Who Will Own E3?

Archrivals Microsoft and Apple are likely to make the big news at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), to be held June 15 through 17 in Los Angeles. 3-D gaming is also expected to make a strong showing.

Microsoft’s Project Natal, which lets Xbox 360 players control a game through body movements instead of hand-held controllers, will likely make an appearance, while Apple is expected to push the availability of games on its iOS devices — iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Cloud-based gaming from OnLive, which will first offer its games on television sets hooked up to the Internet, is expected to be another crowd-puller.

Many game publishers may also step up with new 3-D games.

Natal’s Birth Pangs Over?

Natal, which allows players to control a game without holding a physical controller, drew a great deal of attention when Microsoft first showed off an early version of the device at E3 2009. Microsoft may have more refined demo units onhand at this year’s expo, and a final version is expected to hit stores later this year.

“This is a bigger event for Microsoft in the sense that a lot more people are getting their hands on Natal,” Louis Ward, an analyst at IDC, told TechNewsWorld.

There’s just one problem: The Natal project was led by Robbie Bach, who recently left his position as president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division.

“Given that the entertainment and devices division was just blown up, one wonders how well Microsoft will deliver Natal,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

The iGames Cometh

Meanwhile, Apple is expected to make a huge showing at E3 this year.

“The big story will likely be the massive growth of games on the Apple platforms,” Enderle said. “Apple is going to make a play to own this show, and with the success of the iPhone and iPad, they could well do it.”

Back in April, Nintendo announced it would bring properties like the “Super Mario” franchise to iPad this summer, and as of June 15, iPad users will have access to some games for the Nintendo DS and Wii from the iTunes store.

Further, Apple previewed the Game Center social gaming platform for the iPhone operating system back in April. This is similar to Xbox Live. Also, Apple Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs pointed out the capabilities of the iPhone 4 as a gaming platform when he announced the device at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference last week.

“The combination of Natal and gaming on Zune and Windows Phone 7 may be the only thing that can keep Apple from owning E3,” Enderle remarked.

Heading for the Clouds

Cloud-based streaming games from OnLive may also generate strong interest, IDC’s Ward said.

“There’s been lots of interest in casual PC-type stuff with OnLive’s games,” Ward pointed out. “They’ll move games onto television sets before the end of the year, and this will be suggestive of doing console gaming.”

OnLive will initially commercialize games for the PC and Mac platforms, Ward predicted.

Hope for Handhelds?

Makers of handheld consoles will likely have to hang tight for awhile.

“I don’t expect a new handheld unit from Microsoft or Nintendo until 2012 at the earliest,” IDC’s Ward said. “The console lifecycles are growing longer, and Microsoft’s just releasing Natal.”

There have been plenty of rumors about the PlayStation 4 circulating, but it’s not clear when exactly Sony’s next gaming console will actually be released.

However, the handheld console market may be hit hard by OnLive and other devices that can be used by gamers such as the iPad and iPhone.

“With Apple pulling all the interest at the moment and OnLive looking to obsolete existing systems, one wonders if handheld consoles will be relevant much longer,” Enderle said.

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