Writer/intern Jeffrey Mizrahi just came back from E3 as media representing the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Here are his thoughts and musings.
By Jeffrey Mizrahi
It was thrilling. I was in middle school when I began watching E3 coverage religiously. The last day of classes would often fall on the first day of E3, culminating into one joy-filled afternoon. The final bell would ring a little before noon, allowing me to clean out my locker and jet home in time for the Big Three (Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation) press conferences.
Before the era of “watch it on any device, on any service,” the definitive way to consume E3 for me was by sprawling out on my basement couch and tuning into G4TV. The network would work with GameTrailers TV, led by a younger Geoff Keighley, for a couple hours before returning back to their adrenaline-fueled programming. I would then hop off my couch and head to the family’s desktop computer to learn more about all the new games that had just been shown off. As someone who would refresh gaming sites daily, the amount of concentrated news that would come out during the week of E3 was incredible.
From the early age of 13, it became my dream to actually attend the event and be on the show floor. I would hear stories from veteran game journalists talking about the horrors of the show floor, or the stress from the war rooms where they would pump out a dozen articles a day. Yet none of that bothered me. I just wanted to be surrounded by videogames for a week, no matter the cost.
After almost a decade of watching from the sidelines, I finally got to attend E3 this year thanks to Harold Goldberg and the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Donning a badge around my neck with the word “Media” under my name was literally a dream come true. Walking through the West Hall felt surreal. This was it. The mecca of videogames. As if my entire gaming life had been leading up to this exact moment.
Taking a step back, let me explain what the lead up to E3 is like for media. Once I got my registration confirmation from the Entertainment Software Association several weeks before the show, my inbox became flooded with emails from PR companies and publishers asking to schedule appointments to see their games. From small, artful games in the Indiecade booth to larger booths like Bethesda, the process was the same. They’d asked me if I’m interested; I’d respond with a possible time I could swing by. That time slot would either work out and the appointment would be booked, or I’d go through a week long game of emailing back and forth trying to move stuff around to make one nice, tight E3 schedule.
Schedule set, I was ready to take off to Los Angeles for the first time in my adult life. Roye, my good friend, lives just a short drive from the Los Angeles Convention Center and thankfully hosted me for the week. After picking me up from the airport Sunday morning, we raced to his house to catch Microsoft’s press conference, continuing my tradition of watching the E3 presentations on a couch. We did the same for Bethesda, Square Enix, and Ubisoft’s conferences, leading up to the PlayStation Media Briefing on Monday night.
If there only one thing I could have done or seen at E3 this year, it was to attend this particular media briefing, and thanks to Harold, I was able to get an invite. I didn’t care much to be there in person for the other companies events because they don’t seem to go all out as much as PlayStation does. After a live orchestra that played along God of War in 2016, and the waterfall behind a sitar performance in 2017, I was sure there would be some spectacle this time around.
A Different Kind of Press Conference
I showed up to the address written on the invite, got a nice elastic band wrapped around my wrist, and was enjoying a casual pre-show mixer. We were then told that the show was going to start and were shuffled up some stairs and down a hallway into a venue. I began to wonder, how does the seating work at events like these? Is it first come first serve? Will I see a games journalist stiff arm a Sony executive just to sit his butt down? Will I get some cheap seats behind a really tall person? Those questions were answered soon enough when the rest of the attendees and I shared a collective confusion.
We were lead into what seemed to be a church with no seating. I’ve watched enough press conferences in my life to know that this was out of the ordinary. Standing up for an hour in a tightly packed room is surely an odd way to watch videogame trailers.
As we all asked ourselves, is the whole show going to be like this, Sony head Shawn Layden came out and launched the event. I could barely see him and only caught some of his introduction over the group of people talking loudly behind me. When I heard Academy Award-winnter Gustavo Santaolalla begin playing his guitar, I started to put together that this church must’ve been some The Last of Us Part II environment. The trailer started playing and I was hooked. I immediately stopped worrying about the unorthodox presentation and was just engrossed in what I was seeing on screen. I mean, that kiss!
The trailer ended and a voice from a loudspeaker directed us out the doors and into the next room. ANOTHER ROOM!? My expectations that PlayStation would put on a spectacle were more than exceeded. I followed the herd of games press onto a wooden bridge over a bucolic pond with lily pads and a digital waterfall, all with a very Japanese aesthetic. The next room resembled a more traditional theater with a ginormous screen, a man playing a shakuhachi, and most importantly, seats. The rest of the briefing was shown in this room, going from trailer to trailer until the show was over.
Or so I thought. We were then escorted to the final area, the after party. An outdoor area decorated like New York City to complement Insomniac’s Spider-Man, which was playable there. There were fake buildings that resembled those in Chinatown, a yellow cab, some street performers, a jazz duo, and of course, a hot dog stand. To the right of this area were more traditional Japanese decorations to evoke Ghost of Tsushima, and all the way on the left side of the area was a wax statue of Norman Reedus’ character in Death Stranding.
Right after a bunch of us from the New York Videogame Critic Circle got our picture taken with the lifelike statue, Shawn Layden walked over for a quick chat with Harold and the group on what we thought of the show. Harold mentioned how it had this Disneyland feel, and I couldn’t agree more. Walking from area to area had that same feeling of walking from Main Street to Tomorrowland in a theme park. We shook hands, I grabbed a picture with him, and we went our separate ways. The whole event felt like some fever dream. Still a whole day before the expo actually begins, and here I am in a movie-lot-like New York City, talking to the President of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, standing next to a fake Norman Reedus. Wild. I get back to Roye’s house to rest up for what is sure to be an exhausting, yet exciting, week ahead.
Lines, Lines, And More Lines!
Roye and his brother both bought Gamer Passes – which first went on sale to the public for last year’s E3. For $250, anyone who wants to can be present at E3. That’s all there is to it. They also can’t bring backpacks into the convention, and have different show hours and entrances than media and industry. The way I scheduled my appointments left very little room for dilly-dallying, so I didn’t really get to see Roye on the show floor all that much. With a non-media pass, gamers are subjected to waiting on long lines to play demos. But media members are able to schedule appointments to play the same games without the lines – sometimes being able to cut the lines.
At the end of each day I’d ask Roye what he got to see. On the first day, I played almost a dozen games. Roye played four. On the second day, I played nine games. Roye played two. On the last day, I played twelve games. Roye played zero and left early because all the lines were capped and he had already explored the show floors on the days prior. When I asked him what was he doing for almost eight hours, he told me he was just waiting in lines. He said there really isn’t anything to do besides walk around the booths watching other people play demos, or get lucky enough to wait in a three hour line for Kingdom Hearts III right before they cap it and don’t let anyone else in.
Rushing from meeting to meeting, I see thousands of gamers sitting or standing on lines that aren’t moving. I asked Roye, is it worth it? Is it worth the $250 to wait to play games that are coming out in a couple months? He gave me a mixed response and told me how it’s more about managing expectations. If you’re buying a Gamer Pass, don’t expect the E3 experience you see online. Expect to play maybe three games a day at best. If you go in expecting to play everything, then it definitely is not worth price of admission. However, if you don’t care to play many games and rather just want to expose yourself to an unprecedented amount of videogame merch, signage, and the like, it’s a great experience.
We also talked about how you’re essentially paying a cover to this exclusive club with the Gamer Pass. I saw tons of videogame legends such as Cory Barlog, Koji Igarashi, and even Jack Black taking pictures with people wearing Gamer Passes. I also witnessed some gamers pitching ideas and just networking with people wearing media and industry badges. However, there is a little bit of a stigma towards people wearing the bright blue Gamer Passes opposed to people with media badges. I’ve seen some exhibitors and industry folk scoff at or ignore some gamers, while giving media members preferential treatment. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that; media members are here for work while gamers are there more for pleasure. But it’s still weird to see a large portion of attendees shelling out a good amount of cash and being treated like second class citizens. I hope the ESA can figure this out in the future.
It’s important to note that all 15,000 Gamer Passes were sold out, and that many other gamers I talked to enjoyed their experience even though the amount of games they played could be counted on one hand. While Roye told me he wouldn’t attend next year with a Gamer Pass, it seems like that’s not the case with everyone. I guess for most gamers, simply being exposed to the “future” of gaming is enough for them.
Surprisingly, I spent a good portion of the week in the meeting rooms above the West and South Halls. Not necessarily the setting when you think “E3.” Relative to the elaborate and exuberant booths under them, these rooms feel more like doctors’ offices, with a check in desk, little waiting area, and operating rooms where they demo videogames in a very controlled space.
Whoa! Did Hideo Kojima Just Take My Appointment?
The most memorable moment from the convention is by far my experience with Remedy’s new title, Control. I showed up a little early for my 3 p.m. meeting because it was the last day, I was exhausted, and I hoped to have some seating area to relax in.
The man at the counter tells me they might have a demo ready right now and I wouldn’t need to wait. As I stand by the counter, Hideo Kojima walks in through the door, entourage in tow. He has two security guards behind him, a translator, his friend and Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and at least two more people to round out the posse. I don’t normally get starstruck, but the way his crew walked in felt like it demanded reverence. The man at the counter comes back and tells me to just hold on a minute and stand to the side. I see Kojima walk into the demo room that the man originally implied was open for me.
“Did Hideo Kojima just take my Control appointment?” I think. After about two minutes, the entire posse exits the room and Kojima whizzes by me once again. Was there something wrong with the setup? Did he just forget his wallet from earlier? Was he just saying ‘hi’ to a friend?
All these questions are just racing through my head as if I’m in some meta Death Stranding experience. There are very few gaming auteurs like Hideo Kojima in the industry, so to have this little encounter with him as a capstone to my E3 was really something special.
The man at the counter snaps me out of it and tells me the room is ready. He escorts me inside along with six other media members for my first ever “hands-off” demo, where one of the developers plays the game in front of everyone to show that it is running, yet is still in a very early state not ready for the public to try out.
All Work, All Play
Amongst the amazing games I got to play were Spider-Man, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Anthem, The Tetris Effect, and more. In the end, the best parts of E3 were the people: Seeing NYVGCC members in their element was cool as they ran around the show floor from appointment to appointment yet still spared a quick minute to chat and say hello. I talked to some of my favorite internet personalities like Destin Legarie from IGN, Andy Cortez from Kinda Funny, and Andrea Rene from What’s Good Games. I thanked game developers like Cory Barlog and Neil Druckmann for creating some of the most touching games I ever got to experience. These moments are what stand out most when I think back on E3 2018.
I did feel bad for Roye who definitely got the short end of the stick attending as a gamer, but at least I met other attendees with Gamer Passes who were satisfied with their experience. I know a lot of industry veterans would rather cover E3 from the comfort of their homes. However, that’s not me. Given the chance, I’d rather be at the show floor any day of the week.