Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Vegas, baby. Part 2

Drea and the kids called at 7am, but I was already awake. The Westin's fancy beds are very comfy and all that, but I don't seem to sleep as well when I'm away from them. The whole gang (the Toms, Rachelle, Ira) meet downstairs before 8, and head to the Sandbox Summit at The Venetian. Once we get there, it's not entirely clear where we're supposed to go, so we aimlessly wander the halls for a while before stumbling into the right place almost entirely by accident. After coffee and chat we settle down for the sessions, which seem to go very well. Elmo was there (yes, that one...and it was the real one, complete with a real live Sesame Workshop dude's hand up his butt) doing an Elvis impression, and later Microsoft's Jeff Bell raised some eyebrows in the room by bailing halfway through his panel discussion (apparently for another commitment) leaving cohort Molly O'Donnell to hold the bag and take questions from the audience. She did a sterling job, particularly given she wasn't the one doing any of the talking prior to this point. Warren Buckleitner the editor of Children’s Technology Review did a fantastic job with his session "Dust or Magic" a talk designed to show how real kids react to the digital toys that topped this year’s Hot Lists. He called bullshit on a number of products that do some weird/dumb stuff, and showed an awesome looking thing I've never seen before, called the Eyeclops which is a seriously, seriously cool microscope thing that you plug into your TV. I want one for the kids. Someone may end up getting one for a birthday later this year without asking for it.

At noon, I was on a panel called "The Digital Family: Are We Speaking the Same Language?" which is described in the session blurbs as, "Just because we can put a chip in a doll or give a voice to a truck does that mean we should? Hear from industry leaders about what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s driving their next generation of techno-products," but which wasn't really about that at all. It was actually more about the challenges of talking to parents about tech issues with games, online media, and privacy. Moderated by Andrea Smith, News/Technology Producer at ABC News Radio, the panel included Anastasia Goodstein from Ypulse; Michelle Slatalla from NYTimes; Denise Tayloe from PRIVO, and me...as the much-needed "games" person. The session seemed pretty lively, and we got a couple of laughs - which is always important in these things. Thankfully we managed to make it more than just a series of dull speeches as a lot of these things can so often be, and it turned into quite a dialog about the ways movies and games are viewed differently, and how stores like Target put all games under lock and key, while movies like Hostel 2 can be picked up off the shelf. People seemed to enjoy it, and we got a lot of attention when we climbed off the stage after an hour. I have a pocket full of business cards now, and lots of folks to follow up with.

Afterwards, Anastasia and I had a late lunch at Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante in the Venetian and chatted about Battlestar Galactica, Guitar Hero, board games, Club Penguin, and dogs. She's very cool, and I think there are some ways we can work together on some projects in future. I've become quite hooked on her Ypulse blog, which helps media folks and marketers understand the ways "Gen Y" kids (sorta 8-14ish, and maybe a bit older) think.

For the next couple of hours I sat with Tom on our teeny weeny booth in the Sands. Met a ton of people that were very complimentary, and endured the endless repetitive nonsense that is the Air Guitar Hero booth directly opposite. If playing fake guitar in Guitar Hero isn't fake enough, here's something obnoxious that just makes you look like you're diddling yourself in public. Words can't do justice to how spectacularly lame it is. The "demo" at the show is just five snippets of songs...so after an hour, I'd heard about as much of the intro riff to Iron Man as I can possibly handle. At one point I overheard some wonk with an unlit cigar stuffed in his mouth say, with a completely straight face like he actually meant it, that this was the "next generation" because "you don't even need a guitar." I don't know how Tom has put up with it for the past couple of days without strutting over there and beating the guy to death with his shoes.

When the show shut down, and guitar dork packed up and went home, we had drinks at a post-show cocktail thing, before grabbing dinner at the Wolfgang Puck place with Warren. After all that, I'm fried.
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