As you sprint down a crowded hallway and come to a bottleneck of human traffic at the escalator, you have a brief moment to check your pockets. Bulky notepad in the back, uncomfortably shaped voice recorder in the right, cell phone in the left, and something else thick and rectangular -- you hope it's your camera battery, but there is no time to make sure.
"Damn, what if it's my 3DS? Why do I even have my 3DS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!? Whew, Okay, it is my camera battery. Now, where is my camera?" you think to yourself.
Stuck somewhere between an Olympic sprint and an angry mom jog, you make your way toward the West Hall. You have an appointment with Epic Game's CliffyB, and he's showing off his latest game -- your boss will have your head on a spit if you screw this one up. Go past the overpriced, disgusting convention pizza, make a left at the angry mob of GameStop managers fighting over a bag of GREE swag, and make a sharp right at the despondent girl giving out energy drinks.
Congratulations! You have arrived at Microsoft's monolith of an expo booth. You are a true E3 master. Now, check in at the press desk, feel the disappointment of learning your one-on-one appointment is actually a one-on-25, 20 of which are rowdy developers from other companies wanting to hang out with Cliffy, and try not to worry too much as the appointment begins to overlap with your next meeting on the other side of the convention center.
This is E3 for a games journalist. We may talk about the great parties, industry luminaries, or D-list celebrity spottings, but these things hardly make up the bulk of the most exciting, exhausting, and stressful week of a game journalist's year. Like broken soldiers remembering a war, we hold on to the humorous stories and convey the rest through a knowingly defeated nod.
I may be a young gun in this industry of really, really old people in their thirties, but I've survived E3. I'm here to tell you what it's like to cover the show as a journalist: the good, the bad, and the "Why the hell are there furries in a bounce house trying to spank me?" of E3.
A Magical Place
E3 always seemed like a magical place to me, like Disneyland but better because it's where you get to see Solid Snake, Link, and Samus' new adventures before anyone else. As a kid, I looked at E3 brochures that came with issues of EGM with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. The impossible leaps in technology, heavily anticipated sequels, and the thrilling spectacle of lavish decor, big screen TVs, and fog machines that made up the show floor drove my imagination wild. Now that I know the reality -- what it means to cover the show as a member of the press -- I love this time of the year no less. It's just a bit different.
I once experienced the show alongside the rest of you: glued to news feeds, live streams, and Twitter accounts, chomping at the bit for any new, juicy details on the next generation of hardware or franchise reboot that neither analysts nor fans saw coming. Who could forget the jaw-dropping Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer or the Konami 2010 conference that spawned a thousand memes? For a game enthusiast, E3 is the holiday that marks the true beginning of a new year.
Strangely, experiencing E3 from home has become vastly superior in many ways over the years. Now every conference is streamed with high-quality, dependable video, and every outlet is uploading video of the show's biggest demos within an hour of filming, if not shooting live. At the show, it's impossible to keep up with information coming out of the press conferences. Many of us were in the dark about the Wii U during Nintendo's press conference because we were too busy commuting to the convention and racing down the halls.
I won't pretend being at E3 isn't awesome. Of course it is! Though there are benefits of seeing the show from your home command center, you can't get a hold of the demos that the rest of the Internet wants to play so badly.
So, what exactly does a journalist do at E3?
I won't pretend to be an expert on E3. There are industry veterans that have covered it from the first showing in 1995 and even CES before that. Me? I've covered it once. E3 2011 feels not that long ago, so maybe I can impart some clarity, as my memories have not been blurred by a plethora of previous E3s and similar expos, though none carry quite the grandeur and scale of E3. Companies spend thousands on booths which are more akin to Hollywood sets: gigantic dragon sculptures elevate above, fog machines go off below, and the best models money can buy all around. Some are even paid to dress in cat suits and jump up and down in bounce houses all day to promote games. If you have become desensitized to the imagery and randomness of the dark recesses of the Internet, then you'll feel at home in the Los Angeles Convention Center.
So, what exactly does a journalist do at E3? A lot. It's different for every outlet. G4, Game Informer, and IGN are big enough to have their own areas on the show floor or nearby. Game publishers and developers often come to them rather than the other way around. And then there are the select few sites that get invited to E3 Judges' Week, a week of early E3 demos presented in May, in order to help inform the decision making of judges. As you can imagine, having 50 games previewed before the show makes covering the event much easier for an outlet. It also helps to have more than five people covering the entirety of the expo. Destructoid is fortunate to have both of these advantages, but I wasn't with Destructoid a year ago. I was with The Escapist and we didn't have shit.
Well, that's not entirely true. We had five talented writers and editors who were out for blood. Susan Arendt and Steve Butts manned the ship, getting us to where we needed to be without hesitance, "us" being me, Thomas Goldman, and two girls freelancing for the site. Goldman was a machine, and I mean that in the best way possible. In conversation he was naturally slack, or rather unnaturally slack, considering we were occupying bedlam for the week. He'd write three previews in the time it takes most journalists to write one. And here's what drove me nuts: they weren't terrible! At least he was on our side.
For an editor, E3 is much less a battle than it is a war. It starts a month before the show even begins. Setting up appointments, figuring out travel, and managing equipment is as important as being there itself. You can tell when it's an outlet's first year at the show: they are the ones who ask for an appointment at the press desk of publishers' booths during the show.
"Sorry, sir. Here's a disk of game trailers released a month ago. Now enjoy standing in line for two hours, sandwiched between two sweaty, grizzled GameStop assistant managers!"
Even when you make a plan, it rarely goes accordingly. E3 is not a place for the timid. There are always appointments you show up late to or appointments that publishers drop, knowingly or not. In these instances, you need to say, "This is who I am, this is why I'm here, now show me dem games!" in the nicest, most professional way possible -- I've found not using the term "cunt" goes a long way!
It also really helps to have PR contacts on the other side who can help. If not, you can always count on your outlet's name helping you land on your feet. No one is going to turn away The Escapist or Destructoid, and if they do, their boss is going to hear about it. I can only imagine the nightmare it must be to be the new guy on the block. Without contacts, appointments, and a history in the industry, you are just another face in the crowd, and what a big crowd E3 brings!
The Press Dungeon
When you aren't making a beeline across the convention center's expansive hallways -- taking a blurred photo of Tak Fuji and bumping into a Mass Effect cosplayer on the way -- you are stationed in the press room. It's in here that you connect to the Internet, transform your delirious notes into articles, and post live coverage that will be devoured by thousands within an hour.
The comments roll in quickly: "This dumbass misspelled Kratos' name!", "No, the last game came out in 2007, not 2008. Jesus Christ, who hired this guy!? LOLOLOL", "Oh great, another Wii U game preview? Must be nice to be in Nintendo's pockets, huh?"
As a journalist, I aim for quality over quantity, but this luxurious mindset is not afforded to those covering the year's biggest event. Instead, you load your words into a shotgun and hope no one gets hurt. It's nice to have a team of copy editors who have your back. It's nice to want a lot of things.
Assuming the press room's Internet doesn't go down and no one kicks you out of your seat, you'll be able to get in three to five lengthy previews. You'll write the other five in your hotel room, while everyone else goes to the parties. Then you get up at 8 AM and do it all over again for two more days.
This is very much the bare bones approach to E3. At The Escapist, we didn't conduct interviews, we didn't film, and only a couple of us covered the press conferences from the major publishers and hardware manufacturers. Even so, five people covering 100+ games is a mighty feat. As the event approaches, you doubt whether it's even possible. Before you even know it, you find yourself trapped on a roller coaster, being swung this way and that way. You'd get off if you could, but you never do. Maybe you are just having too much fun. Or maybe you are just afraid of how poorly it will reflect on you as a journalist. Sometimes it's hard to tell which it is, so it's best not to think about it. There is work to be done, after all.
"E3, as an event, I can take or leave. Repping Destructoid at E3, however, is kind of priceless."
Last year, I wanted to be covering the show with Destructoid. They were the cool kids. In the press room, they claimed an entire table like a prison gang. I'm sure Jim Sterling would have made me his prison bitch if I approached him while he wrote his Skyrim preview. Holmes would then shank me (with love, of course).
I kid. I met some of Destructoid staff for the first time last year, some more awkwardly than others. All were incredibly nice and didn't have that air of "DO YOU KNOW HOW IMPORTANT WHAT I'M DOING RIGHT NOW IS!?" that so many others in the room had. Never mind the European press who would talk loudly, videochat with their girlfriends back home, hog electrical outlets for their handhelds, and answer phones.
So my wish came true: I'm going to E3 this year with Destructoid. Many of the big games have already been previewed, and the ones that haven't are already in the sights of multiple editors. For better or worse, this definitely isn't The Escapist. Though, I am afraid I will be too distant from the maelstrom of E3. For me, E3 is as much about the big announcements as it is about busting ass through a crowded hallway with a purpose. The greatest purpose of all is to tell the next kid in Texas what games they can look forward to this Christmas. And then you get drunk and sing along to Sonic songs at some dumb party. Because this is E3 and it's really dumb and awesome. Mostly awesome.
You never know what will happen at E3. Maybe you'll see Snoop Dogg hogging up time at the Warner Bros. booth. Maybe you'll bump into Hulk Hogan in the bathroom. Or maybe you'll fight Steven Spielberg's kid over the controller on a demo. There is one thing you can always depend on though: you will work your ass off, because those who don't rarely make it back. Only the strongest survive out here.
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