Video Game Conventions: Enough with the Excess

Video Game Conventions: Enough with the Excess

No matter how bad the economy gets, you can always count on one thing: Somewhere out there, there’s always a video game publisher determined to throw one hell of a party and set such mundane cares aside. Ditto for developers, analysts and middleware providers, who seem increasingly determined to drink away 2009’s troubling results, and continue to host events, cocktail parties and lavish editor’s days with gleeful abandon.

Nowhere was the continued trend towards hedonism more apparent than at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) tradeshow, where firms from Activision to Microsoft, THQ and Namco all put on flamboyant bashes featuring the likes of actress Rachel Bilson and the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am. As what is essentially one big multi-day party itself (not counting pre-/post-show events) and a three-ring media circus, it’s not surprising that a 24/7 celebration of all things gaming-related would play host to such a massive array of head-turning attractions. But what is unexpected is the sheer number of firms that attempted to use parties, dinners, cocktail hours and other evening events to capture insiders’ attention this year – an oftentimes ironically more cost-effective strategy than attempting to compete by going head-to-head with bigger booths and splashier attractions, as rows of flashing TV screens and blaring loudspeakers tend to blur after 8 hours, whereas by 6PM, an open bar and free hors d’oeuvre spread can look like a virtual oasis to poor showgoers who’ve been running since 5AM off a stale Coke and Power Bar or handful of pretzels.

Past E3 events included appearances by chart-topping musical acts from The Who to Outkast, Natasha Bedingfield and Missy Elliot, as well as all-day outdoor barbeques accompanied by scantily-clad dancers and fire-breathing dwarves, not to mention posh soirees hosted at exclusive clubs, baseball stadiums and other engaging venues filled to capacity, crowned by private performances from everyone from Jay-Z and Eminem to The Killers. Given the level of surreality the show is known for playing home to, generally, what it takes to get attendees buzzing is simply the same sort of hijinks you’d find behind many of Las Vegas’ most notable weekend attractions: A big-name guest band or DJ (the more mysterious the advance hype, the better), swank venue, open bar, juicy spread, lots of models, little notice, exclusive guest list, special appearance by random B- to D-list celebrity/celebrities (the more absurd the merrier) and way more people queued up to get in the joint than it could ever hope to accommodate.

Jane’s Addiction is just one of many bands being tapped to headline lavish video game industry events.

Nonetheless, even we were surprised by Activision’s one-of-a-kind E3 event – a gala musical showcase the likes of which the conference had never seen, featuring guest appearances by Eminem, Jane’s Addiction, N.E.R.D., Chris Cornell, Rhianna, Usher and others. Plus, of course, the bizarre Sunday night pre-show spectacular Microsoft threw to promote new motion control system, Kinect (formerly Project Natal), featuring Cirque du Soleil’s performers, all but certainly a multimillion-dollar production. Still, the actual marketing and PR value of these soirees is debatable, as is tastefulness in the face of declining returns and mounting job losses.

Some would argue that E3 is a key event in terms of generating buzz for games going into the holiday season, and that no expense should be spared as a result. Us, well… let’s just say it seems like a very pricey, ham-handed way to get the message across, and one that’s a dangerous gamble, as messaging and brand awareness are often lost in the shuffle to get to the bar or front of the private stage. Wherever you sit, be sure to check out the following piece, courtesy of the Associated Press (by way of The Huffington Post), which examines the game industry’s return to excess, and puts a ballpark price tag on just how much is being shelled out for these singular events:

Party Like It’s 2005: E3 Parties Return to Excess – Associated Press

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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