Comdex Is About Games Too

As I pack my bags and head off to the Comdex computer show in Las Vegas, I wonder if the game industry will have a large presence at this largely computer-hardware type show.

You see, last year was interesting because the tech industry (read non-game related technologies) were in a huge slump. Now we know this slump was just the beginning of what has become a long financial nightmare. The game industry by contrast was doing quite well, with three consoles to choose from and a healthy PC market. Even the old Macintosh game market looked like it might make a comeback.

So here you had a show that is supposed to focus on "important" technologies like communications hardware, high speed processors and consumer gadgets, yet the market was slumped. And then you had in the other corner, computer games which have never been shown at Comdex and had their own show in the form of E3. But, the "important" technologies were having a terrible year, and the game industry was having a great year.

So, much of the show seemed to focus on games. For example, Bill Gates, lord high creator of Microsoft has for the past several years given the opening keynote address at Comdex. I have attended many of these speeches and although he does his best to make them interesting with graphics and even miniature movies, they are mostly kind of boring. But last year, he spent more than a third of his presentation talking about Microsoft's new Xbox. Some of the old school journalists were appalled. I know because I was sitting with them down in the press area. "This is Comdex and he is talking about toys!" one muttered to another.

Some folks just don't get it.

Anyway, Gates went so far as to show some movies of new games that were coming out for the system, and even compared his console to the competition. My guess is that with Xbox live shipping, he may spend some of his time talking about that this time around. It's unusual to see the chairman of the most powerful software company in the world talking about computer games to an audience of "serious" technology buyers and media. Heck, they even gave them away to random people in the crowd. But you know what? The crowd ate it up, other than those older gentlemen who were obviously reporters for the Stuffy-Shirt Times or the Leave it to Beaver Weekly.

Beyond that, the show was littered with both subtle and overt references to computer games. In the overt category, you have NVIDIA whom I am meeting with on Wednesday this year. Their hotel suite is pretty much a giant computer game parlor with babes talking about how great the gaming experience is when you use their cards.

I think I even saw some folks from IGN, or should I say the "pay us or we won't give you the news" network.

On the subtle side, hardware people like Sony, whom I know won't be at the show this year other than their storage division, were showing a lot of new systems that just happened to be showing how well they could play games. And speaker manufactures just happened to be showing how great explosions with Quake sounded compared to the standard computer fare. Pity the poor fools who have just average quality speakers. They are asking to be fragged, or so they told me.

Companies that had no interest in computer games before were suddenly embracing them, even though it was obvious that some had no idea what they were talking about. The game industry was making money, so everyone wanted to be associated with it in some way.

So what has changed this year? Well, the technology industry is still in a slump. There are even news reports that after this week, Comdex may go bankrupt. Gasp! No more free trips to Vegas? Declining attendance and lack of vendors are taking their toll. People don't want to fly thanks to September 11, and I admit I pretty much hate doing it as well. And as for declining vendor attendance, companies either can't afford to send people to man a booth, or simply have gone bankrupt. In that sense, nothing much has changed.

But guess what? The game industry is in a bit of trouble now as well. The game industry is not as bad off as general technology companies yet. Bad times it seems creates a market for folks that want to have a little fun without a bottle, needle or dangerous activity involved. Computer games are famous for their ability to let users "turn off" reality for a time without harmful side effects. The GiNDex, our way of tracking the industry, is still fairly high, though it is not rocketing off the charts like it was last year. But I don't think the game industry has quite as much pull with the mainstream technology companies as it did previously.

In short, I don't know how much the game industry will be featured at Comdex this year, if at all. It will be heartening if it is like last year. But like the people in The Masquerade of the Red Death, you can't hide from the outside world forever. I'm just hoping we can hold out till things get better.

Then again I could be wrong. Any profits in this day and age look pretty attractive. A starving man probably won't complain if his steak is a bit undercooked.

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