An unfortunate side effect of working on video games is that I have very little energy left afterwards to actually play any of them. It’s been weeks since I logged in to World of Warcraft, my GameFly queue is languishing, and just thinking about getting an XBox 360 makes me feel exhausted. Luckily, there are games like Animal Crossing and Brain Age that only require a couple minutes a day from me, and can be played on the go. I think I may have turned into one of those “casual gamers” that people keep talking about.

This does not mean, however, that I didn’t pay attention to the orgy of gaming excess that was this year’s E3, even if I was foolish enough to pass up a chance to attend. This year, I’m as interested in understanding the marketing messages that various companies put out as I am in the games themselves. The big three console companies all have very different visions of what their audience looks like, and that’s going to make for an interesting twist on the typical market jockeying over the next few years. Microsoft — with its ever-expanding options for online connection, its steps towards integration of the XBox and PC platforms, and its emphasis on blockbuster titles — wants to be the vendor of choice for the hardcore gamer subculture. Sony wants to hold on to that subculture as well, but the emphasis on Blu-Ray and the high price point make the PS3 seem less like a mere console and more like a luxury electronics item.

And then there’s Nintendo, which seems to have ignored the trend toward harder-core, higher-end multimedia integration, and concentrated instead on making games and systems that allow the most people to have the most fun with the least amount of effort. They’re taking a lot of risks — giving up on the graphics arms race, coming out with a new type of controller — but if those risks pay off, they may be able to capture audiences that console game makers have never even dreamed of; they might even create new audiences out of thin air, since most “casual gamers” tend to be “new gamers.”

Of course, it should be noted that my opinion is hardly objective, since the game I’m working on, ExciteTruck, is being published by Nintendo. I’m not just shilling for them, though: After years of pooh-pooing their ideas (“Two screens? What a dumb idea.” “Game… Boy? What kind of name is that?”) and having it demonstrated to me time and time again that Nintendo is way smarter than I am, I’ve finally come to accept the fact that they really do know what they’re doing.

Another sign that I’m paying attention to E3 differently than usual: Most years, I could care less what 1Up chose as the best racing game at the show; after all, picking the best out of a bunch of demos and preview videos is hardly cause for excitement. This year, though, I took notice.

(Incidentally, do I need to point out that the opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent those of any other entity, including my clients and/or employers? I probably do, and I think I just did.)