Outside the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, chauffeurs sat in dark-tinted town cars up and down Chick Hearn Lane, waiting for their optimistic bosses to cut deals. Chances are those bosses were doing something stupid probably throwing money away licensing obscure comic book characters. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the gaming worlds largest showcase of the year better known as E3 everything was feeling very late 90s. Remember those days? Dot-coms had money and so did you.
Unlike most industries, video-game makers have yet to see their bubble burst. The industry experienced a 10 percent sales increase in 2002, and Wall Street predicts double-digit growth through 2005. One businessperson told me that the biggest innovation at E3 2003 was movie tie-ins and sequels. As in the dot-com go-go years, game makers are now engaged in a business where it is almost impossible to throw money away without having money thrown back in return.
Along those lines, one of the more ubiquitous presences at this years convention was G4 TV, a new cable channel that is to video games what MTV is to music, a network, as the press material says, all about video games and the gamer lifestyle. Capturing the gamer lifestyle, though, is a questionable goal. Consider this basic fact of gaming life: Its completely asocial. Even if youre playing Sonys EverQuest online with friends (youre a dark-elf cleric living in Antonica; your best friend is an Erudite necromancer on the continent of Odus), in reality youre probably both in separate living rooms, staring into a video monitor at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. Iksar Monks from Kunark are well-represented in the less-illustrious fraternity of Guys Without Dates.
Admirably, G4 didnt seem to get caught up in the spendthrift ways of most exhibitors, who erect millions of dollars worth of temporary architecture and plasma screens to promote their wares. G4 did, however, hire half a dozen convention-floor babes to mill around its booth. They were dressed in outfits reminiscent of Hooters safety-orange short shorts and tight tank tees with the words G4 Booth Babe printed over their breasts. More to the point, G4 sent dozens of its reporters throughout the convention hall, breaking news. In the world of video games, this usually means playing new game footage and occasionally cavorting with a costumed midget.
Patrick Clark, a host and producer for the network, led me around in the company of one of G4s flacks, Taffy Miller. Like the candy, she said, yelling over the background noise, a piercing mix of cinematic schmaltz and gunfire.
Patrick was blond and had the complexion of one whose pores have fully absorbed a light smear of pancake. Pre-G4 he was on-air talent at the WBs St. Louis affiliate. He moved to Los Angeles to get closer to the action. On the second day of the convention, for example, he got to hang out a bit with N Syncs Lance Bass, who is hosting G4s Glow Awards, which is the Academy Awards of gaming, or at least the Peoples Choice.
Patrick removed his earplugs as we approached G4s booth on the midway of the convention centers West Hall. The Glow Awards are going to be as much about the gamer as about the game, he explained. The question well be asking is, How do you achieve that glow? Do you close the blinds? Do you shut off the lights? It was a riveting moment. I am told that Mr. Bass achieved his glow by getting his picture taken with Sponge Bob. Evidently he was quite insistent.
In the booths confessional, a steady stream of gamers with facial piercings and oversize raver jeans popped in to spill their guts about 20-hour Halo binges. The channel planned to use these as on-air promos.
In the corner was a comfortable reclining chair that wouldnt have looked out of place in a dental office. Next to it sat Charlie, the G4 tattoo artist. Charlie was giving out real tattoos for free, with one stipulation: You can get anything you want, said Taffy, as long as it has the G4 logo on it. Weve had about 20 during the convention. Two tigers, two scorpions, two PS 2 logos, one Tri-Triangle from Links Shield, and a few G4 Rebels.
In the chair was a gamer with long red hair tied back and pushed under a baseball cap. The right sleeve of his shirt was scrunched up under his armpit, and the freckles that covered his pale arm led straight to a fresh tattoo of G4s logo, encircled in the braincase of a skull and crossbones.
I wondered, did he come here expecting to get that?
Nope, I didnt even know what G4 was! he exclaimed, his voice barely audible over the concussive background noise.