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CES 2009: The Gamer Primer

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About two seconds after the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square, the game-news cycle begins anew, popping back up like one of the non-player characters in Fallout 3 that just. won't. die. The first big stop on the media crazy train is the Consumer Electronic Show, the massive expo where hundreds of thousands of the latest gadgets, gizmos, and newfangled thingamajigs are shown the public.


Though regrettably no longer held alongside the Adult Video News Awards--the Oscars of porn--CES has been ground zero for major game announcements in the past. In 2001, Microsoft enlisted Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to unveil the original Xbox and fake-intimidate then-Chairman Bill Gates. In 2005, the event was the American coming-out party for the PSP, a keyboard for which unveiled at last year's show…but has not yet hit retail.

Unfortunately, often CES is only a footnote on the hectic game-industry calendar. Though last year's keynote address by Gates was historic for being his last, it was light on news. The biggest headline was that Xbox Live had hit 10 million active users, a figure which increased by 7 million in the following 12 months.

This year's two game-related CES keynotes are rumored to be even less exciting for gamers. According to the blog TechCrunch, the biggest news at the keynote by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be new footage of two previously announced games: Halo Wars and Halo 3: ODST. Tomorrow morning's speech by Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer might be more exciting--but for all the wrong reasons. The Times of London reported earlier this week that the event may precede a "sacred-cow killing" restructuring of the struggling electronics company, possibly even including that most divine of bovines, Sony Computer Entertainment.


While often short on game news bombshells, CES does see a series of game viewings for the press--as GameSpot Previews will show as the week progresses. In the meantime, though, the usual pre-event rituals must be observed: early flights, long cab lines, clueless hoteliers, and bureaucratic snafus. For the second year running, many attending GameSpot editors were not in CES' system, while several absent ones were: If anyone asks, feature producer Tyler Weingarner is his colleague Homer Rabara, and I'm "Dan Mihorbek," GS Live tech guru Dan Mihoerck's dyslexic cousin.

One of the sources of the snafus is the sheer scale of CES. The event is big. Huge. Massive. Gargantuan. Last year's event attracted nearly 130,000 attendees--twice what the last large-scale Electronic Entertainment Expo did in 2006. A major portion of those attendees are journalists and bloggers, who come from all corners of the world to mob virtually every event. In 2008, the free press lunch took on the atmosphere of a prison chow riot, with shoving matches breaking out as hundreds of underpaid freelancers threw elbows attempting to load up on chicken fajitas.

Not far from this year's press cafeteria melee, GameSpot's sister site CNET is at CES in force once again, plucking the top technology from the silicon flotsam and jetsam. GameSpot will also be on hand, with continuing coverage throughout the week, such as the apparent revelation that Rock Band 3 won't arrive this year.