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The dueling interactive trade shows are still nearly nine months off, but fists are already flying.

The battle between Electronic Entertainment Expo and CES Interactive-both are scheduled to be held May 11-13, 1995, the former in Los Angeles, the latter in Philadelphia-is fast becoming an all-out war as the shows swap insults and vie for exhibitors and attendees.

The interactive show-down could hurt the fledgling interactive entertainment industry by forcing marketers to choose between shows or follow the costly route of having a presence at both.

Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, last week sent exhibitors and reporters a two-page statement headlined, "Let's set the record straight," in which it accused CES Interactive of "misinforming and misleading the industry" and said its rival was "running scared."

E3 backers Infotainment World, a unit of IDG Communications, and event producer Knowledge Industry Publications, said the statement was a response to a letter CES sent to exhibitors accusing E3 of, among other things, listing exhibitors that had not yet signed up with the show. The mailing went so far as to compare the trade show sites, noting that "Los Angeles continues to be plagued by traffic problems, which have been compounded by the area's recent natural disasters."

"It started out to be a very clean fight," said Patrick Ferrell, president of Infotainment World. After seeing the CES mailing, "We said, `OK, the gloves are off now. We're not going to be defamed."'

CES Interactive, not surprisingly, sees things a little differently.

"These folks are flattering us by their attempt to copy us, but it's really doing the industry a great deal of disservice," said Jonathan Thompson, director of communications for the Electronic Industries Association, CES Interactive's sponsor. "They have very little experience in managing a successful trade show. They have very little experience in reaching the key buyers that they need to for the industry. The only people that are going to suffer are those people who attend their show and are disappointed."

CES claims first dibs on the interactive entertainment show concept, saying it signed a contract with the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia in April. Just two weeks after the new show was announced at Summer CES in June, IDG announced its own show in a blatant attempt to siphon off exhibitors.

CES Interactive said it has signed contracts with 52 exhibitors to date, including Nintendo of America, Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Interactive. Nintendo is the show's largest exhibitor, committing to 40,000 square feet of the total 300,000 net square feet of space.

But while Mr. Thompson said CES is confident it will sell out exhibit floor space, the total number of exhibitors may fall well below the 600-plus that attended Summer CES, the show CES Interactive will replace.

E3 said it has signed contracts from 55 exhibitors, including Viacom, Walt Disney Co., Sega of America and Fox Interactive. E3 said it expects over 30,000 attendees and is already cockily billing itself as "the world's largest trade show dedicated" to interactive entertainment.

Millions of dollars are at stake in the trade shows' battle. Exhibitors can easily spend several hundred thousand dollars a show on floor space, travel and entertainment costs. Larger ones, like Nintendo, sometimes drop as much as $2 million.

As a non-profit organization, CES claims its show will service exhibitors, buyers and, eventually, consumers, better than E3.

IDG is "a for-profit company, not interested in the industry," Mr. Thompson said. "They're interested in expanding their mailing list, period. We're interested in helping the industry grow."

Infotainment World's Mr. Ferrell said both shows may go on as scheduled next year, but "ultimately, the interactive software community wants one venue, once a year."

In the end, one strong trade show would probably do the nascent industry a lot more good than two potentially mediocre ones. But so far, neither side shows signs of backing down.

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