Experts say that to extend their five-year growth, makers of games and systems alike need to keep drawing in new, untraditional players while holding on to recent recruits and longtime hard-core gamers.
"Everyone has to try to attract attention and offer themselves as the alternate to spending your money elsewhere, as far as entertainment," says Francesca Reyes of Official Xbox Magazine. "Everyone's under the gun."
Among other projects expected to generate talk at the Expo:
• Nintendo, which expanded the game audience by selling 20 million user-friendly Wii systems, is improving its wireless motion-sensitive controller with a MotionPlus accessory. Available separately for $20 on June 8, the add-on, which attaches to the current remote, will also be included in special editions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 ($60, out June 8) and Wii Sports Resort ($50, out July 26). Also expected is an as-yet-unannounced Wii game aimed at Nintendo diehards. "Nintendo needs to show something new and different for the mainstream masses ... to tap back into that mojo the initial Wii launch had," says George Jones of GamePro Media.
• Most observers expect Sony to show a new PlayStation Portable that downloads games rather than using discs. "That will likely be the biggest news of the show," says Jesse Divnich of market research firm Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. "The core gaming market is ready for a new handheld device, (and) digital distribution could stimulate strong sales."
• Microsoft is expected to show its much-rumored hands-free game controller technology today. Pachter expects Sony will show something similar. New motion-control schemes that do not require traditional controllers, he says, are "something to show that the other two manufacturers are interested in regaining some share from Nintendo."
Making, selling 'Warfare'
For companies such as Infinity Ward and publisher Activision, generating a blockbuster like Warfare 2 means promoting it like a blockbuster. A teaser trailer was released in April, and an action-filled minute-long trailer was unveiled on TNT during last week's NBA playoffs. "It's a super-high-quality game," Pachter says. "The name recognition helps a ton, and Activision seems focused on making sure nobody misses its launch with this massive marketing campaign."
West concedes "expectations are higher. This could be the first game in the series that many of these people have ever played."
The studio got its start making first-person shooting games based on World War II. While at developer 2015 Inc., West and current Infinity Ward CEO Vince Zampella helped develop Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, a computer game released in 2002 by EA that sold 1.3 million copies.
A year later, West, Zampella and a handful of others formed Infinity Ward; their first game, Call of Duty, won Game of the Year from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences in 2004, as Modern Warfare did four years later (the only studio to win two such awards).
Although the team is being vague about the new game's story line, they will reveal that a new ultranationalist Russian leader named Makarov has risen to power after his predecessor, Zakhaev, was killed in the previous game. "Events that unfolded from your hands in the last game directly affect what happens in the world now," Zampella says.
As this project hurtles toward conclusion, the team has grown to about 100. Eighteen testers will put the multiplayer mode through its paces. And over the two-year development period, three animators focused solely on the hands and weapons from the player's point of view. That is important, says Zampella, because "when you are playing the game, that's there all the time."
GamePro's Jones recalls that Medal of Honor's re-creation of the Normandy invasion was a video game "magic moment" for him. "Infinity Ward understands how to make those moments," he says, "and how to prolong them and make them intense and fun."