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A scary, frantic E3 moment showed me what the show has lost

How one developer’s meeting was completely derailed

A mob of fans waits in line for the opening of the E3 convention in 2017. ESA
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

2018 marked the second year in a row that the public was invited to E3, arguably the game industry’s most important trade show. If you can afford the ticket and the travel to get to LA, you too can see all the biggest unreleased games.

But something has been lost with that approach to the show, and I saw a small part of it right after seeing a private demo of a very popular game. Here’s what happened.

My last appointment of E3 was on Thursday, which also happened to be the last day of the convention. I spent my time talking with the folks from CD Projekt Red while, in the next room over, Hideo Kojima sat watching Cyberpunk 2077’s demo with a variety of other people who had been invited to see the game’s live demonstration.

Game director Adam Badowski clearly had time to snap a picture with Kojima, but what he really wanted was to ask what one of the most legendary game developers of all time thought about Cyberpunk 2077. I smelled a story, and asked if I could tag along to hear the conversation.

I also noticed that the crowd had gotten a little larger near the small, private space that CD Projekt had rented out on the second floor of the convention center. There were no more presentations scheduled, so these people weren’t waiting to be seated. They were just sorta standing there, leaning against the walls with their swag bags tossed casually over one shoulder.

A scene from the E3 trailer for Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red

Backpacks were banned this year for everyone except exhibitors and the press, so it was clear that these folks weren’t here for an interview. There were too many of them for that to be the case anyway. And then Kojima emerged.

What followed was absolute bedlam.

Badowski tried to hand Kojima and his three companions the last four remaining statues of a character from Cyberpunk 2077 as the crowd lunged at us. These were gifts that were given to practically everyone else who had seen the demo, but they were bulky items and the foursome seemed more interested in holding their space than accepting a box. This wasn’t an insult to the gift, it was more of personal safety issue.

People began to push and jostle, reaching over and through Kojima’s companions to get closer to him. One person, a member of the press, actually pushed past Badowski with a felt-tipped pen, trying to get Kojima to sign his badge. When Kojima shrank away this individual turned around to snap a selfie. He bumped into me in the same motion, and I’m not sure he noticed.

I’m 6 and a half feet tall and built like a former offensive tackle. Which is useful because I used to be an offensive tackle. But I’ve never felt a crush of humanity quite like that before. The mob outside the offices rented by CD Projekt Red — this was not the show floor — was the only time I felt unsafe during my many years attending E3.

This year, E3 featured metal detectors at every entrance. My bag was searched by hand each time I entered the convention center. Police with dogs patrolled the floor around Nintendo’s booth while two-man teams of uniformed private security patrolled the perimeter outside. The entrance to the press room itself was guarded by an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, his gun clearly visible on his hip, for nearly 12 hours every day.

Death Stranding
A scene from the E3 trailer for Death Stranding.
Kojima Productions/Sony Interactive Entertainment

But it wasn’t enough to prevent what happened to Kojima. A crush of people somehow formed well away from the convention, in front of a door marked “by invitation only.” Maybe they were hoping to see a celebrity? If that was the goal, I guess they got their wish.

The result was that Badowski never had the chance to talk with Kojima after the demo. “We have to get him out of here,” one of Kojima’s handlers explained before they disappeared. Badowski was visibly upset, and I don’t blame him.

This is what gets lost when you let this many people into E3, and don’t give the developers the proper space to show their games in any kind of controlled setting. What should have been an opportunity for two creative people to meet and talk about game design, if only for a few minutes, became a situation that was borderline unsafe.

E3 is going through growing pains, but there’s no reason it can’t have its cake and let fans in too. Some events, like the Tokyo Game Show, have different days for fans and the press. People want to meet their idols, and that’s fine, but this wasn’t the most appropriate time or place for it, nor was it the safest.

E3 is learning how to be a show for everyone, but it’s not quite there yet. And moments like this can help show where things could still be improved.

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