A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of covering two video game events: the Halo 3 World Launch in New York City and Digital Life. This article is my account of both events and my perspective on them after I’ve had some time to reflect. Hit past the break to read about my experiences and my thoughts.
I woke up early on September 24th to get a move my big day. My stomach was wrenched with anxiety. New York was intimidating to me, for I’d never been there on my own. I was about to embark on a quest to cover one of the biggest video game launches in history in one of the largest cities in the world. My mini-DV camera worth a couple grand, my iPod, and my DS were all saddled up for my trip where I was sure to be mugged. What was worse was that I wasn’t even sure my press pass was secure. My first major assignment as a blogger was the Halo 3 World Launch and I was scared of every aspect of it.
After nearly missing my train into the city and getting turned around twice while walking towards my destination, I arrived at Best Buy around 2 PM. Four or five eager Halo fans sat in a roped off area to the side of the building, awaiting their prize at midnight. I walked into the store and asked where I could pick up my pass. All of the employees were just as clueless and shell-shocked as I was. In one corner, G4 and Spike TV readied their stages for their live feeds. Bungie fans eagerly awaited the arrival of the development team to experience the rare chance to get their copies of Halo 2 signed. Meanwhile, no one seemed to know exactly what was going on or where to tell me to go. Finally I found my way to Microsoft’s band of marketing representatives. They asked me who I was and where I was from and gave me a press pass in a manner of seconds without checking any lists or databases. I thought silently to myself that probably anyone with the balls to request a pass could have gotten one. From this point on, I knew that this event was not going to be what I initially thought.
My perspective on the Halo franchise is conflicted. Much like myself, gaming fans seem split as well. Many gamers love the fast paced battles, online multi-player, and the story surrounding the series. Some gamers hate the series with a passion, citing poor level design, bland characters, and an obnoxious online fanbase as reasons not to play the games. My opinion of the series is not formed on the game, but what it stands for. When the Xbox first came out, I was ecstatic. I knew that I wanted Halo and the console for Christmas and nothing else. When I finally opened my game and system below the tree that morning, I was not disappointed. The game quickly usurped the multi-player mainstay position in my household from Quake III Arena for the Dreamcast. I really enjoyed the single-player missions, co-op mode, and the game’s unique control over vehicles. As the series progressed, though, I found myself more and more apathetic towards it. When Halo 2 came out, I played it and I liked it, but everyone around me seemed much more excited and amped to play it than I was. The Live experience was fun, but I soon thought that playing for rank just wasn’t the kind of experience I wanted out of a game. I started to realize that all of the huge Halo fans were taking the game an entirely too serious manner. The game simply wasn’t a game to them anymore: it was a job. It was something to strive at, something to brag about, something to get angry over. And I wanted less and less to do with it as time went on.
The Halo 3 launch was a conglomeration of elements wrapped up into one big bonanza that made little sense to me. I looked around me that entire day and I started to think that Microsoft had no idea who they were marketing Halo 3 to. In addition to the game, every company in the world wanted to sell something here. Burger King was there with their mascot, The King, in full royal garb and a pretty girl on each shoulder, guiding the poor fellow in the suit to make sure he didn’t fall. Mountain Dew was there with free samples of Game Fuel, mobile hand message stations (complete with masseuses), and T-shirts emblazoned with “I am the Master Chief” on the back. Famous rappers Ludacris, Chingy, and Bobby Valentino showed up to promote their new albums and play the game. Even football players from the New York Giants came to show off their Halo skillz. Everything made me wonder what these things had to do with Halo. As I took in the tangle of cross-promotion, I came to realization: Microsoft knew exactly who they were marketing to. They were marketing to EVERYONE.
All around news crews beamed interviews with cosplayers, the gamers that slowly filed into the line, and the invited celebrities directly into the televisions of everyone in America. Middle-aged women stopped their stroll on the street awestruck and confused, wondering what Halo was. Street gawkers everywhere scrambled for free promotional items for a game they knew nothing about nor cared. Microsoft wanted exposure, and they were getting it in spades.
I found that I couldn’t identify with any of the marketing people running the event. None of them had really even played the game or knew much about games in general. People like them constantly remind me how glad I was that I changed my major from business four years ago. I felt alone in a sea of fluff. I needed an outlet and someone who would understand me. I moved out to talk to the gamers in line. I entered a conversation with the first customer in line. I asked him what version he was planning on getting. “Collector’s Edition,” he said matter-of-factly. His response shocked me. The hardcorest of the hardcore, the guy who’s been waiting over twelve hours for his long-awaited sequel, did not want the Legendary Edition? “I like Halo, but not that much.” I then walked away from the living contradiction more confused than I was before.
It was about when men dressed up in marine uniforms riding on four-wheelers down 23rd St. that I finally gave up on trying to understand the event. Around 1AM as excited gamers filed into Best Buy to pick up their game and enjoy it with their friends, my stomach was malnourished and my feet were blistered, with only remnants of several bottles of Mountain Dew keeping me going. I left the carnival of marketing with a 6 foot Game Fuel advertisement in my hand and my copious baggage, with no copy of Halo 3 to be found inside them.
To be continued…