LAS VEGAS - Inside the massive complex on the Las Vegas Strip that houses the glitzy Venetian casino and Sands convention center, amid a soundscape of conflicting noises, thousands of players are mashing buttons while staring intently at flickering screens.
They're not playing slots or video poker. No, 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 hall early Wednesday to test-drive Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4, the next-generation systems due out this November. "Call of Duty: Ghosts," "Titanfall," "Ryse: Son of Rome" and "Battlefield 4" were among the most popular games on display.
"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. That's what this is all about."
Along with providing glimpses of such upcoming games as "Batman: Arkham Origins" and "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag," 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.
The event was just part of GameStop's purpose in Vegas.
Beyond the expo hall in meeting rooms at the Venetian casino and Sands convention center, more than 5,000 managers from company's nearly 4,500 stores in the U.S. spent three days learning all about 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.
GameStop launched the gamer gathering last year after the Grapevine, Texas-based company's international divisions successfully hosted their own events. (Last year's EB Games Expo in Australia welcomed more than 30,000 attendees.) Admission for Wednesday's event ranged from $20 for student tickets to $100 for VIP access that included early entry.
"We didn't want to be in the live events business," said GameStop CEO 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."
Raines declined to release pre-order sales data, but he expects this holiday season's console launches to be the biggest in history and provide some much-needed luck to both GameStop and the gaming industry, which has seen sales slide in recent years as Microsoft Corp.'s 7-year-old Xbox 360 and Sony Corp.'s 6-year-old PlayStation 3 have entered their twilight years.