E3 CONFERENCE SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON SOFTWARE

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When the Electronic Entertainment Expo makes its debut this week in Los Angeles, no tears will be shed for the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, which died for the cause.

The magic of Hollywood has overpowered manufacturing in today's consumer electronics and interactive entertainment marketplace, and the forces of software and entertainment have emerged as kings.

E3, produced by Infotainment World, the San Mateo, Calif.-based magazine publisher, is expected to draw some 30,000 attendees and more than 400 exhibitors to Los Angeles May 11-13. The show supplants both Summer CES, which ended its longtime run in Chicago last year, and CES Interactive, a show the Electronic Industries Association hoped would compete with E3 but ended up being cancelled instead.

But the popularity of interactive entertainment is a double-edged sword. Retailers must make room for thousands of new products, and marketers must produce software in a variety of formats to meet the requirements of hardware marketers that haven't agreed on standards.

More than 3,000 new CD-ROM titles are expected to hit the market before next fall, to meet the needs of the estimated 10 million households equipped with multimedia PCs.

Many consumers are still grappling with operational difficulties with their CD-ROM drives; most households are expected to buy only a handful of new titles this year at costs ranging from $50 to $70 each.

The $6 billion videogame industry will strut its stuff at E3, in preparation for a fall onslaught of $300-plus next-generation game systems. Sega will deliver its new 32-bit Saturn system in September; Sony will enter the market with its 32-bit Play-Station system; and Nintendo will introduce its hotly anticipated 64-bit Ultra 64.

For some software marketers, the answer to the format question is to be technology independent.

Viacom New Media, New York, this week will unveil the puzzle game "Zoop" on an unprecedented eight platforms.

"We decided to be `platform agnostics' and let consumers pick their own platform while we supply the game any way they want it," said Al Nilsen, Viacom New Media's VP-marketing.

Viacom's decision to concentrate most of its under-$10 million marketing budget on one title was based on its theory that "Zoop," reminiscent of the best-selling "Tetris," will be a hit for consumers of all ages who use everything from PC laptops to handheld videogame systems. A broad promotion campaign will begin in July, including in-store efforts and sampling of the game through computer online services, Mr. Nilsen said.

The $50 game will be available on PC, Macintosh, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation; Viacom this month will name a new agency to handle the game's introduction. Advertising for Viacom's 10 other computer and videogame titles due this year is handled in-house.

Only Time Warner is expected to rival Viacom in the total number of platforms for one game, with "Primal Rage," a game developed for up to eight computer and videogame platforms due out this fall

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