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Electronic Entertainment Expo Highlights Game Industry

Fifty thousand video game players, developers and marketing executives are meeting in Los Angeles for the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo. Hundreds of software makers and Big Three hardware rivals - Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft - are promoting their latest products.

Carolyn Rauch of the Entertainment Software Association says video games are an $11 billion business in the United States and more than double that worldwide. She says this annual meeting is the largest event in the industry, with 400 exhibitors.

"We have every kind of game and interactive entertainment software that's ever made here," said Carolyn Rauch. "So we have cell phone games, we have console games, we have PC games, we have online games, any kind of interactive entertainment, you'll be able to see here on our show floor."

The annual convention assaults the senses with sounds and colored graphics on overhead screens. Gamers are in heaven as they try the latest games and hardware.

"Unbelievable, really cool," said one.

Much of the interest here focuses on the three big console makers, including Microsoft, which launched its Xbox 360 console at this expo last year. Market leader Sony is introducing its Playstation 3 at this year's convention. Sony spokesman Alex Armour says the new platform will build on the success of Playstation 2, which has sold more than 100 million units. The new device will go on sale in November, with a new ultra-fast processor and Sony's Blu-ray high definition video system.

"So what does this all mean for the consumer? It really gives them a more immersive game-play experience," said Alex Armour. "There's going to be better shading, better graphics, animations, facial animations that we're going to put people right into the game and make it more realistic for them."

Playstation 3 and Nintendo's new game console, called Wii, both have motion sensors, letting players determine the action by moving handheld controllers. In Nintendo's case, players can swing their arms to play virtual games of golf or tennis.

Game sales have slowed down as gamers await the new consoles, unveiled at this convention. But game software remains the heart of the industry, says Angela Emery of Buena Vista Games.

"We're the interactive entertainment arm of the Walt Disney Company," said Angela Emery. "So therefore we can make games based on all of the Disney films, television shows from ABC, the Disney Channel, to publishing and all the ancillary businesses within the Walt Disney Company."

The company has games based on the films The Incredibles, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

It is also creating games with fresh characters and story lines, like one called Spectrobes, made for the Nintendo DS dual-screen portable console.

"There are over 500 characters in the Spectrobes universe, and you uncover, unearth, excavate them, utilizing your stylus on the touch-pad, as well as awaken them by telling them their name and using your voice to command them to wake up," she said.

Most of those attending the game expo are young, but the average age of players is rising. Carolyn Rauch of the Entertainment Software Association says the typical gamer is now in his or her mid-30s.

"And both men and women play games," she said. "What we've found is that people who have grown up with games are bringing them with them into their adulthood. As my generation, television was the most natural thing in the world, for them video games are the most natural thing in the world. They played as kids and they're playing as adults and they'll play their whole lives through."

She says despite the slowdown in sales in this year of transition to new game consoles, video gaming is still the fastest growing sector of the entertainment business.