Some of the latest trends and products in new media for kids are on display as the world’s leading developers, publishers, distributors and retailers involved in interactive entertainment descend on the Los Angeles Convention Center for only the second Electronic Entertainment Expo.
In the following Special Report, KidScreen takes a look at the cross-over of (mostly animated) film- and television-originated characters to CD-ROMs and on-line services.
Through a series of case histories, we examine some of the issues, including the advantages and disadvantages, in adapting known characters to new media products.
The 1996 Electronic Entertainment Expo, taking place from May 16 to 18 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, has big sh’es to fill. Its debut in 1995 as the trade show of the interactive entertainment industry won it acclaim for being the second largest first-year trade show in the last 25 years, according to the Los Angeles-based magazine Tradeshow Week. A bigger reason for pride is that, by its second year only, sellers and buyers alike are hailing E3 as this industry’s most important show.
‘I think if you’re not at E3, you’re noticeable by your absence because really all the big players (with) any kind of interactive entertainment or education product all have some kind of presence at E3,’ says Eric Winkler, marketing promotions manager of Broderbund Software, based in Novato, California.
While Winkler says Comdex is still a bigger show than E3, E3 is the ‘best focused’ because it limits itself to entertainment and education software and products, rather than exploring technology in-depth.
Broderbund Software, which develops and distributes its own titles, in addition to working with distributors, will be meeting buyers who want to boost their collection of software titles or add titles to their stores for the first time. An advantage to E3 over smaller shows is that Broderbund can showcase its full product line, not just a handful of titles.
‘For an emerging company like ourselves with what we consider to be some very hot, cutting-edge product, it’s paramount to be there,’ says Steve Grossman, chairman and CEO of Stamford, Connecticut-based American Softworks Corporation. The three-year-old software publisher will be launching 11 titles, equal to $14 million worth of development, for Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC/CD-ROM and Nintendo Ultra 64.
Davidson & Associates, located in Torrance, California, will be also highlighting new releases, consisting of 10 CD-ROMs, and current products. Not only is the show an opportunity to meet with retailers, says Linda Duttenhaver, D & A’s director of corporate communications, but it also provides the chance to introduce the company and its library to the media.
Retailers say E3 is the best way to find out what’s on the market and what’s soon to be available.
‘We go and really find out what’s new, and make sure that we don’t get tunnel vision in what we’re doing and that we understand what the rest of the world is showing and doing,’ says Mary Kwan, vice president and general merchandising manager of children’s with Sears, R’ebuck & Co. of Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
‘We don’t write purchase orders at the show,’ Kwan adds. ‘But certainly a lot of purchase ideas are crystallized from the show.’
Jim Hamilton, vice president and general merchandise manager for Fort Worth, Texas-based Computer City, says E3′s performance in 1995 bodes well for 1996. ‘Last year was very worthwhile. We had some very productive meetings with vendors.’
Uniting developers, publishers, distributors and retailers under one roof once a year to meet and do business is E3′s goal, says Carolyn Rauch, senior vice president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, located in Washington, D.C. The IDSA owns the show, and co-produces it with MHA Event Management and Infotainment World.
More than 400 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees are expected. The show has been sold out for more than four months before its opening day, and occupies 32 percent more floor space than last year, with 484,000 net square feet, compared to 367,000 in 1995.
Athough E3 has grown in physical space since last year, the number of exhibitors may show a decrease due to a consolidation of companies that has taken place during that time. About 440 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees came to E3 in 1995.
The rapid growth of the industry in the last few years demanded a trade show for the interactive entertainment industry alone, says Rauch. According to Link Resources of New York, total retail sales of interactive electronic entertainment software and hardware, including edutainment and educational products, reached $10 billion in the U.S. in 1995.
Before E3 kicked off in 1995, many of the companies at E3 had brought their wares to the Consumer Electronics Show. But exhibiting at CES could be ‘problematic’ for developers and publishers, says American Softworks Corporation’s Grossman, because they would only have new titles to trot out at the June show, but would still feel the need to attend the January exhibition.
Not surprisingly, when the IDSA formed in April 1994, its members-publishers of entertainment, edutainment and educational software for all platforms-immediately fixed upon creating a trade show of their own. ‘(E3) was an initiative of the industry itself,’ says Rauch.
Compared to Milia, which takes place in Cannes, France, E3 is primarily an American show. About five to 10 percent of exhibitors and a higher share of attendees are from countries other than the U.S. But E3 will be sure to attract more international participants when it kicks off a show in Tokyo, Japan in September. The event’s organizers are also looking to bring E3 to Europe and South America.
The May event gets under way with an hour-long panel discussion on the future of the interactive entertainment industry. The heads of eight companies will discuss the issues in a forum called ‘Chief Executive Roundtable.’ It’s the first event of its kind at E3, and, according to Rauch, the first time these CEOs will be speaking together in a public forum.
Another addition to this year’s show is a two-day session of conferences. Speakers are divided among four topics: Predicting the Future: Trends in the Market; Retail, Marketing and Distribution: Playing to Win; The Creative Team: Technology and Content; and Finance, Business and Law: The Rules of the Game.
As for fresh products, attendees can catch their first glimpses of the Apple Pippin and Nintendo Ultra 64 game systems, the second flight of releases for Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, and the first big wave of Windows 95 titles.
E3′s organizers have been promoting these highlights with direct mail, advertising and public relations campaigns. They have also been raising awareness on-line since December with a Web site (http://www.mha.com/e3/).