It's E-Party Central

Microsoft threw a megaparty at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for its new Xbox. The Killers entertained.
Microsoft threw a megaparty at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for its new Xbox. The Killers entertained. (Zed Ink)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2005

LOS ANGELES -- Here at E3, the Vatican conclave of the video game industry (only much louder), it's Sony's PlayStation 3 vs. Microsoft's Xbox 360. The new Xbox made the rounds, and Sony showed off dizzying specs for its new baby, due next year. Publicists are blowing smoke about both, but really it comes down to this: Which giant throws the best private party?

The global gaming industry appears to have picked up where old Hollywood, the anemic record industry and long-forgotten dot-coms left off -- throwing a week's worth of mass shebangs that get bigger every year, bigger even than what Vanity Fair and Elton John have done to Oscar night, minus designer gowns. E3 (shorthand for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the 11th annual L.A.-based confab of all things video game) could never just be another industry convention. Partywise, it's an all-out war. It feels like the late '90s again.

Imagine the shouting match:

Microsoft: We've got the Killers! The Chemical Brothers! We're at the Shrine Auditorium!

Sony: Oh yeah? We're way up on a hill, overlooking Dodger Stadium, with a spectacular view of Los Angeles! We've got Jimmy Eat World! Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols! Brandon Boyd of Incubus! Liz Phair!

(Nintendo, the most modest of the three game leaders, played host to a relatively intimate yet still lavish party at the Highlands -- a club in the same megacomplex on Hollywood Boulevard where the Academy Awards are held -- with Maroon 5 as the musical act.)

"These parties are really about entertaining thousands of your best friends -- you don't want to do them halfway," says John Ellard, the party man at Microsoft, who for the past five years has planned the company's main shindig. Three years ago, he booked the alternative band Garbage to headline at the Park Plaza Hotel; the year before that, at the Hollywood Palladium, Blink-182 shared the bill with Third Eye Blind.

"Folks in the video game industry want to make a statement: We're in the entertainment business, and we want to be leaders, and we know how to throw a party."

Such are the insecurities of a multibillion-dollar industry -- no matter how big you get, you still want people to know it. You want them to know there are huge parties, to which they cannot be let in.

"Remember, these game companies have millions of dollars," says Christopher Heywood of LA INC, the fancy name for the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Heywood has calculated that E3 brings at least $13 million to the city's economy. "They have the ability put their money behind their business enterprise. It's throwing a party, yes, but it's all about promoting their brands."

He says his friend who works for Disney tried all week to a get a ticket into Thursday night's Sony party, the must-go-to, can't-be-fashionably-late event of the week.

"I've been to many parties at the Shrine and [compared] to a Hollywood party, this is very impressive, but it's more like what music or TV or film used to be like 10 years ago," says Lorrie Boula, who is chatting with friends, drink in hand, in front of one of the three white domes set up outside the Shrine for the Microsoft soiree, which was held Monday evening. She's been living in Los Angeles for 15 years and works as a manager for musicians.

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