E3 2011 – Highs And Lows
They were good times, they were bad times… the full story of exclusives, concussions and meltdowns
E3 is an experience. I can honestly say, hand-on-heart, I’ve never had so many highs and lows in a week of work which went from getting a plenty of Modern Warfare 3 gossip by grabbing a chat with Robert Bowling away from the eyes of Activision PR to a complete meltdown on the end of day 3 that left me swearing like a sailor and throwing a massive, childish, baby tantrum.
Some amazing games, some incredible frustration, a week unlike any other… here are my own highs and lows of E3.
Uncharted 3, Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Aliens Colonial Marines and Tomb Raider could all have been game of the show for me. Then there were personal favourites such as Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, Ridge Racer: Unbounded and Anarchy Reigns which were impressive despite not packing the same profile as the previously mentioned games.
I was asked what my least favourite game of the show was and I said Soul Calibur V – and that was hardly bad, just disappointing against the other stuff I saw. Prey 2 probably qualifies for that category as well. But either way, there were a lot of good games.
Even Sonic Generations was good. Yes, I know. I flipping well know.
E3 is a willy-waving contests for publishers, who spend ridiculous amounts of planning on creating the most elaborate, eye-catching booths that they can. Speaking to one of the Sega staff, he said that it took between four and five months to plan their booth and the crew started building it as early as the beginning of last week.
THQ had a spinning missile turret hanging above players on their Warhammer Space Marine pods, with Saints Row players stuffed into a mini-plane. Activision had scheduled shows which packed in dry ice, monitors all around you exploding into life and by far the loudest explosions at the show. Bethesda had a massive dragon towering over a rune-inscribed wall. Everywhere you looked, there was another publisher with another eye-catching gimmick.
Whether it was scale married with elegance (Square-Enix, Konami), multiple themes (Ubisoft, Sega) or functional let-the-games-do-the-talking (Namco, Nintendo), every stand had its own personality and vibe.
Sony Winning E3
It made my job easier than Sony had such a strong showing at E3, with the PSVita pricepoint being the strongest announcement during the three days. It’s not just me that thinks so too, as I asked around at E3 and Sony emerged the winner.
Nintendo’s Wii-U has a lot of potential but the muddled presentation left those watching with more questions than answers, while Microsoft’s conference was tailored towards its Kinect audience, leaving the hardcore somewhat alienated. So whichever way you look at it, Sony emerged the winner. For those interested, here’s what the behind-closed-doors Uncharted 3 presentation looked like.
It was nice to swap stories after each day of E3 with the other members of the Imagine crew in attendance – what games they had seen, what exclusives they had got, funny stories they had and so on. Games are a great experience to be shared and listening to the other guys talk about games I simply didn’t have time to see, such as Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3, made me excited for the stuff I’d missed out on as well as the stuff I had seen.
It’s also a good chance for gaming press to use their initiative to go above and beyond rather than relying on the PR machine. A lot of the best stuff I got during E3 that did well for NowGamer.com came from opportunities I grabbed during E3 – chatting to Robert Bowling about Modern Warfare 3, catching up with Seth Killian about Street Fighter and finding one guy who managed to sneak into the show despite not being anything to do with the industry. As the lows will show, it’s a good job I managed to do this…
It might not immediately seem like that much of a big deal but when you go there under pressure to report and break stories first, it goes from ‘not that much of a big deal’ to ‘F&^%ING WI-FI FUUUUUUU’ in a matter of seconds. For those recording videos and trying to send them back… ouch.
There’s free Wi-Fi in the media lounge but once all 77,000 (!) journalists had made their way to E3, it simply couldn’t cope. The free Wi-Fi didn’t work at all on the first day of E3 once the fun kicked off. There was paid Wi-Fi, for the reasonable price of $25 a day (!!!) but that didn’t hold up either. In the end, it came down to relaying information back to the UK NowGamer team via phone calls and reading interview transcripts out loud. Old school, sure. Also time-consuming and, as my phone bill will show next month, horribly expensive.
There are loads of people at E3. Loads. Factor in all the games companies, their staff, event staff (booth babes and the like), security… and that’s already a lot of the floor gone before you take into consideration all the international press arriving at E3. It was 77,000 in total this year. It’s not only specialist press like Play and X360 but also websites, newspapers such as The Guardian, Daily Mail, and so on and lifestyle press such as Empire, Nuts and so on. And remember – this is just the UK. You’ve got to take into account every other country too.
Yet the reason for the overcrowding is much simpler than that – lots of gamers were blagging the passes and getting in that way. The way E3 works is that you can book an appointment to see games with the publishers or queue up at the small ‘theatres’ to see scheduled presentations of that game. The queues for the latter showed how many gamers were there with blagged passes. I even spoke to one who was telling me how easy it was.
E3 needs to either clamp down on those sneaking in or accommodate them somehow – either having an extra day, or a bigger hall, or… something. I’m not sure exactly what but day 1 was crazy while day 3, when most of the blaggers had their fill and didn’t come to the show, got the balance more or less right. Enough people that there was a good vibe but not crazy busy.
E3 is stressful. Really stressful. Having to hit a certain amount of news stories per day meant there was always pressure to deliver. Before leaving for E3, this means cramming your schedule with appointments and interviews at set times. When at E3, this means coming up with new plans, rescheduling as interviews fall through for whatever reason, writing news stories and sending them back and finding working Wi-Fi while attending half-hour appointments for each game with no time inbetween. There’s no time to eat or think until the show comes to a close.
By day 3, Team Imagine had already seen one major meltdown owing to the Wi-Fi situation and another working with a mild concussion thanks to a cab door mishap on the first night. On Day 3, it was my turn. I had a major hour-long interview scheduled with a big publisher on the first day, only to turn up and find out it wasn’t down on anyone’s schedule at said publisher. Okay, fair enough. These things happen. It’s no-one’s fault. It was rescheduled for the end of day 3, as they said it couldn’t be done at any other time. So I had to reschedule other stuff to fit that in, all while seeing other games and trying to send news stories back.
At the end of day 3 – and having to cut an interview with the game director of Hitman: Absolution short to get there – I went over to the publisher’s stand, only to be told right there and then that the interview had been cancelled again. Tired, hungry and pissed off, I held it together at the stand and then embarked on a shouty, sweary rant when I caught up with Team Imagine outside LA Convention Center. Then had a moody sulk like a child on the coach ride back to the hotel.
It wasn’t my greatest moment but it’s how delicately balanced things are at E3. It’s the stress of the event, the stress of keeping bosses back home happy, stress of trying to do the best job possible, stress of something as simple as finding wi-fi that works.
It’s not a sob story after sympathy. It’s just relaying how things work behind the scenes as we tried to get stories back to you as soon as possible. It’s definitely… an experience. There’s just no other way to describe it.
5 Lessons Learnt From E3
1. There’s not much point having a schedule – For all the pre-3 planning done, it all goes out the window by the end of day 1.
2. Anyone can get in – Once I get the interview with the blagger transcribed, I’ll ping it up here along with other anecdotes but the lesson here is obvious. If you want to get into E3, you CAN get into E3. The biggest obstacle will be the cost of the flight and finding somewhere to stay rather than trying to get in.
3. Some companies/PRs are super helpful – With the schedule being completely cocked up by the end of day 1, Square-Enix and Capcom proved to be particularly helpful when it came to last-minute requests and things having to be shifted around.
4. The work is worth it – There are lots of parties at E3. I didn’t go to a single one. Instead, each day at E3 was spent back at the hotel, writing up what I saw, doing stories for NowGamer.com while Twitter and Facebook was full of other press talking about the parties they were at. Looking at the early traffic reports during E3, it looks like the work was worth it. Tequilas can wait. Missed opportunities on Modern Warfare 3 exclusives and the like can’t.
5. Games are awesome – I’ve not been keeping up too much with the gossip back in the UK during E3 but there’s been some grumbling about the games on show. Once we do the write-ups on Play about what was shown behind closed doors on Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Uncharted 3, you’ll change your mind. You’ll have to. Otherwise you’ll just never be excited by games ever again… and now, time for a tequila. Cheers!