Tokyo Game Show starts slow

Exhibitors, booths, new titles all down at quiet opening

TOKYO -- A noticeably subdued Tokyo Game Show opened Thursday, with the first-ever recorded drops in the numbers of exhibitors, booths and new titles at the event, despite a sharp increase in overseas companies attending.

The lack of a new console, a shortage of new tentpole game releases and tough economic conditions all appear to be playing their part.

The domestic industry has been particularly hard hit, and for the first time foreign exhibitors outnumbered Japanese firms, 92 to 88.

An increased presence on the floors of the huge Makuhari Messe's convention halls was in evidence from China, Taiwan, Canada and the Nordic countries.

Overall though, the number of booth units was down nearly a quarter to 1,367, with noticeable absences including Electronic Arts and mobile phone operator au.

A spokesperson for the organizers said, "A number of mergers between Japanese software companies this year has also reduced exhibitors."

The number of new titles on display this year was down to 758, from last year's record 879, with more games released for more than one console than ever before.

Ubisoft, which releases titles on all consoles, is demonstrating titles including "Avatar: the Game" -- though a strict "no cameras" policy was being enforced by the company's staff around screens of the game.

The opening keynote address was by Sony Computer Entertainment head honcho Kaz Hirai, although there was little in his speech that hadn't already been heard at E3 in Los Angeles or gamescom in Cologne.

Gamers hoping for a demo of the new Motion Controller -- Sony's answer to the Wii's sensor controls -- were disappointed, as Hirai simply changed the color of the light bulblike top of the unit.

Hirai announced that the latest version of the PlayStation 3 had sold a million units in the three weeks since its release, and emphasized how important nongame downloadable content, primarily video, is to Sony's networked consoles.

Tokyo Game Show runs through Sunday, and organizers will be hoping to avoid a significant drop in visitor numbers from last year's record 194,288.