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E3 2019: Pros and Cons from A First-Timer
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E3 2019: Pros and Cons from A First-Timer

An inside look at what it’s like attending E3 for the first time, for better or worse.

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As cattle we walk. With the entrance into the exciting, frightening promises of E3 2019 right there, we seem to be going in the opposite direction. We pass the giant billboards of future titles yet to drop. We pass the entry points. We pass those with “credentialed” Industry badges who occasionally seem to roll their eyes.

What was I expecting down where we were going? Hard to say. Some form of entertainment would be fine. Perhaps large screens streaming the press conferences from the bigger companies earlier that week? To be fair, the second time I was subjected to the herding, they did have a band playing some fine tunes down there, but on the first day we were required to use our own minds for entertainment.

What such travesties have they bestowed upon thee? Instead of relying on others my colleague and I just stood around coming up with ideas to what could be potentially called “Line Simulator” where shifting weight on your feet would be a key component to the game. I am sorry it came down to that topic of discussion of all topics to land on (while I will never forgive myself for coming up with the idea, I will also sell it to the highest bidder that wants to make it into a real video game).

Into the Muck and Mire

While our scheming was afoot, what we saw were hundreds of people raring to go headfirst into the show floors with reckless abandon toward the games they most wanted to see despite the lines that may prevent them from doing so. Large sections of people filled up what looked like a parking garage or basement to the Los Angeles Convention Center. We got in nearly 30 minutes before they opened proper, and we still had a ton of people in front of us. Which begs the question, how long have they been there? Was it worth it?

If they had waited more than a couple of hours, I can definitively say that, no, it was not worth it. If only because as soon as the first group of people cheered and high fived their way onto the show floor, it only took maybe 15-20 minutes for the rest of the sections of people to then be let up as well. So while they were the first to get in line for Borderlands 3, the rush they beat might not have been worth it.

Industry vs. Media vs. Gamer

To those who may not know, E3 has primarily been full of those in the industry as well as those who are part of media publications that would like to cover the games. Up until last year, the public was seldom – if ever – admitted in.

In 2018, so many people in the industry and media collectively sighed at the prospect of letting in the normal folk into the show – and for good reason. Not only does it detract from the overall flow of the floor but it also makes everyone’s jobs harder. Covering a never-before-seen title was easier when that’s what everyone was trying to do. Now, you have to worry about hundreds of people in a line before you that are just going to play the game and never spread the word of their experience save from a seldom “I played Cyberpunk that was so sick what should we do for dinner?”.

So when it came time to get into E3, we found ourselves in trouble finding access to a media badge. Despite being overqualified for media credentials in the two areas most desired – traffic and metrics – we found ourselves paying our own way into the show. Popzara has regularly attended this conference for over a decade, and a common story I heard was the headache-inducing task of “proving” your journalistic cred was becoming more and more a fool’s game. Since our contacts still remained and meetings were still maintained, the show wouldn’t have been nearly as much of an issue if it weren’t for the dreaded ugly, orange-colored fluorescent badge slinging from my neck like a scarlet letter.

See, like any other trade show or convention, you’re given a badge to wear proudly around your neck to show your name and your information. At E3, you normally would find badges with “Media” or “Industry” at the bottom to be a quick and clear shorthand to let you know who you’re talking with. Game journalists would have Media and devs would have Industry. Fair enough, right?

When introducing the Gamer badges, you’ve introduced another wrinkle to the relationships between the Media and those in the Industry. No longer is it just black and white, but now there’s black and white with a whole lot of gray areas and a big sore, fluorescent thumb sticking right in the middle of it.

Not only did our badges have “GAMER” written in big font under our information, but the badge holder nestled upon on our chests would glow as the lights refracted upon the bright orange fluorescence. Instead of thinking of Gamer badges like minded individuals, I caught a couple of glances demonstrating a slight “Oh great, a showruiners…” vibe whenever someone caught sight of my badge without fluorescence blocking sunglasses.

Some developers were certainly excited to see gamers on the floor. These are their customers after all. But some exhibitors might have been briefed to look out for those rapscallion Gamers and their beacons. One woman in particular who worked for a booth, that will remain nameless, locked eyes with me as I strolled by. She smiled and turned her body as if to ask me to check things out. Then her eyes drifted toward my badge and I watched her expression change in real-time. She instead turned back forward and looked off into the distance.


Due to the lack of presence by many companies this year, the show floor had a good chunk of space that went unused by anyone. This made it feel sparse in some areas but overcrowded in others. The show floor can be exhausting for the brain. The pounding music, blaring sound effects, and overall chatter can quickly become an overwhelming cacophony of aural invasion. There were a few times when I needed a break from the sounds and I would take the long way around the floor just to have a quick respite from all things E3. Others had this same idea as I would consistently see people taking the roundabout ways across the floor.

One particular time had me walking alongside the perimeter of the show floor. It was mostly empty with one or two stragglers perched up against a wall resting their feet. There was one individual rummaging through his bags and one other person walking about 20 paces behind me. I also noticed two individuals walking toward me with what looked like beers in hand.

While I was taking a break from the show itself, I was still taking a peek at my schedule on my phone and trying to map out in my head where to go next. I knew where that booth was…so I just needed to go to the other end of the South Hall in order to make it there in time. Hopefully that should be enough time for me to make the next appoint–

WOOOOOO!!!” screamed the beer-toting man right into my ear. It startled me, as it should, and I lurched away from the unprovoked Woo Attack. He laughed at his buddy and kept walking on. Despite utter confusion, I was also a little annoyed. With slight ringing in my ears, I began to ponder what – and why – what happened just happened. So I took mental notes.

Was I wearing a shirt that could be misconstrued as something requiring a WOO of acknowledgement? No. I was wearing a vague artistic representation of Twin Peaks that my wife bought me years back. Was there something on my face that he tried to warn me of? Was barking excitement at me the only way for him to communicate this information to me in the brief time window he had? A quick check revealed that my face was the same, crumb and particle free.

Then it hit me like a sack of WOOs: it was the badge. It’s always the badge. Since I didn’t get a good look at what kind of badge this man was wearing, it’s safe to assume there’s a few different outcomes to this scenario:

  • He too has an ugly fluorescent orange badge. He saw a second badge and decided to release a primal scream to alert another orange badge of his presence.
  • He too has a fluorescent orange badge but did not see mine and still decided to scream in my ear to declare his excitement for the show thus far.
  • He was in the industry or media, seen my badge and thought “WHAT A LOSER! HERE COMES A WOO!

Whichever the actual answer, it didn’t bode well for the vibe and camaraderie that makes a show worth visiting. If it is A or B, that means that those purchasing tickets for entry have a wider chance of being nuisances to the community turning the show into something far less about community and more about “LOL I can play nu gamez! WOOOOOO!

Or, alternatively, if he wasn’t part of the industry or media, that means there are people clearly making their animosity known and display it proudly (and loudly) to those willing to listen or not.

Whether or not he was trying to intimidate me or just being drunk remains to be seen, but I can tell you that the whole experience reminded me of being in High School all over again. I felt like the nerdy kid all over again with a book or a game boy in hand walking to my next class just to have a football jock screaming in my ear as some kind of masculinity check. I’ve been to trade shows and conventions before and I normally feel in my element and amongst like minded peers with a shared passion. But this was, to use a video game term, immersion breaking when I thought I was done with High School.

“You’re going to hate it.” (Spoilers: I did not)

I’ve been told on multiple occasions that E3 was not the same as it has been before. I’ve heard warnings about it. I’ve heard countless tales of “That’s not MY E3”. I’ve also watched countless journalists and industry folk that I trust proclaiming that it’s a rough week to get through. So heading into the LA Convention center, I knew what to expect. I was prepared for the onslaught. I was ready.

Then it happened and I realized that things weren’t nearly as bad as people led it on it be. Being part of the media, it honestly made me feel good about what I do. Sure, the term “Shill” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games coverage and it’s understandable why. But some of the earnest attempts of devs talking about their game is as much raw excitement as it is pushing sales. As someone who owns and designs escape rooms, I feel the need to sell but I also always try to talk to those I’m selling it to with excitement. I’ve spent time making these things so I know them in and out and some might conflate that excitement with cheesy selling tactics.

There are also people out there that have posted raving responses to video games that I’ve seen and/or played at this year’s E3, and I can say that, in my own opinion, are quite early and therefore broken or weak among others. While I prefer to not give names of the game, company or publications, there was an instance where I saw a game and thought it looked fairly generic and certainly needed a lot of work. And yet, here I am looking at a quick blurb about it online saying how excited this person was for this game. Not to say they’re being disingenuous, but there’s an absolute sense of hyperbolic attitude when it comes to this kind of games coverage.

Going to E3 has been a lifelong dream of mine. Growing up and breathing games has been a fun ride that has always had its big days each year with E3 coverage. New exciting titles, sequels, consoles, reveals, memeable CEO jargon, etc. Every year there’s a silver lining to E3 and each year I would have the desire to go.

As a kind of substitute for E3, I did spend 4 or 5 years at Comic-Con in San Diego and while those shows were a ton of fun as well, they were just a way for me to scratch that itch I knew I’d never be able to scratch. Even with Comic-Con, I started to see that downward trend that the show wasn’t getting nearly as exciting or fresh and instead started to become a trainwreck of an overcrowded venue with too many overzealous fans chomping at the fandom bit. The first year I attended was so much more subdued than each subsequent year and it became more and more apparent that their main focus was getting money; less about the convention itself.

Despite how much I’ve wanted to go to E3 over the many, many years, I am not entirely sure that the Gamer pass is the way to go.

Sure, you get access to games you may never see again. Sure, you might be able to play that one game that you can’t wait three more months to play. But no other phrase can better sum up the E3 experience for those poor souls with Gamer badges as “Hurry up and wait.” Those waiting in the muck to get access to the show floor went right onto the show floor just to get into another line to play a game. IF they were lucky enough to be first in line for a twenty-minute demo, that means they’d be twenty minutes into their second twenty-minute demo line and forty minutes into their third. It would be a nonstop mess of waiting.

That’s not to say Comic-Con or other conventions aren’t full of waiting either. But at least those shows have been engineered to have things constantly going on for everyone present. Hall H (the big hall a the San Diego Convention Center with all the big movie announcements) has a huge long line getting into it. You can choose to wait overnight and you’d (probably) be fine. But even if you don’t get in, there are a plethora of small panels all over the center that you can pop into or wait in a short 10-minute line and you’d learn a lot more about something apposed to being subjected to a 20 minute panel with a line-up of A-list celebrities; 10 minutes of which are dedicated to incoherent clapping and cheers.

With E3, you have the big titles and some small ones to mess around with, but everything that’s truly engaging or interesting is locked behind closed doors for media and industry badges. If they opened up extra rooms to have smaller panel style events with dev teams and the like, maybe Gamers will have a better reasoning for attending. But then that, in itself, detracts even further from what E3 is at its core: a trade show. This isn’t a show for people too “ooh and ahh” at games (or scream in other’s ears), but it’s for making connections and taking a chance in pushing your game to getting some fantastic publicity.

Would I go again? Absolutely. It was a blast meeting people, despite my quiet disposition. It was also great meeting friends and colleagues, both new and established alike. It’s an experience that I will certainly never forget and that’s all because of Popzara and the wonderful people behind the scenes.

Would I go again as just a gamer? Probably not. The feeling of being ostracized from those I normally respect was apparent with that orange badge around my neck. If I had gone with no intentions of making connections or fulfilling obligations, I probably would have been fine with the averted gazes. But as I was there to do my job, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat insignificant when I shouldn’t have. I spotted a few industry titans – many of whom I have a great deal of respect for – just walking about on the floor like normal humans do, but I was too afraid to approach them. I didn’t want to come off as a superfan; I wanted to come off as a peer.

But maybe I’m just reading too much into things. I suppose we’ll have to see what the future holds for the next E3 event. Will the show go all-digital, a la Nintendo Direct? Or will it embrace virtual reality? Will it continue its current trajectory or will it revert to excising non-industry Gamers completely? We may never know. Well, at least until next year and we get to start this whole song and dance over again.

About the Author: James McKeever