical power as the PlayStation 3), etc. -- we'll also see systems shifting to accommodate deeper, richer Internet play.
Some of the leading trends:
1) Free-to-play and massively multiplayer online games.
2) Microtransactions or virtual goods-based digital diversions.
3) Download-only offerings that increasingly approach the quality of retail experiences.
4) Games that only begin, not end, at what's in the box. Expect to hear a lot more about social games, free-to-play games and Web browser-based games as well, which are surging in popularity. Their accessibility, intuitiveness, low barriers to entry, non-existent costs, ability to be played in short 15-minute bursts gives them broad appeal to all ages and interests.
Despite a growing emphasis on cloud-based streaming solutions (Gaikai, OnLive, etc.), digital distribution (Steam, Impulse, GamersGate, etc) and even major retailers such as GameStop (which is spending $100 million on digital initiatives this year including cloud, digital and Web-based entertainment and distribution) pushing toward online activity, it's not like retail or sprawling disc-based physical goods/experiences are going anywhere either.
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, the Nintendo Wii and other home consoles still have an audience of tens of millions of loyal fans, a presence in the majority of homes across America and massive libraries of franchises and software as beloved as any film studio or television network's catalogues.
Thank blockbusters like the gritty sci-fi shooter "Gears of War 3" and the epic fantasy role-playing game "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" (a massive medieval world to explore through the eyes of a mighty, magic-wielding hero).
There's also the superhero stealth action-adventure "Batman: Arkham City" (which sees you stalking The Joker's goons using gadgets to swoop down and solve forensic puzzles). Or try the sci-fi horror action role-playing title "BioShock: Infinite" (set in a steampunk world where you use guns and superhuman abilities like hurling ice and fire to survive an intricate, immensely convoluted tale). And the epic action-adventure "Uncharted 3" is the interactive equivalent of a summer action blockbuster, where you brave a barren desert as a treasure hunter in search of lost city Irem of the Pillars.
Given the sheer number of games, and choices in terms of platforms, play styles and price points (apps, mobile games, free-to-play, browser-based, social games, handheld games, etc.), and there's never been a better time to be a gamer.
Scott Steinberg is CEO and Lead Analyst for the video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global.