It was getting late on Thursday and I was running out of time. I felt like Kiefer Sutherland’s “Jack Bauer” from Fox’s hit TV show, 24, checking my watch as the terrorist threat went from looming in the distance to punching me vigorously in the face. That was probably because I was hanging out near the 24: The Game kiosks located in Sony’s booth. However, I still had a dire problem of my own to correct (albeit, it was nowhere near as cool as saving the country from weaponized anthrax.): It was 3:00 p.m., and I still hadn’t managed to score myself a ticket to the hottest party in town. I’m sure some kids from USC were going to have a killer kegger, and the Hollywood A-listers probably had some function thrown by Diddy to attend. But we, the E3 show goers, had only one party on our list: Sony’s soiree.
Why did I want to go so bad? I wasn’t cruising for free booze. If that were the case, there were plenty of other places I could sneak/talk my way into for a cold one or a mixed drink. Any journalist, of age or under, can get plenty of free drinks at E3. The real reason I wanted to attend was who because of was rumored to be performing at Sony’s party: the word on the street said Franz Ferdinand would be on stage, which made sense. Their song, “Take Me Out,” had just been used on Sony’s major PSP ad campaign. I knew I couldn’t miss a chance to see a free set.
I slowly made my way to Sony’s massive media relations center. I was trying to keep a low profile. Not just anyone can get an invite, and I was worried that a wary security guard would ask the wrong question and end my quest prematurely.
I had learned nothing from Metal Gear Solid, because a man in a tan shirt started staring at me right away. It wasn’t that I was frightened or that Sony’s PR department is made up of villainous hell-beasts, it’s just that the whole process reminded me of the archaic and merciless selection for dodgeball in grade school: If you weren’t one of the big guys, you could find yourself being picked dead last, or not at all. I couldn’t stand that type of humiliation. I didn’t want to be jumping rope by myself again. He spoke as I approached.
“Hi, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yeah, I heard that there might be a few party invites still available, and was checking to see if that was the case.” He looked me up and down. He was sizing me up like a team captain. I half expected him to hand me a round rubber ball and ask me to peg someone to see if I was a worthy selection for the squad.
“Sure, can I see a business card?” I handed him one. He gave it a quick glance, and then grabbed an envelope and presented it to me. “You’re all set, Dan. See you tonight.”
I had made it in.
Dinner ran late, and I ended up heading with a group over to the party a little after their official start time. They offered free shuttles, but we ended up taking a cab. Studying the contents of the envelope I had been given, it was nice to see that the invite encouraged party participants to not drink and drive. I made my way out of the cab and up to the entry. I gave the bouncer a casual nod, donned my acceptance-assuring orange wristband, and walked in.
Flashing lights, loud noises, people talking in groups, drinks being constructed in assembly line fashion – and no Franz Ferdinand. Not that I was overly disappointed. I had made it to the party. All of a sudden I was one of the guys getting picked first to pick off the little guys with the red rubber playground balls.
As I made my way into the main section, I soon discovered there were multiple segments cordoned off: There was something for everyone, like an amusement park.
As I cut away from the main section – where a massive stage had been erected and some artist I didn’t know performed a song I hadn’t heard – I found a completely different area, a covered dining space with a buffet, tables and plenty of chairs spread out. Then, 50 feet later, I was in a section with benches and tables set up for casual conversation, the starry sky the only ceiling. I spotted the first un-crowded bar since my arrival and promptly got a vodka sour to nurse, as I continued to explore the venue’s interior.
I managed to meet up with a few people, and we settled near the luchadores battling inside a wrestling ring. We watched as the night got cooler and cheered on Chilango, as we talked about E3. A few PR contacts I knew fairly well from past dealings ran into me during the match, and we talked about the expo. They asked what I thought was the best of the show, since they hadn’t been able to leave their booths much. I asked them what secrets they hadn’t shown me during my various appointments. It was an alcohol-aided game of trying to coerce information out of one another. They wanted info on their competitors, I wanted access to knowledge not yet offered for public consumption.
That’s when it hit me (somewhere between the seventh and eighth beverage): That’s what the Sony party was about in its truest sense. The party wasn’t truly a way to unwind after almost a week of unending work, it was another networking session; but instead of doing a graceful dance of words with PR people, you were doing a drunken jig in an attempt to grease the wheels. The Sony party, despite all its glamour and allure, is no different than any other time of the year, except the drinks are on Sony.
But is that really a bad thing? They provide a nice atmosphere away from the crowded, hot floor of the LA Convention Center for the industry’s movers and shakers (and bottom feeders like me) to meet and discuss business without it feeling like we’re working. Hey, if anything, it’s more enjoyable than getting beaned in the thigh by the school bully. Charlie horses suck.
Dan Dormer is a videogame freelancer who keeps a poorly updated blog at his personal site. You can also sing his name in time to “The Imperial March,” a fact he learned at E3 this year while not attending the Sony party.