I’ve been to a lot of conventions. From PAX East to various anime conventions, you see a lot in these celebrations of our own nerdiness (for better or worse). Last year was my first comic book convention, as I went to New York Comic Con 2010. I had a blast, just wandering around and taking in all the sights. I got to meet favorite comic book authors, get autographs, and get lost in the insane shuffle of the crowds and even get a crack at Marvel vs. Capcom 3 a bit early. This year, I went as press, and the experience was simultaneously different and surprisingly similar than it was when I went as a “normal” person.
NYCC is a huge event, and I mean this literally. There are a lot of people there and the space is gigantic. This year, the convention actually seemed to use almost all of the space that the Javits Convention Center had to offer, which according to Wikipedia, is 625,000 feet. This actually made things even more hectic than last year. With the larger space, it also felt like there were more people, meaning that there were still crowded alleyways between the various booths. The biggest difference between going as press and going as a patron were the appointments and a general list of games that I had to get to in order to try for the site. This often resulted in me running from one end of the center to the other. The other major difference was that I was not just on my own, free to do what I wanted. I had places to be and articles to plan. It was an awesome feeling.
Going to the convention was not all fun and good times, it was also work. With work comes stress, and NYCC was stressful. The stress was especially prevalent when things did not go as planned. Combined with the fact that even in an oasis of nerddom and media, real life really found a way to get in the way. There were times when the various stresses that could be encountered at a convention piled on top of my psyche and became almost unbearable. Between cancelled appointments, things not going as planned, missing out on things I could have done and other, somewhat minor miscellaneous issues, it could drive a person crazy. And when real life got in the way, it almost did.
Trying to act like a professional amongst everyone else with a press badge actually helped keep me together; I did not want to seem like half of the press corps at NYCC who seemed to get a press badge because they simply had the foresight to fill out the application as press and start a private blog, and were really there just because of the free badge. Thankfully, between the DualShockers team and the various open bars provided by the various gaming companies, things ended up not just okay, but fun.
While I understood I was there for work, the best part about being a games journalist is that we do what we do because of our initial love of the medum, so (and even in spite of the stress) it never actually felt like work. When you combine a love of the industry with how well PR works with you, it makes you feel awesome and dare I say, important. That was at least the feeling I took away; that I mattered. While the reps at most booths are generally polite and friendly when you go as a participant, they seem genuinely happy to meet you and get your opinion on various things; you are not only one of the biggest weapons in their marketing department who can easily spread the buzz on a game, but also their target audience.
This holds true at all times, and does not just apply to PR. The executives and managerial staff that works on games are totally willing to make time in their busy schedules of interviews and what not and sit down (or stand as the case may be) and assuage your concerns about their games. Whether it is a Producer with the Darkness II defending his team’s game against skepticism or the Studio Vice President of Radical Entertainment taking 45 minutes out of his already packed day to explain that they heard the criticisms of the first Prototype and are working to improve upon them, it was interesting to see a face that the average gamer does not get to see. Sure there is plenty of marketing crap all around you, but one thing I gathered from every interview and appointment is that the people behind the games are sincere in their love for their products.
I think that is the big difference. You speak to a PR rep and you get the PR line, but as a member of the press, speaking to team leads was a more honest experience. It wasn’t surprising, but it was refreshing to know that these producers and writers arent in it for the money. They love this stuff as much as we do. You could likely get the same impression if you were just a regular attendee, but that would only be if you could manage to catch the leads. And their schedules are generally as even crazier than your own.
The best example of the developers and their busy schedules created my most stressful experience at the convention; an interview I had with Mac Walters, the Lead Writer for Mass Effect 2 and 3. You can ask anyone at DualShockers, I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, particularly because of its writing, so this was a huge deal for me personally, as well as professionally. While I briefly met Mac Walters last year at NYCC, this year was different. Walters’ convention this year was a much bigger deal as Bioware prepare to release Masss Effect 3. I mean that literally. In 2010, Walters and Dark Horse’s panel was late on Sunday, and in a small room. A friend and I got right in and we saw the panel with maybe 25 other people. This year was a bit different, and included a line that filled up an hour and a half before the panel started. They weren’t even letting press in, as it was for so overfull.
My appointment with Walters was supposed to be at 2:10 on Saturday afternoon. I found out, after sprinting across the convention center from the autograph tables (leaving fellow writer Alexa to get me Ken Levine’s autograph on my copy of BioShock) to the center of the floor where Dark Horse Comics was set up, only to find out that Walters had already left the booth for the day. I was in a mild panic, as that interview was pretty much the main reason I went to NYCC in the first place. Dark Horse told me I’d be allowed in at the aformentioned BioWare/Dark Horse conference about the Mass Effect comics in order to possibly interview Walters afterwards.
The panel was probably the first place that the Press Badge I had did not just “work.” I was turned away, and was in a total panic that I wouldn’t have my “big interview,” Luckily, the BioWare PR rep was close by, and alongside a very friendly NYCC volunteer, I was able to explain my situation, and after name dropping the PR contact that I was told to name drop, she told me to head in, under the condition that I sit in the back. I took no issue with this, and was actually rather excited. Unfortunately, Walters could not do the interview that night, but agreed to do it before he had to give a small presentation at the Dark Horse booth on Sunday.
After the panel on Saturday night, I was thanked by Dark Horse’s PR guy for my flexibility and went to Irrational Games’ open bar party. I was not having a good day, having run around like a madman, seemingly all for naught. But to be honest, getting in to the panel while I saw other press get rejected was a good way to rebound. Irrational made everything even better. Between the awesome people, givaways and the open bar, my weekend finally began to calm down.
The next day, twenty minutes before I had to be at the Dark Horse booth, I dropped by and was told I could start the interview. This was the moment of Zen. Walters seemed more than happy to be interviewed, and I felt awesome. It was the culmination of my press badge experience.
Looking back on the whole experience, even on Saturday while I was stressing out, I realized I still had an amazing time. The press badge meant I did not have to wait in a single line. We got right into many game-related panels. It was awesome to get VIP treatment at some booths. Alexa became best friends with Square-Enix, I with Radical Entertainment. It was an awesome time, and made better by the fact that I knew I would get to tell people about these great experiences. I already had my Max Payne 3 preview up, but I felt like I had so much more to say about everything.
While I had this awesome privilege, I felt like I had to make the best of each experience, doing each thing I got to see or do justice so I felt like I had actually earned the badge. I felt like I had to pour myself in to each article, to be as honest as possible and also to give as many details as possible. I wrote each article so as to give the readers the feeling that they were right there next to me. I know that when I read a preview for an event from other writers or game journalists, I want to essentially see what they saw. That was my main goal. I hope I succeeded.
So the press badge opened up the doors for me to have more fun at NYCC. However it was not all play, and at times, it could really be a hassle, preventing me from seeing X because I had to see Y. Mind you this was never a bad thing, as X was usually awesome, but it does need to be said that your time is not your own. At the same time I have to say thanks to DualShockers, as the rule was “if you will write about it, do it.” It was an awesome experience, different from the regular convention experience in that it was much more personal and yet similar because I was still able to do almost everything I wanted to.