Interactive entertainment: Bigger than everMay 29, 1998
Web posted at: 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 GMT)
By CNN Interactive Editor Steve Baxter
ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's huge, very noisy and it's big-time fun. The fourth annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Atlanta is a mecca to game geeks from around the world. Just walking the show floor overloads the senses. Wandering through canyons of flashing monitors and blaring speakers, more than 30,000 attendees crowd an equivalent of 35 football fields of exhibit space. They are here to check out the latest in computer and video game technology.
The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) hosts the event, which features more than 1,600 new products. The trade association boasts sales of more than $5 billion last year, an increase of 38 percent. That makes it the fastest growing segment of the entertainment business.
The trade organization released a poll Thursday showing more and more people are making computer and video games their entertainment of choice. The results of the study show that 41 percent of respondents choose interactive games over any other form of entertainment. Only 21 percent of those surveyed prefer television. The study also showed that for the third consecutive year, home computers were used more to run entertainment software than any other application, including word processing, Internet software and home financial programs.
IDSA president Douglas Lowenstein says the interactive game industry is on a roll. "Top games now debut with the same hype and anticipation accorded top movies and music albums, and often outsell them. Tremendous amounts of time, money, and talent go into developing today's games. And whatever the platform, there is something challenging, interesting, and exciting for virtually everyone."
Something for the kid in everyone
In the next several days, CNN Interactive will take a look at some of the products found at E3. Some of the trends from 1997 continue in this year's show. The majority of new computer games are 3D accelerated by second-generation hardware and are designed for multiplayer use. Videogame makers are taking new strides with existing platforms and announcing yet a new generation of hardware. More than 100 new titles at the show are designed exclusively for Internet play.
Remember that incident last winter when a popular Japanese cartoon show triggered seizures in hundreds of children? Video game giant Nintendo is exporting its $4 billion "Pokemon" industry to North America but assures consumers that such problems will not happen here.
The "Pokemon" craze combines Nintendo's long success of the Game Boy handheld video game unit and the TV series to create a host of related products it hopes will appeal to American kids. "Pokemon" (known as "Pocket Monsters" in Japan) combines the elements of a role-playing game and raising a virtual pet monster. Players discover the monsters in the game's environment and by connecting two Game Boy units, they can collect and trade all 150 pet monsters or do battle against their friends.
There's a long list of related products. A fall TV series, a full line of plush Pokemon animals and the "Pokemon Pikachu," a small virtual pet, walking companion and alarm clock that you can clip to your belt. The device includes a built-in pedometer that measures the distance its user walks. The more its owner walks, the healthier the virtual pet monster becomes.
"From the moment the owner sets the clock on Pokemon Pikachu and is greeted by Pikachu, they'll immediately want to start moving and fostering the relationship with this unique virtual companion," says Nintendo executive Peter Main, "Pokemon Pikachu is the only virtual pet that actually requires its owner to exercise."
It speaks in 'Furby"
Tiger Electronics is taking the idea of virtual pets to a new extreme. "Furby" is a very interesting, stand-alone animatronic pet. It interacts with its owner and environment through sight, touch, hearing and physical orientation. Each animal is unique, possessing an individual personality and name. Furby can move too. Its eyes open and close, the ears wiggle and the mouth moves when it speaks. That's right, it speaks...in "Furbish." If you use some positive reinforcement, your Furby can even learn to speak English. If you put two Furbys together they won't mate but they will communicate, using infrared signals to teach each other songs and tricks.
Even though much of what is seen on the E3 show floor are violent, action-oriented games and simulations, educational and family-related software is an important part of the products shown by publishers.
Humongous Entertainment has taken a popular children's educational TV program and turned it into an interactive CD-ROM based on Nickelodeon's Emmy-nominated show for preschoolers, "Blue's Clues."
The collaboration brings the perky blue puppy to life on the computer screen and promises to be another in a long list of educational, Humongous hits. The game version of the show includes the live-action host Steve and his animated blue dog sidekick. It encourages children to find hidden clues and solve various story-based puzzles.
"Blues Birthday Adventure" lets kids plan a birthday celebration and "Blue's ABC Time Activities" helps players develop letter recognition and pre-reading skills.
Hasbro Interactive has given its popular line of toys an interactive flair. "Star Wars Millennium Falcon" is a computer program combined with a plastic playset. The software comes with a model of the bridge of the famous "Star Wars" space ship along with some six-inch action figures that fit inside the model. The playset is placed over a computer keyboard and when toy levers are pulled or action figures are pushed, corresponding actions happen on the computer screen. Hasbro has a similar toy/computer combination that acts as a virtual tool kit. Little ones hammer and saw to build things in cyberspace.
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