Eyes on to mobile as video game expo starts in LA

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NEW YORK (AP) - Games for smartphones, tablet computers and Facebook are becoming essential for major video game companies even as the industry’s largest U.S. trade show remains largely a showcase for their latest flashy console titles.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo conference kicked off in Los Angeles on Tuesday amid a startling reality for the industry: Revenue from traditional video games is on the decline, despite more people playing games than ever.

Even the companies best known for hardcore shooters and racing games can’t ignore those dynamics in the age of “Angry Birds” and “Words With Friends.”

For instance, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the company behind hardcore console games such as “Grand Theft Auto” and “BioShock,” is unveiling several mobile games at the show this week. One of them is inspired by this year’s presidential elections _ “Comedy Central’s Indecision Game.”

Zynga Inc., whose games are played mainly on Facebook and mobile devices, will have a presence at E3 for the first time. Though the company isn’t planning any announcements, it will be meeting with game developers at the conference.

In many ways, the video game industry itself is following the career trajectory of “Words With Friends” creator Paul Bettner.

Bettner had worked on hardcore video games such as “Halo” for some 15 years before the birth of the iPhone inspired him and his brother to create “Words With Friends.” That game went on to become highly popular, famously credited with getting actor Alec Baldwin kicked off an airplane for not shutting it off at takeoff.

Now, when Bettner thinks about what games he wants to create next, he thinks about what games his wife would want to play.

“That’s another way of saying what games does everyone want to play?” he says.

Nick Earl, the head of Electronic Arts Inc.’s mobile and social studios, sees all game labels bringing their best titles to mobile devices.

He cites EA’s “FIFA” soccer games as a good example. Separate versions are available for game consoles and mobile devices.

Earl says the mobile versions help expand the gaming audience, with newcomers and returning players who have not been gaming for a while.

“The iPhone initially started out at pure mass-casual games, like `Scrabble,’” he says. Now, the games are becoming more serious, more immersive and, especially on tablets, more like the games people are used to playing in their living rooms.

Players “want to be able to dive into the game regardless of what device they are on,” Earl says.

While people typically buy traditional video games up front, paying as much as $60 a disc for the latest blockbuster, mobile games are generally free or cheap to play.

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