CES 2009 Report, Days 2 & 3: So Close and Yet So Far
It would seem to make sense for videogames to have a major presence here. After all, the game industry makes up a large portion of the consumer electronics market, and even the non-gaming companies here seem somewhat in awe of the way our sector continues to grow while other entertainment technologies struggle and slowly contract. In fact, before the Electronic Entertainment Expo split off in 1995, CES was the gaming show, and one I eagerly dreamed of attending once I was old enough (I had an uncle who could sneak me in through his home security alarm business, even if my dreams of a game industry job didn't come true).
With so much to see, who has time for air hockey? Well, these guys ... but who else?
Little did I know, back then, that my first CES would be so far from what I expected.
Don't get me wrong, some of my colleagues in the gaming press warned me recently that today's CES offered slim pickings for the interested gamer. Still, I had high hopes for the "Gaming Showcase," a sub-show in the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall dedicated to gaming-focused companies. "It might not be E3," I thought, "but maybe it will be close?"
What I found instead was a tiny booth-ghetto set far away from the LVCC entrance, segregated from the rest of the massive CES show floor by white tape and populated by companies that were close to gamers' interests but not quite centered there. Over there is a company that distributes DDR pads. There's one that's marketing a classic NES clone and a cheap knock-off of Wii Sports Tennis. Oh, and another that does the same! Look, there are three companies that make rhythm game guitars and drums! And four companies that seem to deal exclusively in rumbling chairs with speakers in them! Wow!
The excitement never stops at CES...
Sure, there are a few interesting games and peripherals hidden away in the gaming showcase, and major peripheral makers Nyko and MadCatz had interesting displays well off the show floor (look for a roundup of the best -- and worst -- early next week) but many of the products on display make me wonder why I traveled so far to see this stuff.
Speaking of Nyko and MadCatz, let me give some advice to other people who haven't been to Las Vegas: Things that seems close together are often actually quite far away. On a map, it might seem like a quick jaunt from the Convention Center to the nearby Hilton to see some private, in-suite controller demos. In reality, though, the combination of congested Las Vegas streets and the incredibly huge size of the buildings turns even simple journeys into quite a trek. Similarly, I thought the cheapo hotel I was staying at just off the strip would be relatively close to the monorail stop at the MGM Grand. Little did I know that the MGM Grand was a byzantine maze of hallways with a monorail entrance that was far, far away from the part of the hotel I entered.
The closest thing to a big gaming announcement at the show: a new piece of art for EverQuest's 10th anniversary
Anyway, I can't help but feel like CES is a bit of a missed opportunity for game companies. When it comes to actual games, Sony Online Entertainment, Activision/Blizzard and Capcom are the only major third-party publishers with a presence. And while each company seems to be showing off a token update for at least one major game (DC Universe Online, Dark Void, respectively), they just don't seem to be putting their hearts into making the kind of big splash they would at another major show. Activision President Mike Griffith spent his entire press conference explaining the history of the game industry and how the company's 2008 games fit into this history. What a waste!
A note to the game companies that didn't feel the need to attend CES: There is a big hole to be filled here. If you have a major game or initiative to announce, you can do it here without fear that it will be lost in the noise of a major show like GDC or E3. I know you're all still recovering a bit from the close-by holiday blockbuster season, but with E3 still so far off, I'd think some of you would have an interest in showing off your wares.
Left to right: me, Joystiq's Kevin Kelly and Justin McElroy and GameDaily's Robin Yang. We are: Robin & the 'Stiqers!
While my Vegas experience has been far from the life of a high roller (I've placed token bets in 11 different casinos and broken close to even so far), some of the companies here have been doing their best to provide a close approximation. Sony Online Entertainment hosted a free-to-enter poker tournament at their Studio 54 party, where I finished fourth out of a total 80 participants (the top three participants got prizes. So close...), and memory-card maker SanDisk hosted a Rock Band 2 "battle of the bands" between members of the press, where my former colleagues at Joystiq and I finished second (...yet so far from the big prize -- the first-place team received a deluxe Rock Band 2 pack and a dinner at Harrah's).
As I finish this write-up early Saturday morning, I feel so close to the end of the show and yet still so far from my late-night Sunday flight. I haven't even set foot in the LVCC's massive North and Central Halls, not to mention the Sands Convention Center and Venetian Hotels, all of which feature even more nearly-identical phones, laptops, PDAs and HDTVs (I'm guessing). On the other hand, two full days seems like an ocean of time to walk those deceptively long Las Vegas distances to see how far technology has come, and try and find that one piece of kit that has the potential to change the way we play games in the future. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to prepare for the long, cold journey to the monorail. See you on the other side.