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Vonage Shows Off Wi-Fi Phone At E3 Convention

Vonage In Print News

A Memo From E3: It’s All About The Games – And The Marketing

May 23, 2005

By Hilary Potkewitz

It wasn’t exactly the typical Convention Center crowd: pink hair, platform boots, facial piercings, black-rimmed glasses. Dress ranged from business suits to business casual to casual casual. Blackberries and Treos were mandatory; sneakers and cargo pants optional.

Welcome to E3. Hope you brought your digital camera and cell phone.

But in case you didn’t, several companies offered to lend you theirs: Vonage launched its Wi-Fi cell phones, which use the Internet to make phone calls – unlimited minutes, flat rate per month, works wherever there’s a hotspot and can call anywhere.

The biggest excitement at E3, officially known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo, was the new gaming hardware unveiled by Sony Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Nintendo Inc. “This is an industry that loves new toys,” acknowledged Andrew House, executive vice president of marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

None of the three consoles are scheduled to go on sale for months, but why waste time? Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 can download music and play DVDs, and the chips inside all three will hold exponentially more games. Game publishers are ramping up development for the new consoles, and some were using E3 to show off what’s possible. But most of the event – the video game industry’s biggest trade show with more than 56,000 attendees – was dedicated to games and hardware that people can actually buy now. Several L.A. companies showed up ready to play.

  • L.A.-based 1TouchConnect offered its “Pick up and go” cell phones with live translation services in up to 120 languages, to help gamers “break the language barrier.” The company sold close to 100 phones its first day, according to Chief Operating Officer Laurent Ramis. The 2-year old company has offices in Japan and Europe, where it sells translation cell phones to travelers before they depart for trips abroad.

    Small armies of visitors were wearing Motorola headsets, antennae sticking up like Martians, receiving live translations from their guide.

  • When Matthew Deatrick, senior vice president with Vonage Holdings Corp., arrived early Wednesday to set up his Wi-Fi base station, he discovered the power was out in the West Hall. A power outage at the biggest electronic video game convention on earth?

    “It’s never good to miss a whole day of exposure, especially if you’re paying for it,” Deatrick said. The Internet phone company provided Wi-Fi communications for media attending the event. Apparently the city had to replace a blown transformer. Communications and hallway power weren’t restored until after 2:00 pm.

    Luckily for the Convention Center, the outage mainly affected the hallways, bathrooms and the meeting rooms. The main halls had all the juice they needed – good thing, considering the thundering action sequences, surround sound and hanging screens assaulting from all directions.

  • Sony grabbed the attention early with its 50,000-square-foot “booth” – more like a theme park – boasting 200 Play Station 2 kiosks and 60 of its new Play Station Portables. Users could sit in clear, plastic hanging bubbles with cushions, and play the new PSP hand-held game player. There was a 56-foot long video screen that snaked along above everyone’s heads.

    Sony even built its own movie theater, with seating for 80, to showcase clips of games being developed for the PS3. Lines stretched all day.

    “We have the largest LED screen here, I might add,” House boasted. All the Sony games on display were for the Play Station 2 console, despite all of the excitement over PS3.

    “We are very committed that PS2 have a 10-year lifecycle,” said House, stressing that the PS3 would be backwards compatible, meaning customers’ existing video game libraries would not become obsolete.

  • There is a psychology to exhibit design: some companies build enclosed areas, herding fans in front of a spectacle or making them wait in line outside – running the risk that fewer people actually get in, but guaranteeing it looks crowded. Others choose wide-open spaces to impress.

    “You try to look for where the big attractors will be located, like Sony, and try and set up things to grab the crowds as they’re leaving their area,” said In Joon Hwang, marketing manager for the Cypress-based U.S. unit of Japan’s Bandai Games.

    Electronic Arts Inc. grabbed people at the door with an amphitheater that looked like a spaceship, sucking viewers inside. The giant screen stretched around them, so instead of a stadium where the fans were around the outside, folks were down below and the “Madden ’06” football game was taking place all around them – projected in 360 degree surround-video, surround-sound.

    “The hard-core consumers in this industry are the people who work in this industry,” said Bandai’s Hwang, which has 200 employees in Cypress. “So buyers, when they’re at E3, will often do a walk-around to check out how popular each booth is. They want to see where the crowds are, because that’s how they know what gamers will like.”

  • Yahoo Inc.’s Yahoo Games introduced an “extreme makeover” of its gaming Web site with a construction-site theme, offering new games “and plenty of places to put your ads!” Yahoo’s theme was casual games, as opposed to epic battles, and it set up a life-size poker table and hosted a tournament.

    Activision Inc.’s “Call of Duty 2” game constructed a bunker with a huge anti-tank gun on top. Attendees waited outside for hours to enter the padded bunker and experience their own call.

    The U.S. Army did its part to blur the line between fantasy war and real war. It planted a tent outside the Convention Center, giving away its “America’s Army – Special Forces” video game for free. The Army tent offered a “Combat Convoy Experience,” to give passers-by a simulation of urban warfare or riding in a tank convoy.

    Twice a day, the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team dropped into a parking lot across Figueroa, and a Special Forces unit held an obstacle course event outside.

    The Army has come to E3 for the past three years, according to Chris Chambers, deputy director of the Army Game Project and a retired Army officer. The “America’s Army” game has 5.3 million users since its launch in 2002. “We want to make sure we’re noticed at E3,” he added, saying that 30 percent of youths surveyed last year cited the video game as their source of information about the Army.

    “It’s an information tool,” said Sgt. First Class Doug Davidson, integration manager at the tent. “And afterwards, if they want to talk to a recruiter, that’s an added bonus.”

  • Wireless games made a showing, with industry stalwarts Jamdat Mobile Inc. showing off new games and making a few announcements: the licensing of a hugely popular game, “Doom,” for cell phones, and the news that its “Tetris” game surpassed 2 million downloads.

    “You try to spread out announcements in such a way as to get the best impact from them. But you never quite know what everybody else is doing,” said Craig Gatarz, chief operating officer and general counsel for Los Angeles-based Jamdat. “Tuesday (an E3 conference day) may seem like a great day, but you could have three of the largest companies make announcements and yours could get lost.”

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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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