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Mobile Gaming Plays at the Fringes of E3

Mobile gaming is the fastest-growing part of the video game biz, but still a footnote at E3.

The Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo hummed with activity as attendees adorned with colorful badges waited in line for a glimpse of the final chapter in the Batman: Arkham game trilogy. The studio pulled out the big guns for this event — including a tricked-out Batmobile parked on an elevated platform that nerds took turns photographing.

Nothing of the sort was happening at the deserted corner adjacent to the Batman spectacle. Here, in the Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall, sat the pavilion designated for mobile and social gaming. Representatives from a dozen or so companies, including some from Poland, Beijing, Cambridge and Hong Kong, jockeyed for attention from potential distributors and partners amid the cacophony that is the videogame industry’s largest trade show.

This was the place conference-goers stepped into to get away from the action. Not to be a part of it.

“We can’t really compete with the Warner Bros. guys,” admitted David Chan of Bandai Namco Games America Inc. in San Jose, who was demonstrating a mobile version of Pac-Man.

From its humble display at E3, one would hardly guess that mobile gaming is the fastest growing part of the videogame business. Worldwide mobile gaming revenue rose 27 percent in 2013, compared with the prior year, according to SuperData, a research firm that tracks mobile and social gaming. Indeed, smartphone and tablet games, which brought in $3 billion last year in the U.S., are the largest source of digital revenue for the gaming industry.

Digital revenue has become the industry’s muscle-bound hero. This category, which sweeps in mobile apps, social games, subscriptions, downloadable console titles and additional content, now accounts for more than half of the $21.5 billion U.S. consumers spent last year on games, according to NPD data. Sales of packaged console games and hardware had steadily declined until last year when sales perked up 2 percent to $8.8 billion thanks to the introduction of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.

Despite the rosier prospects of mobile gaming, E3, the premier annual showcase of the interactive entertainment industry’s finest, remains largely devoted to the spectacle of console gaming — which has been re-energized by the latest gaming systems. The combined U.S. sales of console games over the first six months are more than twice that of their predecessors over a comparable period, according to NPD. The trade show’s giant screens and larger-than-life displays of menacing monsters, dragons and battle vehicles trumpet upcoming titles to the retail buyers roaming the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

This week, mobile gaming played a supporting role in the booths of the major game publishers and console-makers. For the second year in a row, mobile game companies remained an accessory to the main show.

“We provide an evolving platform,” said Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, the industry’s trade group. “As [mobile gaming] becomes a more prominent part of the industry, it will be reflected on the show floor.”

Mobile developers did their best to stay away from the spectacle to make their own noise.

DeNA, a Tokyo-based developer, rented out a private room at The Palm restaurant two blocks from the convention center to introduce a mobile game based on the latest installment of the battling-robots film series “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and five other unreleased titles.

“The thing that I love about mobile and tablet gaming is the intimacy,” said Barry Dorf, DeNA’s vice president of partnerships. “The games don’t project well on a 50-by-25-foot screen. It’s not really how they’re made.”

Dorf said he’ll take time to demonstrate the games in the comparatively quiet setting, where he doesn’t have to shout over blaring music or compete with giant game publishers.

“I don’t want to fight for attention with the Batmobile,” Dorf said.

Mobile game publisher Scopely, creator of such titles as Skee-Ball Arcade and Mini Golf MatchUp, invited guests for hors d’oeuvres at one of downtown LA’s best known sushi restaurants, Katsuya.

Scopely Chief Executive Walter Driver said mobile gaming is very much on the minds of game publishers — even those best known for their expensive console titles.

“E3 is definitely a console-driven event, but behind the scenes and around the convention center a lot of the talk is about mobile,” Driver said. “There’s a lot of chatter, but it’s less visible to someone walking through [the hallways], because there’s no massive installation, no pointing arrows saying, ‘People’s attentions are shifting to mobile.”

On the E3 show floor, Kamil Biaty, chief executive of a Polish company, 3DC, did his best to drum up interest in a new virtual world based in the cities of Berlin, London, Paris and Ibiza. He said he cultivated a few business prospects, though only a handful of people were seen stopping by on a recent afternoon.

Teenage game developers Tony Eleazer, 18, and Daniel Dowd, 17, appeared to be having better luck with their mobile/tablet game, Puttrick, in which a lovable green putty glob of a character moves through puzzles set in the catacombs of Egypt, the forests of the Aztecs and the glam of Las Vegas. These vocational students at Cambridge Regional College in England created the title under the supervision of game developer Michael Warburton at Rizing Games.

On the opening day of E3, Eleazer and Dowd had already attracted the attention of established game publishers — as well as a representative from Nintendo, Warburton said.

“We weren’t expecting that on the first day,” Warburton said. “It’s scary.”

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