Sunday, June 5, 2011

On not attending E3 for the first time since 1996

When I attended my first E3 convention, as a writer/editor for Computer Gaming World magazine in 1996, there was no Web yet. No Kotaku, Joystiq, IGN, GameSpot. No fansites. No liveblogging. No Twitter. There wasn't even a TV presence yet, because, at that point, the mainstream media still didn't really give much of a shit about videogaming. So when it came to the press, the print magazines--the "hobbyist" magazines-- were it.

Walking through the LA Convention Center that first year with Editor-in-Chief Johnny Wilson is still one of my most indelible memories of all 15 E3s I have been to (I missed only the very first one, in 1995). That was as close to an "Omar comin!" moment as I've ever witnessed, as the arrival of Johnny to your E3 booth meant that the King had arrived. I'm barely exaggerating. With the press (and gaming in general) being such a relatively small world at the time, Johnny's blessing, in the PC gaming scene, was about as high a stamp of approval as you could get.

In those days, the pressure for the writers and editors at this show was not nearly what it is for the poor saps covering it today, when even a blog post is now "late," what with everyone livetweeting everything. For us, we just had to make sure to take good enough notes to be able to write our articles for the print magazine when we got back to San Francisco. We still had deadlines, of course, and often they were brutal around E3 (we'd have the whole magazine basically ready to go before the show, and then have to come back and hurriedly write the E3 feature in time to make the printer deadline), but still, compared to today, it was luxurious.

My head is entirely full of E3 today, not just because the show starts tomorrow and almost my entire Twitter feed is full of pre-show chatter, but also because this is going to mark the first time in 15 years that I am not attending, and I'm finding myself to be full of conflicting emotions about it. When you attend something so many years in a row, it becomes part of your life. For me (and most of the folks I know who attend), it ends up being less about whatever may be happening at the show than something of a gigantic reunion, a ritual we all go through together. And within that ritual, our group had its own rituals: the Ziff Davis party at the Figueroa, the Morton's steak dinner, cigars by the Figueroa pool, and, for me personally, my annual breakfast with my dad at the Patio restaurant.

I had the option to go this year. So it wasn't a matter of not being able to go. But my reality, this year, is this: I'm on the road all the time now. I just got back from China, then spent a few weeks in my "regular" PopCap routine of back-and forth to Seattle, and in two weeks I'm flying off to Dublin for 6 days. That's a lot of being away from home, and my family. And this week, this E3 week, is my daughter's finals week. And when I arrived back home from Seattle after my last trip up, she said, as clear and direct as she always is, "Dad, please be home for my finals week." So, ya see, right then and there it was decided. Nothing trumps that. Nothing.

I do have a fair bit of jealousy and of feeling "left out," if I'm being honest. But the truth is, too, that since I left the press in 2008, the show itself isn't the same for me anyway. When it comes to actually seeing things at the show, nothing beats a press pass. And the previous two years, when I attended on behalf of EA, while still awesome from a socializing aspect, were brutal in terms of trying to actually see the stuff (like the Nintendo 3DS) that people were raving about. Suddenly I was waiting in all those lines I'd been able to cut in front of for over a decade--and man did that suck. Now that I'm at PopCap, my "need" to be at this show is even less crucial, at least right now, this year, as what we do isn't necessarily the best fit for a show of this scale. (PAX is much more are speed--and yes I'll be there.) And finally, in regards to my PopCap job itself, I love it, and the things I'll be doing during this E3 week, and then in Dublin, are thoroughly satisfying to me, and really just what my life is about right now. So, I'm trying to be philosophical about it, be happy for my very, very lucky place in life, and know that I will be back to E3 again when it makes more sense and the timing works better.

I could probably write a book (or at least an extremely long blog post) on my E3 experiences, but here are a few random memories from year's past, before I get on with my day:

1997 in Atlanta: Absolutely sweltering, unbearable heat that had all of us even sweatier and smellier and grosser than we already normally were. Having one of the CGW editors say he was taking us to the "best wings place in Atlanta," only to realize, as we approached it, that he was talking about Hooters. Seeing the Foo Fighters at the Sony party on an outdoor rooftop.

1998: Seeing Duke Nukem Forever for the first time. LOL.

1999: Seeing Team Fortress 2 and thinking it was going to be the greatest PC game of all time.

The original look of Team Fortress 2, circa E3 1999

2000: Having the CGW editors literally running up to me telling me I had to go see the new, secret, behind-closed-doors PC game that Bungie was working on: Halo.

2001: Seeing how hard Microsoft was pimping the Xbox and realizing, even back then, that they were going to bail on PC gaming (even if they'll never admit it).

2002-2006 (Exact dates lost to the vagaries of time and memory): One of my then brand-new editors ordering a double Porterhouse for $80 at the annual Morton's dinner and eating the whole thing by himself. Smoking cigars with Bioware's Dr Ray and Greg by the Figueroa pool. Trying to get into every "hot" E3 party at night, and, when succeeding, staying for about 20 minutes because the parties were always too crowded and lame, and it was much nicer and fun and relaxing and satisfying by the Figueroa pool. Getting annoyed with the increasingly bigger crowds at the show, and the TV cameras, and the websites and "bloggers" invading "our" space.

2007: Getting what we wished for by having the oversized, overcrowded convention reduced to a tiny "business summit" in Santa Monica, and then instantly realizing it was a huge mistake as it felt too tiny and marginal and depressing, like a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman convention. We "needed" the giant party that was E3 as much as a celebration of self and gorilla chestbeating than for actual, logical work business reasons.

2009: Attending E3 for the first time ever not as part of the media, but as a representative for the Sims team at EA, and discovering that the only thing harder than rushing from one appointment to another as a member of the press and frantically trying to write everything as fast as possible, was standing in one spot all day long demoing the same shitty-ass Wii game that no one gives a crap about over and over and over until I wanted to shoot myself.

So, yeah. There are more of those. I'll get to 'em someday. Meanwhile, I have a lot to do this week in my current job, but I will, of course be monitoring Twitter and the websites and even the TV to see all the fun stuff coming out of the show. I'll miss all my friends and colleagues. I'll miss the general insanity of the whole thing. And I'll miss breakfast with my dad.

But I'll be home, where I'm needed and where I want to be this week. So have a great show everyone. And don't forget, amidst all the "work," how lucky you all are to be there!


Stray Neutrino said...

"Having one of the CGW editors say he was taking us to the "best wings place in Atlanta," only to realize, as we approached it, that he was talking about Hooters."

Can I hazard a guess that this was Gladstone? I'm just saying...

Adam Shear said...

Great post! I don't know if you remember me but we met in January in NYC where you and Laura Jackson showed me some of the awesome stuff PopCap Games is working on. I wrote for the Xbox site and we could not get the Internet working in the hotel. Hope that rings a bell. Reading your post was definitely inspiring as my number one dream is right now is to cover E3. I wanna be a game journalist in my future and its awesome to hear how it was back in the beginning where there were no online outlets. I almost got in this year but site traffic was a problem for the outlet I registered with. I'm definitely going in 2012 as I'll just register which one of the more traffic heavy outlets I write for, possibly the Xbox site ( I'm interested to know why and how did you get other jobs in the industry like working for EA and eventually PopCap. I can certainly understand how painful it is to demonstrate a game you don't even like like the Sims Wii game which I'm guessing was MySims but you can only move up from there which you did. Congrats man and have fun covering E3 from home like me. I can totally understand that too much of a good thing can be sometimes bad.

ctznpain666 said...

Not to plagiarize, but it gets better.

CallMeSarge said...

Question - how will you be consuming the glut of E3 info this year? Podcast spam? News sites? Twitter only?

I always find the extra batch of podcasts hard to get through in E3 week because I only listen whilst driving. Still, I am not complaining mind.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Johnny Wilson was initially opposed to E3, and actually said so to the CGW readers - he was fearful, I believe, that 'civilians' would see unfinished code and not understand that the finished product would be much different.

Whatever happened to Johnny Wilson, by the way?

Alien426 said...

I can't help but imagine the scene with your daughter as though it happened in the TV series Castle. There are similarities, I guess.

Suresh S said...

"1998: Seeing Duke Nukem Forever for the first time. LOL."

You'll be able to see it fully now. No really [:D]

curt said...

Hooters? I don't envy you. Did you ever make it to the The Martini Club during those years in Atlanta? Truly a fun spot.