I can’t say I wasn’t a bit excited to receive my EA Play pass. I’d heard the tickets to last year’s event flew quick, so the moment this year’s event was announced earlier this year, I signed up right away. My golden ticket to EA’s house of digital wonders arrived soon after. My spot at the show was confirmed.
Or so I thought. Over a month later, EA emailed an updated version of my ticket. Confused, I inspected my new confirmation and noticed an additional disclaimer: Space is limited. Tickets do not guarantee entry due to capacity.
Wait, what? That wasn’t what I was promised in my original confirmation. Why would my ticket not guarantee me a spot? Isn’t that the whole point? I made the effort to register early in order to avoid being bumped. Why was I still in danger of missing out?
Subsequent emails would reiterate this caveat and attempt to explain it: Due to Fire Marshall capacity, tickets do not guarantee entry. Fair enough, but if you’re aware of the venue’s capacity, why not just offer the exact number of tickets and cease issuing them once the event has been filled? This message suggests EA was either still is handing out tickets beyond the roughly 2000 person capacity or found out later that they had less room than they originally planned. Neither explanation is all that great.
Despite these red flags, I made the trip to EA Play with fingers and toes crossed that I’d make it in regardless. I was met with a rude awakening.
My position about 40 mins or so into the wait. I originally started roughly a block behind.
Upon reaching the venue, my jaw dropped at the serpentine line coiled around the building like a giant anaconda. I expected a large turnout, but this line seemingly trumped the mammoth Zelda line at E3 2016. It wasn’t a total surprise, though. The tickets were free. From my understanding, you could even sign-up at the event on the day off. Of course a ton of people turned up.
Covering EA’s press conference kept me from arriving as early as I wanted, but I still beat the opening time by almost two hours to no avail. Not that it would have mattered anyway. After chatting with several of the folks in line, many of them shared that they had been waiting since around noon, shortly after the time that the morning session entered the event at 11 am.
As I made the long trek to the line’s end, I cheered myself up. “I’ll get in”, I thought. I have a semi-valuable ticket! I shot the breeze with my line neighbors and made line friends. We chatted about the games we were looking forward to playing as a half hour turned into 45 minutes, then became an hour. The line moved steadily at first, fueling my confidence that I’d make the cut. After all, EA assured me they would try to get as many of us in there as possible:
As a reminder, tickets do not guarantee entry, but every effort will be made to fulfill all ticket holders
Then the bad news began raining down. When I was roughly half-way through the line, security personnel began informing us that the event was nearly filled up but that EA was letting new people in as previous attendees trickled out. This surprised me, as I expected EA to simply kick out the morning crowd en masse once their session expired, do a quick reset, then let in the afternoon crew. Were there still morning players inside? What if they took forever to get out – or worse, if EA is taking forever to get them out? We started to get nervous.
This is the most I got to witness of life on the inside.
Despite visiting EA Play for the sole purpose of covering it for work purposes, I was unable to secure a press pass prior. With nothing to lose and tired of the wait, I decided to try flexing my media muscles and head for the entrance to grovel for press entry. Unsurprisingly, I was denied. Understandable, as others outlets secured their spot in advance. I can live with that. Turns out, though, that the gate was filled with other forms of media fighting for entry and having a difficult go of it.
One streamer I spoke with claimed to have been denied entry despite being invited by EA directly. To be fair, he had a contact inside he was having trouble reaching and EA wouldn’t let him in unless the contact came out to verify his presence. But he claimed that he was told he only needed to show his credentials to enter beforehand, not have his contact physically meet him at the entrance and the EA rep he was dealing with seemed confused. It may have just been me, but the entire vibe I got while hovering around the front gate was one of disorganization.
But don’t worry. Even the folks in line will have fun and could walk away with cool branded items.
My favorite quote from the confirmation emails. I can’t speak for every person waiting in line, but the people in my general radius definitely weren’t having the time of their lives. Nothing happened outside to entertain the line that I saw, outside of various independent gaming news outlets filming and interviewing crowds. However, at one point a backdoor to the event opened and I spied one of the Patriots drummers from the presentation hunched over eating a sandwich. I chalked that moment up as “fun” for me. Others weren’t so amused. Many I spoke to registered far in advance as I had and felt that, despite the disclaimer, should have had priority over those who signed up later. The initial atmosphere of enthusiastic optimism soon soured into disappointment, annoyance, and confusion.
That last sentiment is especially true, as we were repeatedly told by EA that we probably weren't getting in but the line was still moving, albeit slowly. Those waiting were faced with a dilemma: should they walk away after investing so much time waiting or hold out since the event wasn’t officially closed off. It was only 5 pm around this time, so there were still a few hours to wait in hopes of getting in. As long as it was still open (and you had nothing better to do), why not stick around?
The final blow came when EA’s swag crew arrived to pass out some “cool” EA-branded back sacks. Once most everyone sported a bright red bag, a rep informed us that the afternoon session was completely booked and no one else would be able to get in for the rest of the day. When I asked him to clarify if “done” truly meant done, he admitted that they were still funneling people in as others left but that the chances of me getting in at that point were, in his words, “0%”.
Softening the blow, one sack at a time.
The problem with that answer was that he left a sliver of hope. Was the event closed or not? Instead of just saying it was over outright, the rep implied it was still possible to get in, just highly unlikely. Unfortunately for EA, people caught onto this and were willing to wait as long as the answer wasn’t a final, definite “no”, even if it was probably meant it to be. And they seemed to, as the longer people stuck around, the more frequent the “come back tomorrows” got. One particular rep told us to return the next day in a snappy tone that rubbed everyone around me the wrong way. I felt like the hounds would be unleashed upon us before long.
After waiting around for another 15 minutes, I tapped out. Although the event remains open for the next couple of days, I won’t be available to make them. The same could be true for others whose schedule only allowed them to attend Saturday’s session and are now out of luck until next year. And if you do try your luck on the other days, who’s to say you’ll get into those unless you’re willing to wait hours in advance? EA’s questionable approach to accommodating guests for its Play event needs some reworking, chiefly in determining the number of people they can handle in advance and immediately closing it off to anyone else once they’ve hit that number. Proceeding as they have, they left a lot of people - many of them EA’s most rabid fans - out in the cold and feeling more disgruntled about the publisher than excited.
Edited by Marcus Stewart