Image: Devin Landin, Julius Buckner play video game
Phil Mccarten  /  Reuters
Devin Landin, center, and Julius Buckner, left, play EA Sports' "NBA Live 09" at the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles on July 16, 2008.
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updated 7/16/2008 8:52:06 PM ET 2008-07-17T00:52:06

One word sums up the announcements made by the Big Three gaming companies at the E3 this week: more.

During their flashy press conferences, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all announced plans for more games, more sequels, more exclusives, more connectivity and more ways for gamers to use their systems for stuff other than gaming.

Such an escalation in enhancements is undoubtedly good news for existing owners of the Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3 consoles, as well as their handheld counterparts.

However, the upgrades may leave the systems feeling less distinct than ever before. Similar features and comparable accessories could confuse financially strapped consumers looking to power up this holiday season.

Microsoft kicked off E3 Monday at the Los Angeles Convention Center with a ceremony pitching the Xbox 360 as family friendly.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was a redesign of the console's interface, which will allow users to create avatars that can interact with each other and play select games online. The Wii's already had that feature — called Miis — since its 2006 debut.

The parallels only begin there. Microsoft flaunted "Lips," a new sing-along game similar to Sony's popular "SingStar" franchise.

Unlike "SingStar," this karaoke game developed by iNiS enables wannabe singers to croon their pre-existing tunes from MP3 players with a microphone that's motion sensitive, a feature that's been a hallmark of the Wii.

The next day at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Nintendo unveiled WiiSpeak, a "community microphone" that attaches to the top of the console's sensor bar and will allow users to vocally chat.

The WiiSpeak accessory will cost $29.99 and be available later this year. Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 already feature voice chat capabilities and their own headset microphones.

Nintendo teased the news that new entries in the decades-old "Mario Bros." and "Zelda" franchises were currently in development. And for the first time, Nintendo will bring the "Animal Crossing" series to the Wii with "Animal Crossing: City Folk" later this year. The cutesy open-world game will boast a bigger playing field and an online auction house selling virtual items.

"You're able to just do all the things you love to do in 'Animal Crossing' but even more," said Cammie Dunaway, vice president at Nintendo.

Later, Sony debuted its long-awaited video download service for the PlayStation 3. Standard and high definition videos from such studios as MGM, Fox, Lionsgate and Disney can be downloaded and watched on the console and transferred to Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld system. Rentals cost $2.99 to $5.99 while purchases range from $9.99 to $14.99.

Microsoft announced a deal the day before with DVD rental company Netflix which will allow Xbox 360 owners to stream videos from Netflix to their TV.

Microsoft launched its own video download service two years ago with programming from providers such as Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks and Warner Bros. Lionsgate and Disney since used the service to dispense their content, too.

Sony surprised some spectators at E3 by announcing it would focus on and reduce the price of the 80-gigabyte PlayStation 3 to $399. Previously, the company sold a 40-gigabyte version for that price. Before E3 began, Microsoft revealed it would cut the price of 20-gigabyte Xbox 360 by $50 to $299. The company will also begin selling a 60-gigabyte version for $349.

In what may have been E3's best-kept secret, audible gasps were heard from the audience Tuesday when Nintendo announced that Rockstar Games was developing a "Grand Theft Auto" title for the portable Nintendo DS system that would be released in winter.

Titled "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars," the game will be set in Liberty City and focus on the Triad crime syndicate.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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