My E3 2017 Experience

I ran through my rankings of the conferences yesterday and I’ll have a Top Ten List of the Games I saw at E3 tomorrow. Today, I want to talk about the experiences I had above and beyond the show.

Saturday Night – IGN Community Meet and Greet

I got in last Saturday night. IGN was holding a Community Meet & Greet from 6pm to 10pm. Had I known sooner, I’d’ve tried to book an earlier flight but as it stood, my flight arrived around 6:30pm. So I grabbed my bags, booked it to the hotel to check-in/drop my stuff off and walked the short distance over to the venue.

I probably showed up around 8pm and I think the first wave of IGN people were turning in for the night since they had a big day of work ahead of them the next morning with the Microsoft and Bethesda conferences. But as I arrived, I got to see friendly faces like Zach Ryan, Marty Sliva, Andrew Goldfarb, and Jared Petty (who was excitedly at E3 showcasing Star Wars Battlefront but also eager to see his IGN friends).

I headed inside and got to see Kiersten Slader, the rock star PR and Events Manager who had hooked me up with an IGN badge for E3. I had seen through social media earlier in the day that she’d had an IV in her arm so I asked if she was okay and she explained that for the second year in a row, she was pushing through E3 with a case of pneumonia and would actually be heading off to Urgent Care later to get some anti-biotics to help get her through the week. When I sang her praises on Instagram the other day, I absolutely meant it. She is a beast and her ability to overcome something like that and keep IGN running like a well-oiled machine for E3 is incredible.

I also ran into Jakejames Lugo of The Koalition. I would be remiss not to thank JJ, who also reached out and had set me up with a badge for the show before I eventually heard back from IGN. He pinged me while I was en route to Disneyland a month or so back with my parents and offered up a pass so I wound up booking my trip around that (before being setup with the other badge a few days later). JJ was ecstatic to be around the party and we caught up over a Hot Pocket and talked about the conferences he was attending and the games he was excited to see. We both wound up independently busy so I didn’t end up running into him the rest of the week but I was glad we got to hang out that night.

I was also grateful to chat briefly with Editor-in-Chief Steve Butts. Shortly before Christmas, I had applied for a position as a Promotion Editor for IGN (responsible for schedule content into the front page blog roll and re-promoting the site’s evergreen content). He wound up calling me about the job in a quick 15-30-minute screener call. I unfortunately didn’t make it to the next round but I was glad to have the opportunity Saturday night to introduce myself face-to-face and thank him for taking the time to discuss the position (Pro-tip speaking as a manager, if handled respectfully, this is always a smart move. I sent a thank you email shortly after the call back at the end of last year but this was a chance to follow-up and further the networking opportunity).

Lastly, I hung out with Dustin Furman, who would be my roommate for the first half of my stay in Los Angeles. He was offered a free last-minute E3 badge and made the trip, even though he would have to leave late Tuesday. Bethesda announced plans to offer up 300 additional wristbands the next morning for their conference Sunday night so we called it an early night to wake up, walk to the venue, and wait in line.

Sunday – Bethesdaland

Wristbands would be handed out starting at 9am. We woke up at 6am and were probably about 100 people back in line when we arrived around 6:30-6:45am. Having just been at Kinda Funny the week prior, waiting in line surrounding by a bunch of gamers was no big thing. I played some Mario Kart on my Switch. We talked about E3 with some of the other guys around us in line. The time passed.

Eventually, security came through the line to offer up wristbands first, to ensure that we had actually been waiting in line and didn’t try to sneak up at the last minute. Then, slowly the event staff collected emails and checked ids and registered your name to a wristband with an NFC chip in it that they could scan.

With badges in hand, we returned to the hotel. Dustin also had a ticket to the Microsoft conference that afternoon so he headed off there while I largely stayed around the hotel room. After the conference, I recorded my impressions before Dustin got back and then I headed off to the IGN war room and the convention center to pick up my badges. The doors to Bethesdaland would open at 6pm so Dustin headed off early, while I took a quick shower first.

As I walked out of the hotel, I saw Brittney Brombacher and Kristine Steimer from What’s Good Games across the street headed in the same direction so I went and said hi. We walked and talked down that way a bit and eventually parted ways when we got to their hotel so they could head up for a quick meal break as I continued onward to the conference.

Bethesdaland itself was basically an amped up traveling fairground. There were food carts themed to tie in to the various Bethesda properties, specialty drinks scattered around at the bars in the various “Lands” (Prey Land, Doom Land, Elder Scrolls Land, etc.), and even a small Ferris wheel. And everything was free. I snagged a couple of the exclusive pins they were handing out at the event (there were 8 in all to collect but as much as I enjoy pins, I didn’t care THAT much to wait in all of the lines/hunt them all down).

Shortly before 9pm, the doors to the conference stage opened and the masses funneled in to the standing room only section to watch (a selection of VIPs were able to grab seats in the stands overlooking the mosh pit). Following the conference, two more “Lands” opened up representing the newly announced Wolfenstein and The Evil Within (for those in attendance, it was a pretty safe bet they were coming because these two were reflected on the Collect Them All visual aid for the pins but the pins themselves weren’t available prior to the conference). Wolfenstein Land in particular was represented as the Diner from the trailer and was fully staffed with In & Out workers handing out free cheeseburgers to anyone who wanted one.
Additionally, the Chain Smokers (a pair of DJs I’m fairly certain I’d never heard of) started playing for the attendees. After grabbing a burger, fries, and a shake, I wandered around a bit more before ultimately deciding the time was right for me to head back to the hotel.
It was an incredible night and one hell of a first E3 conference to attend.

Wednesday – IGN’s Atomic Blonde E3 Party

Monday and Tuesday were pretty quiet for me outside of the conferences and the show. Dustin left and my roommate for the second leg of the trip Eric Petralia (who was attending as Kinda Funny’s photographer) joined me.

e3 lauren.jpg

My next real event was the IGN party Wednesday night which Kiersten graciously invited me too. She was also kind enough to set up a ticket for my L.A. friend Lauren Wilson. Lauren drove across town and parked her car in the garage next to my hotel before we walked over to the party. It was great catching up with Lauren and we were both looking sharp for the party.
Located inside the Mayan Theatre (which appears to have been a former theatre venue turned into a club/concert hall), the party was a ton of fun. Kiersten had excitedly talked about it throughout the week that it was her favorite thing she’d ever put together and it did not disappoint. We got to see and visit with more IGN folks as well as other assorted attendees. We had a mini-Kinda Funny table for a bit with Sean Pitts and Tom Hawkins. Jacob Bryant, former contributor to Irrational Passions and current contributor to Variety was there so we caught up briefly. I got to snag a picture with WWE/UpUpDwnDwn stars Xavier Woods and Samoa Joe.

I also had a great chat with Mike Aransky. We’ve have a good rapport on Twitter the last couple years and some more conversations following his Classic Aransky launch earlier this year but this was the first time I was able to have a really prolonged conversation with him and I was incredibly grateful for the chance. We talked a bit about his future plans for his YouTube channel, my writing, and the insane challenge I set forth to vlog every day. It was a great chat and I look forward to trying to develop the connection in the future.

Around 11pm, it seemed like the DJ doubled the volume and my entire body started vibrating with every thump of the bass line. Having had our fill of free drinks, Lauren and I decided to call it a night. On our way out, I got to see Greg Miller and say a quick hello and snap the picture I would use for my appreciation post for him the next day. I walked Lauren back to her car and then headed back to my hotel to edit together my impressions of that day until she texted me to let me know she’d made it home safe.

Thursday – Shit Arcade with Mike Drucker

Thursday night, I caught a ride across town to the Nerdist Showroom for a comedy show featuring Greg Miller and a handful of comedians playing (and making jokes about) shitty games, hosted by Mike Drucker. It was a ton of fun featuring such classics as Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for the NES, Where’s Waldo which was made by a NES-era Bethesda Softworks, and Shaq Fu. The show was a ton of fun though I think there was a bit of a feeling of exhaustion from the long E3 week creeping in. That or I have an over-inflated sense of worth for the jokes that were running through my own head. With Mike’s show Bill Nye Saves the World picked up for a second season on Netflix, he’ll be in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future and announced that this Shit Arcade idea will be a monthly show. I wish I lived closer because I had a ton of fun and would love to see what games they pull out next time.

Ben Bellevue ended up coming to the show so we went and grabbed a bite to eat afterward, with him graciously getting me back across town in the vicinity of my hotel room. We had a nice one-on-one conversation that was a bit refreshing since we’d always been hanging out surrounded by a ton of people the week prior at Kinda Funny Live. We talked about the community, our personal lives, and what had us excited from E3. It was such a great conversation that I didn’t even care that I barely touched my Philly Cheesesteak.

Miscellaneous

I was immensely humbled that a handful of people came up an introduced themselves to me, recognizing me from stuff with Kinda Funny or just online. At the IGN Community Meet & Greet, Bethesdaland, and on the E3 Show Floor, I had people walk up and introduce themselves, which was a surreal feeling.

On the flip side, I walked alongside Burnie Burns, Ashley Jenkins, Cliffy B, and Ashley Johnson at various points throughout the week but didn’t want to interrupt any of them.
While I was playing Knack 2, the person tasked with being in the Knack suit leaned in and watched me play. Sadly, I was busy playing and did not get a picture of this moment.

My Take on a Public E3

A lot has been said about the decision to open up 15,000 tickets to the public this year. While technically holding a media badge, I was effectively one of these public attendees this year. I had no appointments and just played a handful of things I could get my hands on. And while I don’t have anything to compare it to myself, there was a definite sense that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) did not plan appropriately for this influx of people. When it was announced, I calculated that 15,000 new people would effectively act as a 25% increase in attendance (bringing the previous year’s attendance of roughly 60,000 up to 75,000). Shortly before the event closed on Thursday, I received a press release stating “E3 Closes After Welcoming 68,400 Attendees.” They had previously announced that all 15,000 public tickets had sold out so it’s possible they converted some former media attendees into public passes or the companies and developers that were given passes to hand out to the public last year were drastically cut back.

So even if the ESA didn’t quite reach the potential 25% increase of bodies, they did have significant growth but by most accounts, none of that was accounted for on the show floor. Rami Ismail has already written a great piece on the absurd lack of security (it blew my mind that I walked in Tuesday morning with absolutely nobody checking my bag). To their credit, Nintendo and Sony did drastically rethink how to approach queues after the first day but the ESA-run components were wildly inconsistent. As an example, on Wednesday morning I entered the LA Convention Center near the West Hall around 9:50am to find that the line to get in was nearly gone because they’d opened the West Hall early. I made the trek over to the South Hall and watched from above as the line remained out the door because it had not yet opened, waiting until 10am to open the doors and start funneling people in. It’s a small example but it was a significant walk from one hall to the other so the fact that one line was already done while the other hadn’t yet started highlights a management and communication issue.

On top of that, it would seem that operations were largely identical to last year so there was not a massive influx of extra gaming stations to account for the thousands of extra people who were trying to experience the show. This meant long lines on the big name titles like Super Mario Odyssey. And when I tweeted months back that I envisioned this would make E3 more like PAX, that’s what I was anticipating. The Expo Hall was often very reminiscent of what I’ve grown used to at PAX or PlayStation Experience. Members of the bigger established outlets have kind of dismissed this as something that doesn’t really affect them too much since most of their work was going to be demos behind closed doors anyway. But I think they’re often forgetting that this is pretty much their experience at a PAX East or West as well. They’ll explore the show floor for indie games but the Indie presence on the actual E3 show floor was relatively minimal. Even the demos that were there on the floor might have been drastically different if you actually had the industry connections to have one on one playthroughs with the developers as opposed to the PR team working the show floor. As an example, I was excited to play a demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole on the show floor. It was hilarious and irreverent. And apparently – as I would find out when hearing Tim Gettys talk about his playthrough – abbreviated. Tim described a gauntlet of fights that closed out his demo in a sequence that immediately followed where my demo on the show floor cut off. This was disappointing in hindsight because it featured the one aspect I would have liked to play more of: the combat.

Overall, I still enjoyed my time at the show. Being around everyone’s energy and excitement was the same feeling that struck me when I attended the first PlayStation Experience and decided that this was a path I wanted to pursue. But I am very curious to see what ESA does with the millions of extra dollars they brought in this year. If every public ticket was sold for the stated rates of $149 (for the first 1,000) or $249, the total extra revenue amounts to more than $3.6 million. Now I’m sure some of those tickets were likely comped or something but I think $3 million is a healthily conservative projection. So where did that money go? Not to security? Not to line management? So where?

I'm not opposed to keeping the show open to the public (especially as I hope to have more PR contacts by next year so that I can strive to get some of those appointments instead of just wandering the show floor), but the ESA needs to drastically rework their approach to the show if that's going to be the case. Some people suggested the Gamescom model of specific days for the press and the public so maybe we'll see E3 week continue to get longer with an extra day or two tacked on to the Expo Hall. Or perhaps they'll go the PAX approach and sell separate badges for separate days to make it more affordable for people who only want to come out for one or two days and then hit Disneyland instead.

Whatever the case may be, my take is that this approach did work but it was far from optimal.