LAS VEGAS — Inside the massive complex on the Las Vegas Strip that houses the glitzy Venetian casino and the Sands convention center, amid a soundscape of conflicting noises, thousands of players are mashing buttons while staring intently at flickering screens.
No, they're not playing slots or video poker. They're trying their hand at upcoming games such as Titanfall and Ryse.
This is the GameStop Expo. The world's largest video game retailer first organized the gathering of its most passionate customers last year during its annual meeting of store managers. While the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles is no longer open to the public, the GameStop Expo offers everyday gamers a chance to preview upcoming titles and hardware.
The expo's more than 5,000 attendees waited in snaking lines inside a cavernous Sands Expo and Convention Center hall early Wednesday to test-drive Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, the next-generation systems due out in November. Call of Duty: Ghosts, Titanfall, Ryse: Son of Rome and Battlefield 4 were among the most popular games on display.
Admission for Wednesday's event ranged from $20 for student tickets to $100 for VIP access that included early entry.
"I'm here to see and play all the next-gen consoles and games for myself," Shawn Smoak, a 22-year-old self-professed "Sony fanboy," said while waiting to try out Titanfall. "You can read everything you possibly can about them online, but until you actually get your hands on the controller, you don't really know anything."
The expo also included panels, giveaways, photo booths, costume contests and free chocolate ice cream dispensed from a truck promoting the South Park: The Stick of Truth game.
Beyond the expo hall, in meeting rooms at the Venetian casino and the Sands convention center, more than 5,000 managers from the company's nearly 4,500 stores in the United States spent three days learning how to sell new games and hardware to customers like those at its expo. The retailer currently boasts about 25 million members in its PowerUp Rewards program.
"We didn't want to be in the live events business," said GameStop chief executive officer Paul Raines. "This was something that was pulled out of us. The customers wanted it. The PowerUp Rewards community was asking for us to give them an opportunity to see new products and games. People love it because this is the only place where they can play Titanfall right now."