What It’s Actually Like At An E3 Press Conference
E3 press conferences have always been a huge deal for me. They’re the one time of year when games really seem to matter, and they’re a script for the entire year to come in our industry. Thanks to Press Play TV’s slow climb to legitimacy, I actually attended one of these gatherings this year, still not quite believing it as I shuffled into my seat for Microsoft’s 2015 Briefing. Before I got into games writing, I would have killed to go to one of these things, and I know I’m not alone in that. Watching the conference from home is a totally different experience from being in the theater, and not always in the ways you’d think. Hopefully these thoughts on my first E3 press conference can help you feel closer to the action- I have no way of knowing if these hold true for every publisher’s briefings, but below are some of the things I wouldn’t have expected about being on the front lines of Microsoft’s showcase.
You’re cut off from the world, and it’s awesome. I’m sure everybody reading this knows what it’s like to be watching a press conference, ready to update facebook and message friends at a moment’s notice. Probably the weirdest thing for me about actually being there was how cut off from everything else I was. Deep inside the Galen Center, wifi wasn’t working (or at least I couldn’t find out how to use it) and cell phone reception was non-existent. This meant no texting, sharing hype with friends or seeing fans’ reactions on social media in real-time during the show. And you know what? It’s kind of amazing. It sort of reminds me of going to the theater to watch a movie rather than watching one at home. Sure, you can choose to never pause or rewind the movie at home just like you can choose not to look at social media when watching the conferences at home, but it’s a different experience entirely when you’re in the theater and the decision isn’t yours to make. It’s almost zen-like, watching everything play out in real-time and having only your own opinion to go on for an hour and half. Nobody’s taking the wind out of announcements you think are cool, or getting really excited about a franchise you have no interest in- it’s just you, and the show happening in front of you.
Being in the crowd makes presentations less cringe-worthy. One of the main staples of watching any E3 stream is the embarrassing displays between game showcases. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about- it happens at every press conference without fail. The swooping cameras pick up some developer in excruciating detail, sweating and trembling, trying to explain his game’s vision, and the internet invariably rips him apart. What I found fascinating is that being in the crowd you can’t see the people on stage that well- even on the side screens showing a direct camera feed- and that makes the show significantly less cringe-inducing. Throughout the Microsoft press conference, not only did I not notice anyone botching their lines or acting weird, but there are so many screens and lights directing your attention away from the nervous speaker that you don’t even necessarily have a reason to pay attention to his quirks. I found this refreshing, and combined with the fact that I don’t see a thousand people in a chat room pointing out someone’s hand motions makes it seem like the show is going better than it probably is.
Multiple screens play a bigger part in the show than you think. Watching from home, I always knew E3 conferences were these lavish productions with huge, unnecessary panoramic screens and crazy stuff lighting up, but it wasn’t until I attended one that I really understood the role those extra screens played. At the Microsoft show, their weird shattered glass-looking screen fixtures all had a different purpose in each gameplay presentation. During the Halo 5 demo, four different screens were showing who was playing which character, and could be used to convey information on the fly. They always cut to those imposing fixtures in the livestreams, but having them there as constant reference is actually pretty helpful. For world premieres, we typically watch from home with anticipation, waiting for the game’s title to appear so we can know what it was we just saw. Something I found very interesting is that at the Xbox press conference, they displayed the name of the game on the two bottom screens at all times during the trailer. It’s sort of a blessing and a curse- sometimes knowing the name can give you insight and context for understanding the game you’re seeing, but it also robs the game of its big title reveal.
Even in the crowd you’re being lit for cameras. You might not realize this from when they cut to direct-feed footage of a game on livestreams, but they’re actually preparing to film the crowd during a lot of the demonstrations. This might seem harmless, but it revealed something I never thought about (and probably should have, being a camera guy): there are bright lights shining directly in your eyes right above the screens where games are being played. It’s not a huge deal, but it actually does impair your ability to see the games- I did find myself shielding my eyes from the lights a few times to see the screens better.
It’s hard not to just watch the teleprompters. This was the most surprising thing I realized about being at an E3 press conference. I couldn’t stop looking at the teleprompters! Think about it though: a huge name developer takes the stage, excited to announce a new breakthrough- wouldn’t it be cool to read what it is, a few seconds before you’re supposed to know? This sounds dumb, trust me I realize this- I just grumbled above about the extra screens removing suspense, and now I’m trying to sneak a peak at what they’re planning to reveal? It’s the ultimate ‘forbidden fruit’ scenario for video game fans though: you want to pay attention to the stage and let the show play out, but the information is RIGHT THERE… IF I JUST TURNED MY HEAD I’D KNOW WHAT HE’S HINTING AT… MUST… NOT… LOOK… AH SCREW IT. I think it’s safe to say we all like knowing even the smallest secrets about games a little early, so I’d unconsciously find myself reading the teleprompter more times than I’d like, despite my better judgment.
It’s a surreal experience going to an E3 press conference in person- these are things I’d watched from home for years, and now one of those weird green lights you see flashing in the crowd is around to my neck! It’s interesting to me that not all aspects of being there are actually better, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a lot of fun! I’ll be heading to the PC Gamer show on Tuesday as well, but I really wanted to get my thoughts and experiences out there from my first time- I know a lot of you guys would kill to be at any of these shows, and I hope this article allowed you to feel a little bit more like you were there with me!