GameStop Expo 2014 was an unusual consumer show. It was only open on Wednesday, Sept. 10, which isn’t the most ideal day of the week for the video game retailer to host something like this. A regular $50 ticket ($40 if you paid before Aug. 15) gave fans just seven hours to explore the Anaheim Convention Center and play as many games as they could, including upcoming blockbusters like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Far Cry 4.
With such little time, why does GameStop even bother with holding a public show at all?
“It’s a chance to interact with the consumers. It’s a chance to give our best customers the opportunity to come and play the games in an environment before they’re released,” said chief financial officer Robert Lloyd in an interview with GamesBeat. “Mostly, it’s our PowerUp Rewards members. We love to offer that as an opportunity for them. I think it’s fun for them to be able to get in here and play while no one else is here. If you look out there, you’d be surprised at the number of kids you’ll see today playing hooky from school.”
The main reason the expo takes place in the middle of the week is because it’s actually a part of GameStop’s annual managers conference. Thousands of store employees come together for a week of meetings and presentations about changes within the company and for a preview of games coming out for the holidays. The floor — filled with the kind of booths you’d find at trade shows or at other consumer shows like the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) — used to be just for those managers.
But they still get to have it all to themselves for one night. This year, that happened on a Tuesday, the night before it opened to the public.
All the major console manufacturers, publishers, and developers attend as well, including Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Activision, and Electronic Arts.
Taking a cue from down under
Lloyd said the idea for the expo came from the company’s Australian branch. It noticed that the country didn’t have a place where people could go and play new games before they come out (a version of PAX has since opened its doors there). This led to the creation of the EB Games Expo, which takes place every year in Sydney, lasts for three days, and brings in tens of thousands of visitors. The GameStop Expo pales in comparison — the company expected 7,000 people for this year’s show — but Lloyd said that’s because U.S. fans have other gaming-centric events they can attend throughout the year.
The 2014 GameStop Expo was the first time it traveled to California. Last year, the show was in Las Vegas, where it gave 5,200 fans the chance to play with the then-unreleased PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. About 2,500 people attended the expo’s inaugural debut in 2012 when it was in San Antonio, a few hours away from the retailer’s headquarters in Grapevine, Texas.
“[Jumping from city to city is] primarily for the store managers, to make sure that we’re giving them new and different environments in which we do the training,” said Lloyd. “Vegas can be a fun time for all. So we try to switch it up a little bit. And as you can imagine, with over 5,000 attendees, you have to work years in advance to find the kind of facilities that can house everyone and house the meetings that we need.”
Half business, half pleasure
As someone used to navigating through jam-packed hallways at trade shows like the Electronic Entertainment Expo or the Game Developers Conference, walking around the GameStop Expo felt unusually comfortable for me. Unless you wanted to meet a celebrity or have something signed by a developer, the lines weren’t bad at all. The floor had a lot of open space, and that didn’t change much throughout the day. I wasn’t sure if that was because attendance was low this year or if the convention center was just too big — it’s the same place where developer Blizzard hosts its yearly BlizzCon meet-up.
While the expo is open to anyone who can buy a ticket, some things still served as reminders of its larger purpose, like a booth I came across called GameStop Multichannel. I hadn’t heard that name before, so when I asked one of its representatives about it, he told me that “Multichannel” is more of an internal term for GameStop’s digital game downloads. He said that next time, the staff should probably change the name before the public walks in.
Located next to the big booths were smaller ones representing GameStop’s less-publicized brands, such as Kongregate, a popular web portal for free games. According to Kongregate CEO Emily Greer, the company had a two-pronged approach for being at the show: to make people aware of its recent dive into the mobile games market and to create incentives for downloading those games. Attendees earned one spin on a prize wheel for every Kongregate game they installed on their mobile devices.
For now, GameStop doesn’t have any plans to expand the expo into a multiday event. When I asked Lloyd if that was a possibility, he told me that it would depend on how the audience for the show grows. “I think we could convince our publisher partners to stick around for extra days if the public wanted to be here [longer],” he said.
You can check out some of the sights from this year’s show in the gallery below.