Yesterday was my second annual visit to the Licensing International Expo. Held at the Jacob Javits Center, it’s a convention that brings together brand owners and investors interested in licensing them. It gathers businesspeople of all stature, from independent artists in a one-man booth to industry giants in expansive and elaborate showcases. The expo is brimming with money, with deals being made around every corner and exhibitors trying to catch your attention, hoping that you are their next big client.
But as a lowly college student, what am I doing at the expo? What people usually do when in New York City: see the sights.
Over 400 companies set up lavish displays in the interest of ensnaring visitors, and as such the expo is full of eye candy and free candy. Indeed, part of the reason I attend is the promise of souvenirs. But strangely, I mostly attend to soak in the atmosphere. It is a world that I would otherwise not have known existed. It’s exciting being around so many different companies, so many inviting exhibits and product presentations that make you wish you had a legitimate company so that you could chat them up and give them support.
As one without such financial backing, I choose not to waste their time and not to push my luck. This year I floated around with Sally, Mike, Simon, Kenny and Brian. The expo was a bit darker than I remembered, just as pretty, but not nearly as bountiful. Last year’s convention was marked by Viz’s anime-themed photo booth, free blueberry muffin bites, stuffed animal prizes by Neopets, and Jim Benton signing postcard books. While Jim Benton was diligently still there, none of the others were. Viz instead had an intimidating monolith of a booth, and I can only speculate as to the dealings that happened inside. Neopets was cast down from the pedestal it held last year, going from a large open space to a mere hallway, a couple computer stations sandwiched between two very close partitions. It was a very different experience for me, Sally and Kenny, who were the only repeat attendees.
Different was still good, though. Brian and I diverged from the group in order to check out a piece of music-mapping software that produced visual representations of music as it was being played. It was to usher in a new method of learning music, where you didn’t just memorize finger positionings for guitar chords, you saw a 2d map of the strings you were strumming and which frets you held down, or the same information projected onto a 3d spiral. It would even show you the corresponding keys on a keyboard were you to play them. It was colorful and impressive, and I got to hear Brian play a bit on the acoustic guitar they linked up. I wanted to play on their drum set but it was being hogged. It was a well-made and most likely expensive booth, considering all the monitors and equipment, but not very popular.
We then found our way to the Neopets booth, if you could call the small firing lane a booth. I saw computers and bins with goods in them and was looking forward to winning whatever prizes they had. I was immediately thrown off guard when the exhibitor smiled at me and said “Oh it’s you! Back again?”
I was immediately puzzled. This was my first time stopping by, perhaps he confused me with another Asian? I started to correct him, because damnit I wanted my prize and I wasn’t going to let accusations of double dipping stop me.
No, he clarified, he didn’t mean I was back again this day. He meant back again at the expo this year. The exhibitor remembered my escapade last year at his booth, and I suppose I made quite the indelible mark. Their former setup included stations lined up with Neopets games running on them, inviting people to play them, and they would reward high scores with scaling prizes: bins full of different Neopet plushies of different sizes, a very high score netting you a bigger plushie.
I immediately went to work and farmed the shit out of that game.
“It’s no fun staying in the back and dodging the ice creams. Why don’t you move around?”
Because staying in the back gives you the most time to react and plan ahead. “Nah, it’s okay.”
*several games and one of each plushie later*
“You’re a gamer, aren’t you.”
This year, skill was not a factor: you clicked a button that spun a wheel of prizes. The bins were full of crossword puzzles and coloring books. I prefer to think of them as red herrings, though. The real prizes were tucked away in his belt pouch pocket: codes to redeem for in-game items, and Neocash cards. The nice exhibitor gave me a code, Brian $10 in Neocash, and we appreciatively scrammed. I figured my brother Mikey would know someone who played Neopets and would love the gifts, but he denies knowing or being associated with those who know about Neopets.
Another online game we stumbled upon was called Cookie Town, which was geared towards young kids. I admittedly chatted them up a bit because I wanted one of their cool cowboy hats, which they did indeed give me. Apparently Cookie Town was the brainchild of one of the brothers at the booth, who dreamed of a cookie town while stoned. FYI, do not tell people this. I do not feel comfortable introducing children to a game based on someone’s intoxicated fantasies, no matter how delicious when dunked in milk.
The highlight of the expo was over at the Comedy Central booth, one that I passed by but totally ignored. Brian unwisely pointed out that they had a Rock Band station, and I immediately sprouted hair all over my body and went feral, dripping saliva as I raced towards my glorious prize. I rent the drummer asunder and took up his spot without missing a beat. The guitarist and bassist stared at the mutilated former drummer until I let out a bestial growl and yelled at them in an unearthly tone, “KEEP PLAYING. IF WE DON’T FIVE STAR THIS, IT’S YOU TWO NEXT.” Compliance was not an issue.
The station was meant to attract a crowd, and featured a sweepstakes: if you played Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld and left a business card, you would be entered in a raffle for a Rock Band bundle. Damnit, the one time I really really wanted my company to be real!
I instead stood quietly to the side as the band finished the song. People wanted to try guitar, and so Brian stepped aside, but fewer wanted to embarass themselves on drums, and I gladly volunteered. Unlike somewhere like Anime Boston, very few of the attendees have ever played Rock Band, and I would say there are people who probably have not even heard of it or the console I was playing it on. I get stares as I scroll down to expert difficulty, and a concerned stare from the booth manager as I flip the foot pedal backwards. I end up playing the mind-numbingly slow Wanted Dead or Alive thanks to our lead guitar’s girlishly squealed mandate, and I leave with my appetite tantalized but unfulfilled. Brian and I return later towards the end of the expo when there is no crowd or band, and I convince him to guitar alongside me as I drum to Maps. I finish very content, but Brian’s handling of the Stratocaster set off a spark that, fueled by the real life guitarist in him, made him really want to play more Rock Band. Mmm, delicious convert.
We walk back in the oppressive heat, grab a drink at McDonald’s because $3.50 is too much to pay for a bottle of water even if it is in Javits, have our suspicions heightened that the M34 is a god damn bus of myth, and then take the AC-less train back to our stops. I realize that I’ve only eaten a mouthful and drunk two cups of fluids all day, and proceed to gorge myself after taking a much-needed cool shower. I then sit back, reflect on how much I liked the expo this year despite coming back with a light (but procured) bag, and start hoping that the Neopets manager will bring back those cute plushies next year.