They’re All Like This: The Weird Land Of Preview Events

By Cara Ellison on February 20th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

Last week we sent Cara to an EA event to look at a few of their games. This spawned her splendid Crysis 3 interview, but the price was another day spent in the bemusing otherworld of videogame preview events.

Earlier, gazing around the room at massive screens with Army of Two and Fuse on them, I was experiencing a sense of huge disconnect with my industry. Unusually quiet, I said to Eurogamer’s Chris Donlan, “I don’t know what I’ll say for RPS. It all seems so… macho.”

Now I’m sitting at an imitation baroque writing desk beside a fellow Macbook-toting douche in the lobby of an EA event. The wooden lamp stand on this ridiculous table has five tiny little drawers in it in case you’d want to store something the size of a pumpkin seed in each of them. I resist the temptation to investigate; my long keyboard-cracked nails might damage the tiny drawer knobs and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage.

I am worried because I have eaten two Pantone-emerald mini-macaroons from the buffet. Pantone emerald. They are now in my body.

Someone comes over and adjusts the fur rug on a gilt-trimmed chaise longue on which I just interviewed the producer of Crysis 3. The other journalists are slouched over there in an alcove with three or four waist-height wooden-carved chess pieces and a man who is the Senior Development Director of Command and Conquer. Off to the side are eight footstools shaped like giant human molars. They have been painted gold. To someone, this made sense.

The C&C Director peers out at me – I like this guy, despite this odd event – and I smile. Alice in Wonderland, but the word ‘wonder’ is too soft. Wonder is what a child does in Disneyland and is frequently applied to game journalists’ attitudes. But I always feel like it is a misnomer. It is bewilderment and anxiety I am feeling, and probably so did she. I am inside an episode of Fooly Cooly. Is it always like this? A disjointed meeting of people who ask the same questions and say the same answers over and over? In a setting that is like a less tasteful Gaudi building? God I just want to play the game in a dark room, alone, with only the quiet dull hum of a powerful computer. Give me a computer and your finished game and I will review it in the fullness of time, not before it is ready, and to do it justice probably submit way after embargo lifts. But this is not in the interest of a publisher – they want you to write early, and positively, and they like the mystique of preview events, though they often make journalists feel alienated and unsure of what the end product will be – some of the games aren’t out of alpha yet. And they like to you interview: a personal attachment to someone makes you less likely to savage the game if it’s not what you wanted to see.

You must be aware of how out of place game journalists are in this environment: jeans-wearing beard-crusted nerfherders, soaked by the smirr outside, children inside, slightly taken aback by the information that we have to interview the producers about games that are not finished yet (it was made to seem like an option in the email and so I have hastily prepared some questions pandering to my sense of humour). Even I feel like I am growing a beard at these events though my hormones aren’t wired that way. A lot of these journalists might be doing this for free, or for little money, I think, signing an embargo sheet that lists the outlets people write for. Some of them do this thing every week: drinking hotel coffee, eating weird biscuits, scrabbling some calories so that when they get home they can write without their stomachs grumbling, because at one time I did that so gladly. There was a time when my cynical faculties had been dulled by my own sheer enthusiasm at press events. When I wrote for free I never thought about how much effort it takes to get through these without fainting from the sheer bizarre strain of it.

I am overhearing a conversation about #Doritosgate. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love games,” I hear. “If someone else loved it more, they would have my job.” Love doesn’t pay the bills though, does it. You can’t always be paid in love, and no one can eat games.

A few hours ago I was being rained on in Brighton and arguing with a Small Batch Coffee hunk about whether Raiders of the Lost Ark is better than The Last Crusade. And now I am in London on too little sleep squinting at other journalists trying to squeeze out scoop-sized titbits from a man who is too soft spoken and possibly too cunning to wear the title ‘Director’.

I swear to you, I have never done a job so weird as this one. When I was sixteen I worked in a theatre in Oslo and it wasn’t this weird, even striding through the flies at the back of a grand production of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and witnessing a set of two foot high poleaxes being made for the massive cast of young people was less weird than this. I had a job where I often got into lifts with members of Monty Python. I did a job where I taught Japanese children who were more Jeff Minter than Jeff Minter about Pixar shorts and then one of the kids got up and Shoryuken’d an Asian bee right in front of the class. (The bee flew out of the window, wonky, and the children applauded politely.) I once sang Queen songs on a summit climb on Mount Kilimanjaro and then commenced contracting hypothermia and had hypothermia-induced dreams where I was being surgically operated on by all the characters from the Lion King.

All that is still not quite as mad to me as the artificially-constructed act of sitting by a giant chess set, surrounded by giant gold teeth, and asking a producer of Crysis 3 if he likes bondage. The latter, admittedly, was my idea. But you have to make the content meet the context.

When I’d arrived, I’d said to Chris Donlan, “I don’t know what I’ll say for RPS. It all seems so… macho.”

“That’s the first paragraph of your article then,” he said, before looking sideways at me and saying, “They’re all like this, you know.”

, , , .

87 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Brun says:

    whether Raiders of the Lost Ark is better than The Last Crusade

    Well? Which is it then?

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Last Crusade has Sean Connery in it. Last Crusade wins.

      Meanwhile, my terrible misinformed and socially mal-adjusted (or so I can only assume from his cinema preferences) brother INSISTS that Temple of Doom is best. He is a chef, and I can only recommend you either avoid or enjoy his kitchen for the potent LSD that must be laced in all his food for him to perceive such a reality.

    • Radiant says:

      IF ANYONE SAYS LAST CRUSADE I WILL JUDGE YOU.
      I WILL JUDGE YOU IN THE FIERY PITS OF HELL WHERE YOU BELONG YOU GOD DAMN MISCREANTS.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Raiders of the Lost Ark is better. Just like Star Wars (now sadly called “A New Hope”), it was awesome because what it lacked in sophisticated movie-making it made up for in enthusiasm. You can find any number of films which can rival or surpass The Last Crusade in terms of sophistication, but you would be hard pressed to find a film that comes close to Raiders of the Lost Ark for the unselfconscious zest which infuses it.

      • limimi says:

        Um, but you are forgetting that The Last Crusade is about a man and his dad banging the same nazi chick and finding the holy grail – the classic hero’s journey.

  2. pepper says:

    Maybe silly questions are all that you should ask? Atleast makes it entertaining to read.

  3. Toberoth_Syn says:

    I like the cut of your jib, Ellison!

  4. Snargelfargen says:

    It’s nice to see some awareness of how ridiculous these press events can be. This year’s CES coverage was hilarious: http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/8/3850056/qualcomms-insane-ces-2013-keynote-pictures-tweets

  5. Trithne says:

    A bunch of pretentious old men, playing at being Hollywood.

  6. Lewis Denby says:

    I especially liked a Darksiders II preview event. THQ, bless ‘em, enjoyed getting people to meet outside a tube station, scrabbling around trying to find a coach, then being shipped off to a mystery location to play a game. (I want to clarify at this stage that THQ’s PR team were utterly lovely and always helpful.)

    This Darksiders event, though, began with TWO HOURS of Powerpoint presentations about the company’s entire upcoming catalogue, before we were all ushered through into a building with a free bar and food in one very plain room, and about 50 Xbox 360s with the game running in another room – which was fully gothed-up, with fake cobwebs and blue lighting and smoke machines and everything.

    The demo was about ten minutes long. No one spent more than ten minutes in the demo room.

    But the chorizo snacks were really good.

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      Based on various game journalists’ descriptions of their jobs, I’ve deduced that the profession is part roadie (hard work, demanding schedule, driven by appreciation for the medium), part guinea pig (being subjected to demos and interviews carefully constructed by PR agents), and part MFA student (hanging around other thoughtful people, drinking in excess, and trudging forward in the face of constant criticism). I don’t envy the life, but I do respect it.

  7. Crosmando says:

    “I am inside an episode of Fooly Cooly”
    It’s called FLCL you peasant

  8. dsch says:

    Weird is good for you.

    • Ricc says:

      Not this kind of weird, though, I think. I can understand the disconnect. Marketing vs Reality.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I think you should do all preview events for RPS in the future.

    • mandrill says:

      No, why would you subject anyone to such a fate?

      • Premium User Badge

        Bluerps says:

        I just think she has found the right way to deal with these preview events.

        • sinister agent says:

          If anyone can counter-weird them, it’s Cara. Maybe that’s what they’ve been waiting for all this time. It does sound like it could be good for a laugh – “hey, let’s put on a really weird and uncomfortable event, and see how far we can push it before anyone says anything”.

      • Clean3d says:

        From Cara’s description it sounds like it would be indentured service.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    The Hivemind should really stop getting other people to write for them; these new writers might start outclassing them (Cara might have already have done that.)

    Preview events really do sound abysmal and the resulting write-ups don’t do much to inform the reader. RPS at least has the integrity to write their honest opinions about what they have seen, but other sites cross over to gushing for no reason to easily.

    Looking at it from the other side though, it would be interesting to hear from the developers themselves what they think of these events. Seeing umpteen journalists in a single day, half of which probably don’t have much journalistic skills and won’t ask the interesting questions, parroting those that came before him/her, must be equal as miserable as playing a game you are not that interested surrounded furniture shaped like denture.

  11. Premium User Badge

    mineshaft says:

    Don’t Stop Me Now?

  12. aliksy says:

    Bravo.
    I’d like to see more stuff like this torn down, or at least recognized for being weird and not very informative.

  13. 00000 says:

    You don’t eat the second Pantone-emerald mini-macaroon until after the first one kicks in, Cara-chan. But I don’t mind these tales from beyond the rabbit’s hole, please tell me more.

  14. tuttelihevonvittu says:

    Oh what pretentious bullshit. Your job isn’t weird, you write meaningless tosh about a pointless pastime. If you find “the industry” so very unpleasant you might be better off doing something else then.

    • MOKKA says:

      So polite and thoughtful, I’m truly amazed.

    • dftaylor says:

      Haha. I enjoyed the piece, she pretty much nails the horror of PR events

    • abuzor says:

      I LIKE YOUR STYLE!

    • Berzee says:

      Dang, I liked the article when I thought these events were weird.
      But now I hear they’re just part of a meaningless and pointless job.

      This article is bogus. >_<
      /sits down on a golden tooth in a huff, starts playing Giant Chess

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Ah, defecational deconstruction, I see. Quite an accomplishment, Sir Betterwriter!

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      If you consider gaming to be a “pointless pastime” and the writing on this site to be “meaningless tosh”, why the fuck would you go to the effort of registering an account? You expended effort that could have been better spent on your hobby of amateur arcology construction or whatever meaningful, worthy pastime you engage in.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      You would trade places with her in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?

    • SuicideKing says:

      Random person on the internet has something unkind to say.
      int main()
      {
      bool NoFucksGiven=1;
      unsigned long long CaraWins=0;

      while (NoFucksGiven=1)
      {
      CaraWins++;
      }

      return 0;
      }

      • Kamos says:

        You probably meant NoFucksGiven == 1 there. But it will still work as intended, so… I guess it is a sleeper bug, for a time when Fucks Need To Be Given. Bah, we’ll just patch it later.

  15. Radiant says:

    Why did you go?

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      Presumably, RPS were sitting at a conference table in a darkened room lit by a single spotlight (they weren’t planning anything particularly sinister, they always meet like this) when one of them (his face cannot be seen) said “EA are having a press event. We should send someone.”

      Another shadowy figured replied “We will dispatch Agent Ellison. Pay her the currency monies to ensure her obedience.”

      They knew Cara and her weakness for being actually paid for things too well. It was done. In exchange for RPS’ filthy lucre, she would attend the dreaded marketing event.

  16. Premium User Badge

    slerbal says:

    “Is it always like this? A disjointed meeting of people who ask the same questions and say the same answers over and over?”

    Yes. I remember having the marketing folks from big publishers whisper to me “If you take up a day of a journalist’s time they have no choice but to write about you.” so people got rated by how many days of time they could get from their preferred journalists which then gets expanded by Big Publisher to “If we take up days of all of their time then there will be nothing else to write about”.

    Hence why I appreciate this post – turns out there is something else you can write about – the circle of hell that is the meeting place for these events :)

    Dante would be proud.

    • Premium User Badge

      slerbal says:

      I should add that the people doing the whispering were lovely, the interviewees and interviewers were lovely, it is just that the sum total of all these well-meaning, lovely people was something which always felt like I was on some kind of serious medication.

      • Premium User Badge

        VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Emergent gameplay.

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        The path to marketing and hype is paved by hiring, motivating and paying charming people for your marketing events.

        As has been said: IT’S A TRAP!

    • Josh W says:

      That’s like the apex of saturation marketing; just spam people with things not so they know lots about your game, but so that they don’t know about anything else.

  17. Rumpel says:

    i am starting to grow fond of this ellison character mr meer clearly made up to let out his weird, feminine side.

  18. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Alice in Wonderland, but the word ‘wonder’ is too soft.

    Cara in Crazyland?

  19. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Judging from all the PR managers that I’ve had the… pleasure… to meet up to this point, these events might really just as well be thought up by aliens that had only seen a vertical slice of human behaviour and the industry, before they went pedal-to-floor with their planning.

  20. guygodbois00 says:

    Ugh, not a good one, I’m afraid. But previous article of Miss Elisson was excellent. So…

  21. LennyLeonardo says:

    I wish Hunter S Thompson were alive and working as a games journalist for RPS. Still, we now seem to have the next best thing.

    • nimzy says:

      RPS is your exclusive source for gonzo games journalism. Although I do recall at some point in the past that Kotaku used to post pictures of cakes they were given by PR for illustrative and satirical purposes, and not just humor.

  22. Cryptoshrimp says:

    I really want to play Giant Chess while sitting on huge, gold molars now.

    • Kamos says:

      Yes! This! A lot of people wish their lives were this interesting. Going to crazy places, sitting on giant golden molars, playing giant chess… You need to learn to appreciate the absurdness. :)

  23. Premium User Badge

    RobF says:

    I’m totally going to eat a game now just to make a point.

  24. nindustrial says:

    Excellent FLCL reference.

  25. mr.black says:

    My first thoughts while reading the article: (near the end of it:) Bondage? Wait, Alec didn’t ask no one about bondage, I’d know.. there was just… and then realization – Cara was writing this! Sounds more and more like the rest of the Hivemind. I’m so glad RPS’s got another great writer!

  26. Premium User Badge

    mpk says:

    Am now picturing Cara Ellison as Yelena Rossini, without the calm and comforting hand of Spider Jerusalem to guide and nurture her.

    I approve of this, and ask that she be paid in as much love and games as she asks for if only she writes more for RPS.

  27. King in Winter says:

    My favourite Dali is the Persitence of Memory. Or as it is formally known in the business, the one with the melting watches.

    • Premium User Badge

      X_kot says:

      I’m more of a “Discovery of America” person myself, but melty clocks are always welcome.

  28. mutopia says:

    LOL this made my day.

  29. Arglebargle says:

    ‘Penguin in bondage, boiing! OH Yeah, oh yeah!’

    Ooops, flashback to my Zappatista days…

  30. sinister agent says:

    “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love games,” I hear. “If someone else loved it more, they would have my job.”

    Oh man, is that person going to burn out hard.

    It all sounds incredibly uncomfortable, as though everyone’s just waiting for someone to come in and do it properly, like a date where you both wander almost wordlessly through a gallery for half an hour, mumbling vague sentiments, until one of you finally turns to the other and goes “fuck it. Pub?”, and everything suddenly feels right.

  31. Parge says:

    I do enjoy RPSs tangential style, but this article is…. ho hum, just a bit shit isn’t it?