GamesBeat

Tales from E3: The industry shares its favorite stories

Crypt Keeper pinball

This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show (E3) starts in Los Angeles tomorrow. The event has existed in one form or another since 1995, and last year, almost 46,000 journalists and exhibitors gathered at the L.A. Convention Center to wub it up and cringe.

With so many people going to the show for so many years, it’s a pretty safe bet that attendees have witnessed — or participated in — a shenanigan or two. We reached out to journalists, developers, PR representatives, and analysts to share their favorite stories from E3s past.

What you’re about to read may shock you. Unless you’re not easily shocked. Go ahead and read on.


John Davison, director of content and publishing at Red Robot

Stepping out of a cab with Chris van der Kuyl [the head of online technology company Brightsolid] — who was at developer VIS Entertainment at the time — at the Sony party in Atlanta and looking at each other and mouthing, “I can’t believe this is part of my job.”

Chris was dressed in full Scottish regalia: kilt, sporran, the works, and that Sony party was one of those from when Sony was going through its particularly audacious period. It was in an entire parking structure, and each floor was draped in white … linen, maybe? I don’t remember. It was all white, I remember that. Foo Fighters played on the roof, and Dave Grohl stopped midset to sing the Chop Chop Master Onion song from Parappa the Rapper. Fucking bonkers.

Another time, I hung around chitchatting for too long after a Sony press conference in L.A. and missed the bus to the next location. Ended up whizzing across the studio lot on the back of a golf cart with [former Sony chief] Ken Kuturagi, who gave us a ride in his limo.

The Ham Duet: seemingly the only food available through the catering at E3 itself — a thing of myth and legend. It even has a Twitter account.


Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities

My favorite was the Gizmondo booth in 2004 (before it was out). The girls working there were attractive in an incredibly sleazy way, and I mentioned politely that they looked sort of like strippers or hookers and asked the chief executive officer which modeling agency he used.

“They are strippers and hookers,” he said.


Sid Shuman, manager of social media at PlayStation

When you’re in the industry working 16-hour days at E3, it’s almost like being nestled inside a giant sensory deprivation chamber. Out of the 10 E3s I’ve been to, only one have I been able to freely wander and play games while taking in the sights and sounds. Most times, I have to wait until the show is over and I’m back home before I can finally catch up on all the new trailers, game reveals, and more.


Rob Smith, editor-in-chief at Machinima

Not sure I can provide any juicy details, so I’ll try a stream of consciousness.

Moral Flask

E3 moving to Atlanta … the entire Bay Area industry flying to Georgia … I didn’t know it was illegal to bring alcohol on a plane (this is all pre-2001), so I busted out a flask and shared it with the local PR/marketing folks. How to make friends and influence people? That’s how.

Or trying to find Sierra’s party in downtown L.A. (before smartphones) only to end up in some gang neighborhood where, despite five guys all over 6-foot present, there were shouts to run red lights and not stop at intersections just to try and ensure we stayed alive.

Or more mundane, the hot, stuffy booth where a PR person, suffering from the events of the evening before, threw up mid-demo.


Wiebke Vallentin, account director at Step 3

Many, many eons ago, I was working for Atari, and they had a skateboarding game. I want to say it was called Transworld or something like that.

And what does any respectable skateboarding game have for E3 but a giant halfpipe in their booth, right? Right.

So, there’s a giant halfpipe, professional skaters are entertaining the crowd, all is going well … until a skateboard flies out of the halfpipe and hits a videographer in the eye, causing the camera to scratch the guy’s cornea. Lawsuit ensued, yadda yadda yadda, and the following day, the netting around the halfpipe was twice as high.

[NOTE: The only E3 half-pipes we could turn up belonged to Activision for its Tony Hawk skateboarding series; the below picture matches the setup in the story.]

E3 2002 Activision half-pipe


Troy Goodfellow, account coordinator at Evolve PR

Here’s one that is positive but hardly unique to me.

I didn’t cover a lot of shows as media, but enough to know what I like.

In 2008, they scaled down the size of the show considerably. Though this was a process that had begun the year earlier, in 2008 there was a lot less spectacle, fewer large events going on, and many of the game floor spaces felt more like an arcade than a big expo. One of my veteran colleagues compared it to an “insurance convention.”

Thing is? I loved it. I loved the small size. I loved not pushing through crowds. I loved knowing that my schedule would not be thrown off because some big publisher chose that moment to do something loud and obnoxious and draw hordes of people. I loved that I could hear at the end of the day. I loved being able to do my work.

The next year the show was back to its huge monster size, and I get why the industry and fans want this to be a big party that everyone feels they can come to or watch via streaming. But when I was a journalist that wanted to report on the games and the development and the stories behind the producers, it was so much easier when there wasn’t a theme park around me.

M. Night Shyamalan

Shannon Drake, account coordinator at Evolve PR

Several years back, I worked for the WarCry Network and handled all their E3 scheduling.

One of my writers had a meeting with a free-to-play game publisher looking to break into the U.S. market. I kept getting updates from my writer that the guy at the booth was very, very interested in meeting “Shannon” and was asking all sorts of questions about me and getting really personal. Like “Oooh, what kind of things does Shannon like?” and “Do you know if Shannon will be free for dinner?” and was absolutely adamant that I should come by the booth.

The M. Night Shyamalan-worthy twist is that I’m a dude, and the look on the guy’s face when I finally showed up to the booth confirmed he was unaware of this.


Corey Wade, partner at Sandbox Strategies

Here is how I remember it: It was E3 2005, and I was working for Rockstar Games. Microsoft had arranged a live gameplay tournament for the recently released Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, which was to be hosted by Snoop Dogg.

On the surface, it was a good idea. The game had a lot of hip-hop tie-ins, and apparently the fee Microsoft was paying Snoop was going to a charity of his. There was a little arena-type area with bleachers Microsoft had set up in the Xbox booth, and they were doing similar tournaments for other games throughout the show.

Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition

Anyway, they packed people into the arena in anticipation of the tournament starting, but Snoop didn’t show up. Someone eventually found him wandering around the show floor with a huge crew of friends and hangers-on, predictably heavy-lidded. After over an hour, they herded him over to the tournament area where he got up on stage and quickly made it clear he’s not exactly sure why he’s there. Eventually, two kids started playing the game against each other, but one of the controllers came unplugged, and the race needed to be started over.

For some reason, this enraged Snoop, and he walked off the stage muttering profanities. A quick-thinking J Allard [then-“chief experience officer” at Microsoft] then saved the day by running up on stage and taking the mic, and everything proceed reasonably well from there.

No idea what Snoop did next.


Cliff Bleszinski, former lead designer at Epic Games

I used to wear what were, effectively, pimp suits to E3. Bright, flamboyant, you know the deal. Back then, I was thinner than a rail, and no matter how hard I tried, the suits always felt like they were my big brother’s.

GerardoOne time, I was coming out of one of the halls, and none other than Coolio comes up to me and starts going “Riiiicooooo Suuuuuuuaveeeee.” (If you both know who Coolio is and what that song is, then congrats, you’ve dated yourself.) He grabs my arm and pulls me over to a random booth babe and introduces me.

I wish I could give you a more interesting finale to this story, but I was so confused by the whole interaction that I just said “‘sup” to the confused girl and went to my next meeting.

There was also the time I brought Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion around for a tour on the show floor. They’d never been, and they found the whole experience a bit overwhelming. This was the year when Epic had a special Nvidia theater previewing Unreal Engine 3, and we showed them that demonstration as well. Both of those guys are gentlemen and overall cool people. When we left the convention center with Joss, he said to me, “In the last 20 minutes, I just saw more creativity than I’ve seen in Hollywood lately.”


Chris Grant, editor-in-chief at Polygon

Back in 2006, while I was still at Joystiq and before mobile Internet was as fast and reliable as it is now, a crew of Joystiq writers set up shop at the closest Starbucks to our hotel so we could assist the liveblog crew — which was using our one mobile hotspot — and break out stories from Sony’s now-famous 2006 PlayStation 3 press conference.

When we pulled into the parking lot, we learned that this wasn’t the kind of Starbucks we expected; it was a micro-Starbucks tucked into the corner of a laundromat. Now, my memory of that press conference in all its meme-worthiness — from Ridge Racerrrrrr to giant enemy crabs to “five hundred and ninety-nine U.S. dollars” — brings up equally fond memories of working for a scrappy “blog” doing everything we could to keep a solid Internet connection.

Also, that was the last time I saw a Starbucks in a laundromat.

The Killers

Mel Kirk, vice president of marketing and public relations at Zen Studios

At E3 2005, I was at the Xbox 360 unveil party at the Greek Theater. This was back in the day when first-parties would bring the hottest bands to perform. The Killers were on their way up but not yet huge; their debut album Hot Fuss was getting popular.

The band came out to start the show, and it looked like no one in the audience was really ready. I happened to be standing near the stage when the lead singer, Brandon Flowers, came out and was looking around a little confused.

I said, “Hey, you’re the lead for The Killers.”

He replied back, “So is this a party?” with a really odd expression on his face. He asked me to go get him a beer, and then we drank onstage together before the show started. No one else recognized him.


Jeff Castaneda, vice president of communications at MTV

We first debuted Rock Band at E3 2007, and we knew the game was something special when approximately 50 journalists started belting Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” at the top of their lungs together in unison. The lyrics “I’m a cowboy … on a steel horse I ride” will always have a special place in my heart because of this.

xkcd Rock Band

From a previous life:

At E3 2001, no one was paying attention to Grand Theft Auto 3, which was playable at the Rockstar Games booth. Instead, long lines formed around the game State of Emergency. Glad to see that destiny took over at some point, and the world eventually got it right.


Joe Lieberman, PR guy at VGSmart

My first year at E3, I was with TriSynergy, and we had a private meeting room demoing our lineup. When I arrived, several shocking revelations occurred. First, that I had packed nonstop meetings and forgotten about lunch and bathroom breaks. Second, that I was going to be alone for 90 percent of the time since my boss had scheduled his own set of meetings with other companies. But third and most story-worthy, I realized we had a flight sim to show off (Battle Over Britain 2) and no joystick.

In a panic, I ran out of the booth in hopes of finding someone I knew who had a spare and realized that directly across from us was the Saitek booth. I basically begged for them to let me borrow a joystick, and not only did they let me have a brand-new Cyborg Evo, but they told me to keep it. I still have it, and it still works!

This is also the year I had the worst pitch I have ever heard. It went something like this: “Our massively multiplayer online game has events that occur when you’re not playing, so that if you have plans with your wife and kids to go to the movies and get an alert your castle is under attack, you cancel your plans and go save your fortress!” It was a stunning display of how not to pitch a game to a U.S. publisher.


Jeff Green, director of editorial and social media at PopCap Games

I’ve been to 17 E3s since 1996, and each one was great and utterly miserable in its own way, so it’s hard to single out any particular memories. It’s all one gigantic, grotesque blur in my head, accentuated by wafts of gamer cropdusting and B.O. So instead of one epic story, here are a few random incidents that have stuck with me over the years:

In 1997, E3 was in Atlanta, which was unbearably hot and sticky. It was hardly worth showering because as soon as you stepped outside, you were soaked through with sweat. So that was fun.

But my big memory of that show was that one of our editors at the time (at Computer Gaming World magazine), who was from the South, kept telling us he was going to take us to the place with the best chicken wings in Georgia. On the third night,  he led us to our destination on foot. As we were walking, a Hooters came into view. Sure enough, as we approached the Hooters, he started turning in. We thought he was kidding at first. But, nope, this was where we were going to have the best wings in Georgia.

The best part was that he was completely serious and was surprised when we started making fun of him. “What?” he said. “The food here is awesome!”

Yeah, dude. That’s why you led us here. For the wings.

Optim-ice PrimeThat same E3 was also the scene of one of the most notorious parties in E3 history: the Eidos party, in which two giant anatomically correct ice sculptures — one male, one female — served as booze dispensers, with alcohol flowing out of each sculpture’s genitalia.

Another year, one of our editors threw up all over himself at one party in L.A. and then proceeded to party hop with us to two more places with vomit on his shirt the entire time.

My fondest E3 memories, however, are not about the parties, or the games, or the heavily orchestrated press conferences, or the insane crush of humanity on the show floor. It was the nightly ritual of the old Ziff-Davis/1UP crowd — hanging poolside at the Figueroa Hotel, decompressing from the day with great friends and drop-ins, including Drs. Ray and Greg from BioWare, who never failed to show up with awesome cigars.

In the end, every E3, every game demo, every press briefing is exactly the same every year: PLEASE BUY OUR AWESOME SHIT. What remains for me are the great memories with friends: Kindred spirits, goof-offs, dumbshits, beers in hand, knowing we had pretty much the greatest jobs on earth.