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E3: Ouya game console startup takes to the streets in guerrilla fight against E3's organizer

A small Southern California tech firm came up with a creative way to market their product instead of paying big bucks to have a booth inside the E3 trade show.

Ouya, a Santa Monica-based start-up, is developing a $100 console for indie video games.  The company didn't want to pay  for a booth at E3 inside the Los Angeles Convention Center, so it hosted its own display area at a parking lot across the street.

That's when the drama started. On Tuesday, there was a big trailer blocking the view of Ouya's display area in the parking lot. Ouya said the group behind the trailer were the organizers of E3, the Entertainment Software Association.

 So, Ouya put a sign in front of the trailer to tell people to go behind it to see its booth.

Then, at one point, someone called the L.A. Police Department on Ouya. IGN reported that police were checking to see if Ouya had the proper permits and once the company showed they did, the police left. 

An Ouya spokeswoman told KPCC Thursday that the company was no longer commenting on the issue. ESA did not return requests for comment. 

Unlike big corporate giants, Ouya raised cash from members of the public through Kickstarter, an online fundraising site for its console. Michael Zyda, founding director of USC's GamePipe Laboratory, said it's possible that some of the bigger companies at E3 put pressure on its organizers to squash Ouya's booth. Zyda said he noticed fewer smaller companies at E3 this year.

"It's too expensive to be inside," Zyda said.

He said in the past, smaller companies had rented space in parking lots nearby. He said what happened to Ouya was unusual.

"There must have been weird contentious thing that happened that we all don’t know about," Zyda said. "Whoever put that tractor trailer ... that was a creepy thing to do." 

Zyda was the development director for the America's Army PC game. In 2003, the U.S. Army rented space inside the exhibition hall at E3, outside the convention center and parking lot spaces. Zyda estimates the cost of renting all those spaces for three days, plus the building of the indoor booth, cost $965,000. The majority of that money went toward building and renting space inside the center, he said, although he added his game's display was elaborate. 

ESA did not respond to KPCC's questions on how much it costs to rent a booth at E3.

In addition to saving some cash, Ouya also drummed up a lot of publicity from its fight with the ESA, Zyda said. 

Emily Harris, who was at Ouya Park on Thursday, said she thought the whole thing was "a little ridiculous." Harris is a personal assistant and isn't allowed to go inside E3, which is only open to people who cover or are involved in the gaming industry.

"It's kind of a tease when it's a trade-only," 26-year-old Harris said, who was waiting for her friends that were attending E3. "It's great when there are booths like this outside because you can get a little taste of what's inside when you can't go in."