Expo's lackluster Games Pavilion

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After a relatively lean 2006 for major Mac game releases, the last thing gamers really needed to see at last week’s Macworld Expo was a wasteland of a Games Pavilion. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they were faced with. This was the most grim Games Pavilion I can remember in just about all my years of coming to Macworld Expos, and it really set my teeth on edge.

Back in the good old days

The Games Pavilion has long been a staple of the Macworld Expo show floor. For the past couple of years it’s been part of the South Hall, where the rest of the exhibit hall was. And although it was nestled off in one corner of the hall, it garnered heavy traffic as people were drawn by the sound and action—Apple brought in dozens of Macs that people could use not only to try out new games but also to compete against each other in hourly tournaments.

That area was ringed by Macintosh game vendors showing off their latest wares, and supplemented by kiosks filled with dozens of Macs showing off titles from smaller vendors that, left to their own devices, would never have been able to exhibit at Macworld Expo.

In years gone by, the Games Pavilion even featured its own theater area, with a large projection display that vendors could use to take turns showing off their works in progress and top sellers. Sometimes they’ve even had dedicated sales areas, opening up more booth space for vendors to actually show off their products, and the tournaments have featured grand prizes of Macs and gaming paraphernalia.

Dust devils and tumbleweeds

By comparison, this year’s Games Pavilion was an anemic effort. It was an insult to Mac gamers and certainly not worthy either of one of the best consumer electronics companies on Earth or of the trade show company that plans later this year to offer the replacement for the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in the form of the Entertainment for All Expo.

The Games Pavilion, pushed off to a remote corner of the new “Digital Lifestyle Experience” in the Moscone Center’s North Hall, was as staid as a convention of tax auditors, and drew about as much enthusiasm from attendees as a trip to Home Depot to look at chips of interior paint. There was none of the lights, sound, enthusiasm and energy of past Games Pavilions.

“This year we wanted to provide more of a hands-on area,” explained Paul Kent, brand vice president in charge of the Conference & Expo, when I spoke to him about the Pavilion.

Feral Interactive and Aspyr Media made the best of an obviously bad situation by using their own booth presences to show off their new titles and sell boxes at discounted show rates. And newcomer Robosoft Technologies —an Indian outsourcing company that now works extensively with Feral Interactive — also had a booth there, not to sell anything but just simply to let folks know about what it’s doing.

One possible highlight of the Games Pavilion was, for the first time, the presence of iPods— games on iPods attracted some showgoers who professed to not knowing about iPod games before. I just wish more had seen them. I saw those kiosks empty as often as not.

Comedy of errors

But the Games Pavilion couldn’t even draw stalwart Mac game publisher Freeverse Software, which opted instead for a booth in the South Hall after protracted discussions between Apple and IDG World Expo about the size and scope of the Games Pavilion stalled.

By the time that Apple and IDG World Expo figured out what they were doing, Ambrosia Software, which was listed as an exhibitor until late December, dropped out of the show altogether. Ambrosia’s departure from the show left a big gaping hole on one side of the Games Pavilion, which organizers tried to fill with tables and chairs for the distant restaurant. At least it gave some visitors a chance to take some weight off their feet and nap for a bit.

About the only breath of fresh air was the enthusiastic presence of Bongfish Interactive, an Austrian game developer close to completing its first Macintosh game title—a stellar-looking snowboarding game called Stoked Rider: Alaska Alien.

“We’re happy to provide a gaming area, and we’re looking forward to seeing more vendors in the future,” Kent said.

Put your game face on

Laughably, IDG World Expo couldn’t even be roused to let visitors to the Games Pavilion know about its upcoming E for All Expo, opting instead to stick some signage in a standing location in the South Hall instead.

Even if you wouldn’t know it by this year’s Games Pavilion, there are games on the Mac, and it’s a fun platform to play on. Apple and IDG World Expo have to do a better job developing that message and getting it out for next year’s show, or they should just scrap that space all together and do something more productive with it. Like maybe some more tables and chairs.

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