Fatality! The PlayStation experience fails

Gamers at Playstation 2's first national solo exhibition at London's Earl's Court were lucky to get a go on anything, writes Michael Filby, but the day was saved by Nintendo, which poached Sony's crowds outside.

Last year’s PlayStation Experience was something of a pleasant surprise. Taking place alongside the 2002 European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) at London’s Earl's Court, the PSExp surprised many people by proving to be better than the ECTS itself.

Of course, being Sony’s first attempt at an event of this nature, there were teething problems.
The layout didn’t allow much room for attendees to move around between the game stands, the “celebrities” were sub-Z-list, and despite warnings in every advertisement that tickets would strictly be available only in advance, so few were sold that Sony had to resort to flogging them on the door.

Nevertheless, the show was a breath of fresh air, not least to the legions of jaded and bored ECTS attendees.

The lighting was dark and moody, the music was pumping, and the games were plentiful.

Crowds were wowed at seeing The Getaway, Socom, and EyeToy, months before their release dates (even if those first two did turn out to be mediocre).

Sony even handed out goody bags to visitors as they were leaving, containing a copy of Official PS2 Magazine, a good quality black PS2 t-shirt, demo discs, and some great miscellany such as glowing yo-yos and light-up pens.

The event was regarded as a success, so of course, Sony quickly announced that they would be doing it again alongside ECTS 2003.

The ticket price was reduced slightly to avoid the embarrassment of last year’s u-turn in sales policy, and press releases were sent out promising an event twice the size of last year’s.

So was it any good?

I attended this year’s PSExp with the same two colleagues as last year, so we were all maintaining a certain air of expectation.

Our first problem was actually getting into the event, thanks to the hideously incompetent jobsworths on the doors.

We had arranged with a Sony PR man - who, thankfully, was both helpful and polite - to collect our passes from him in the organiser’s office.

Unfortunately, despite arguing with the door staff for over half an hour, during which time we counted five sets of parents complaining to staff about the organisation of the event, they were totally unwilling to either give us access to the office, or check with the PR people themselves.

Eventually, we had to telephone the PR guy, who kindly brought our passes down to us.

Once inside, the situation failed to improve, though Sony had fulfilled their promise to make the event twice as large as last year’s.

Alas, everything was hugely spread out, so in reality, the same number of games were on display.

The main stage was far more visible this year, thanks mainly to the swathes of empty space in front of it, so we could get a fairly good view of Colin Murray and what was possibly Edith Bowman introducing some actually quite good live acts.

Ignoring the on-stage distractions, we decided to head straight for the games.

It was here that we met the next problem, namely that it was virtually impossible to get a go on anything.

After much perseverance, we attempted to have a go on EA’s SSX 3. We got as far as the player select screen before the game crashed, and had to be reset by poking a pencil through a small hole in the demo pod.

Giving up with that, we moved along to the Gran Turismo 4 set-up. We actually managed to play the game for a few minutes before that crashed too, but long enough to report that there appeared to be little to distinguish it from GT3.

Becoming rapidly frustrated, we wearily headed to the 18+ area of the show that was thankfully far less packed due to the age restriction.

The downside of this (as with almost everything at PSExp) was that the games there were below-average to poor. RoadKill, a gorier version of Twisted Metal Black became tedious after five minutes of play, typified the quality of the titles on display.

Wondering whether our views were incumbent, we spoke to some of the paying ticket-holders to find out their views.

Paul and Johnny, a couple of teenage gamers, said: “I was expecting it to be better. There’s loads of crowds round all the games, you can’t get to anything”.

Outside the event, Mrs Ogenauou, who was with her young son, said: “I think it’s awful. We’ve paid more than £20 to get here and for the tickets, but there’s no one inside making sure things are running smoothly. My son only got to play a few games, and we’ve been here for hours.”

In an attempt to find someone who would say something positive about the PSExp, we spoke to Richard, a 22-year old who was queuing with friends.

“I’m well impressed they’ve made us queue up outside in the rain. It had better be good," he said. Bad luck, Richard.

Back inside, excitement was hotting up as Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series, was signing autographs.

Although there was a fairly long queue to see him, the looks on people’s faces upon meeting the man showed how excited they were, which made for a pleasant, if rare, sight.

We knew it was time to depart when someone who got voted out of last year’s Fame Academy took to the stage.

We joined the queue for the goodie bags, but were horrified to discover they were “strictly for consumers only,” according to an attendent.

A quick look in a random consumer’s goodie bag revealed why Sony were seemingly embarrassed to hand them out to journalists: they contained an issue of the Official PS2 Magazine, a cheap-looking t-shirt, and a small bottle of drink.

The day was thankfully saved by the presence of Nintendo’s exhibition hosted from a large truck parked outside.

Entry was free to all with a two-minute queue to enter the truck itself, which contained several upcoming GameCube and GameBoy Advance releases, none of which were crashing.

The truck wasn’t overcrowded, so we got to play P.N.03 (a nice-looking but slightly repetitive third-person action game), Mario Kart Double Dash (fantastic update of the old series), Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3 (tricky, but satisfying action game), and Viewtiful Joe (original and supremely playable 2D-platformer).

Outside, there were more games available to play without queuing, and a large video screen attached to four real-life racing karts was running a Mario Kart Double Dash tournament.

For a relatively tiny exhibition, Nintendo put Sony to shame.

So come on Sony, take a leaf from the big-N. Reduce, or better still, abolish the ticket price. Employ some door staff capable of civil interaction and make sure the 5,000 people who have paid £8 per ticket for a six-hours gameathon actually get to play more than a couple of games.