IN THE BEGINNING…

From Digital Press website

In years past there were many fun reasons to attend a CES (Consumer Electronics Show) or E3, One reason naturally was to learn about, and play, all of the new and exciting (ok, not all were exciting) games that may or may not have been released during the coming year. Another reason was to meet celebrities, both inside and outside of the gaming industry. Where else could a computer geek get his photo taken with the porno star Traci Lords? But if you had a press pass, a pass which was held in high-esteem during the early days of E3 and the formidable gaming years of CES, then you could venture to a room in the venue, that very few others could enter: The Press Room! And inside the press room, stacked around the four walls, were treasures worth far more than many of the games outside: The Press Kits!

Today, press passes are a dime a dozen. Anyone with a printer and a website could produce a relatively real looking company card and gain access to the pressroom. But there is a trade off. If you do find anything in the Press Room these days, most likely its going to be a CD-ROM filled with information that the general public had already known about for months. The few companies that still produce real press kits, such as Sony, keep them at the exhibits, and even if you have a press pass, you’re not going to get one. After your press pass gets scrutinized you’re told that they ran out of press kits but you could get the same information from their website. And even if you do somehow get yourself a press kit, all you’re going to find inside are pages of text press releases, probably without any photos.

It wasn’t always like that.

My experience with press rooms and press passes began in 1982 when I began writing ABC To The VCS, my directory of Atari 2600 games. During the initial writing it became apparent very early that even if I found someone to publish the book, the book itself would be totally out-of-date by the time it reached bookstore shelves. In order for the book to be current upon its release I needed to know in advance what games would be coming out. The problem was that I had no credibility in the industry. Although I had a writing background, I was not a journalist.

At that time I was working for a New York-based video store called Slavemart, uh, I mean Savemart. They hired me on the pretext that would run their soon-to-be videogame departments (they wound up only selling the Emerson Arcadia 2001 but that’s another story altogether). Anyway, one day I was at work reading a video trade magazine and I saw an ad for the Winter 1983 CES. I had heard about CES before and I knew that new games would be on display. And my ticket to that was in the ad. Since I worked in a video store I was able to use my store to get a retailer pass. Nobody had to know that I didn’t represent the store.

It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t know what you’re doing. Somehow I managed to get an inexpensive room at the Landmark Inn in Las Vegas. It’s not there anymore but when it did exist it was directly across the street from the Convention Center where CES is held. Compare that to the twenty miles I had to drive each day to get to and from E3 last year.

Once I got inside I was in heaven. Not only did I get to play all of these neat games that weren’t out yet, but I also got to see the legends in the industry. It was at the 1983 Winter CES that I saw Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, and David Crane for the first time. Unfortunately I soon learned that just being at the show wasn’t going to help me get my book finished. I went to every exhibit that was showing games for the 2600 and I learned that just being at CES wouldn’t be enough to get the information that I needed. There were literally dozens of new games on display and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to remember all of these games with just my notebook and pen. Sure I could describe them in my notebook to the best of my ability but I didn’t have any screen shots and I feared that I wouldn’t remember some of them from my descriptions alone. So I went to the registration desks at each exhibit and explained to the receptionists about the book that I was writing. The first thing they saw was my retailer badge and questioned why I didn’t have a press badge. Some of the vendors, such as Lindy Jansen of Telesys, were sympathetic and gave me advance press copies of their games. However most of them told me that all of the press kits were in press room and I had them from there. Unfortunately, you needed a press badge to get into the press room. Well I didn’t travel all the way to Las Vegas to be stopped only ten feet from my quarry! I asked around and sought Allan Schlosser, the Director of Public Affairs for the EIA, the organization that ran CES. When I found him I told him my dilemma he gave me permission to run into the press room, grab what I needed, and stay out of everybody’s way. He also promised me press badges for future shows.

And when I entered the pressroom I felt like I found the Holy Grail. What greeted me were hundred of press kits just for the taking. And even though I only took those that had 2600 information, I went home with a considerable number of press kits.

Today when you receive a press kit, if you receive a press kit, it’s most likely going to be a CD-ROM filled with information. There is nothing unique or charming about them. The press kits twenty years ago were different. And in the months to come I’ll tell you all about them.

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