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Industry Standard

E3: Blood and guts as usual


May 18, 1999
Web posted at: 8:48 p.m. EDT (0048 GMT)

by Michelle V. Rafter

(IDG) -- If the game industry is ducking for cover in the aftermath of the Littleton, Colo., shooting, it's not apparent at E3, the gigantic annual digital entertainment convention that opened Thursday in Los Angeles.

On the same day Congress passed stricter gun-control measures aimed at stemming teen violence, thousands of E3 attendees endured endless lines for parking, entry badges and food to comb aisle upon aisle of the latest blood-and-guts video, desktop computer and online games at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Cocooned within the dimly lit convention halls and accompanied by the constant ratta-tat-tat of electronic gunplay, digital mayhem was everywhere. Crowds packed into a Quake Arena set up by Activision (ATVI) to see "Quake III," the latest version of the popular battle game. In a preview of another new title, "Capcom's Resident Evil, Code: Veronica," a Laura Croft look-alike gunned down figures that realistically jerked and spurted blood as they fell.
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But both exhibitors and people attending the trade show are playing down any link between onscreen violence and real-life carnage, including the Columbine High shooting that resulted in the deaths of 15 people. "There's nothing any game could have in it that could set someone off, unless they were already in a mentally unstable state," says Scot Rubin, founder of All Games Network in New York, a division of Pseudo.

Still, Rubin says he's heard that some developers have clipped out particularly violent scenes from demos of certain prerelease games so "the media can't blame them." Representatives of several game companies at the show are professing ignorance of any such actions.

Hard-core shoot-'em-up games weren't the only genre on display from the more than 400 developers and game hardware makers at the show. E3 crowds were also introduced to family fare from Mattel (MAT), GT Interactive (GTIS)'s Humongous Entertainment division and Funcom, a Norwegian-Irish company creating a multiplayer role-playing game called Anarchy.

Lego, fresh from the success of its Mindstorms robot series, gave sneak peaks of a "Star Wars" Droid Developer Kit that lets kids build R2D2 and six other robots from the popular movie series and program them with information downloaded from its Web site. The kit comes with 600 pieces, costs $100 and will be out in the fall.

The Lego 'droid series illustrated another trend apparent at the show: the growing importance of the Internet to PC-based games. It was hard to find a new title that didn't have an online multiplayer version, or some other Web site associated with it. "Almost every game Microsoft makes is playable online," says Matthew Ford, program manager for "Asheron's Call," a multiplayer online game Microsoft expects to release for Christmas.

Early online game networks struggled with subscription-based business models that ultimately didn't attract enough paying customers. Today, game sites have given up on subscriptions, or depend on them for only a small portion of total revenue; the lion's share comes from advertising and sponsorships.

As a result, game networks are coming into their own., SegaSoft's 2-year-old network of more than 100 games, has 1.5 million registered users, with 5,000 new members signing up every day. According to one official, 25,000 members visit daily, staying an average of 103 minutes per session, giving it just the kind of "stickiness" advertisers and sponsors love.

"Our main selling point is our audience. The more we grow, the more (game developer) relationships we've been able to sign," says Matthew Callaway, community development manager.

The start of the E3 show also coincides with revelations by Disneyland that the Anaheim, Calif., theme park has pulled the plug on 30 violent video arcade games, and will replace them with more benign fare.

A Disneyland spokesman, however, denies a direct link between the park's decision to pull the games and the speculation, which has intensified since the Colorado shootings, that violent games desensitize players to pain and suffering.

"The real issue isn't if these games are good or bad," Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez says. "We try to offer a family-friendly, wholesome experience here and if the question is do those types of games fit into that, the answer is no."

Gomez says the games were disconnected two to three weeks ago and are in the process of being removed from the amusement park's Tomorrowland and Critter Country arcades. They will be replaced with games similar to the ones still in the park, including sports-simulation games, he says.

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