E3 2011 begins next week and if your view of E3 has been limited to the glare of a computer screen and the glossy pages of a print magazine, you’ve come to the right place. From the circus atmosphere of the show floor to the booze-flowing parties and long, long hours in line, we’re here to pull back the curtain and show you what it’s really like.
For those fans who are new to the whole game, E3 is THE trade show for the videogame industry. While PAX is for fans, and GDC is for developers themselves, E3 is for buyers and media – so publishers pull out all the stops to bring their A-game to the show floor and to the many media briefings throughout the week. Major game announcements and console/hardware launches are revealed, big games are shown in playable form for the first time, and trailers are cut just for the show. For three days in June, the Los Angeles Convention Center becomes a mecca for gaming – and the press flocks to cover it all.
For the most part, E3 can be broken down into the press events, the show floor, and the “extracurricular”, that is, the parties that keep the excitement going long after the convention center powers down for the evening. Read on to take a closer look at the wonder that is E3.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo: What It Is
The three platform holders: Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft all hold show-stopping extravaganza press events: glitzy hour to 90-minute long shows that highlight big new games, new hardware and services, and dolled-up sales figures that show just how strong their respective businesses are. This is often where huge new games are announced, franchise favorites are trotted out for show, and industry bigwigs cavort onstage with other big personalities (like the surviving Beatles at Microsoft’s 2009 presser). You can read our thoughts on Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo's “big three” pressers from last year, and stay tuned for live video coverage of each of the events next week.
All of the big publishers have a major presence on the show floor itself, as well as a “behind closed doors” area that media are allowed into by appointment. The show floor is a circus. Picture the loudest, craziest arcade in the world, mix that up with the production values of a Disney theme park and add a few hundred game journos per square yard, sweating and waiting to get their hands on games, and you basically have the show floor. It’s loud as hell – and the one place in the world where you’ll bump into sexy zombie booth babes on your way to check out a bunch of family-friendly fishing games.
After hours, E3 becomes even more of a bacchanal. Just about every publisher, large developer, and media outlet has a party of its own, with varying levels of craziness attached. Lavish parties with B-to-D list celebrities and open bars are the norm, as are far more exotic shindigs offering everything from fashion shows to Cirque du Soleil style extravaganzas to epic The Who concerts. This show is all about spectacle – think of it as Vegas for games and the party hardy mentality comes naturally.
You don’t need to fight the crowds or the heat in LA to be front and center, however. Keep it parked right here for all of your E3 2011 coverage.
For Noob Show-Goers
You can usually tell an E3 newb from a mile a way. He may be wearing a game shirt, solely intent on packing a bag full of swag on day one, or simply gawking slack-jawed at the wares. This is normal behavior – E3 is a complete and utter madhouse, especially before you’ve gotten used to the idea that every game you’re insanely excited about – and the people who make it – are all under one colossal roof. It’s enough to make even the most hardened anti-fanboy squee with delight.
But fret not, intrepid newbie, for you’ve come to the right place for guidance. Follow our handy tips, and you’ll be sure to survive your first E3 (relatively) unscathed, without even an embarrassing “I threw up on Miyamoto’s shoes” moment to your name.
Do: Pack the essentials. Bring a water bottle and comfortable (but never sloppy) clothes and shoes you don’t mind running around in for 12+ hours per day. You’ll be racking up the miles, running from South Hall to West Hall and back up to the meeting rooms, so you’ll really need to stay hydrated in order not to find yourself passed out in Sonic’s dressing room by the middle of the second day.
You’ll also need the tools of the trade – a small voice recorder, camera, notebook and pens, and whatever other equipment you may need. The key here is not to over pack, and say no to swag, unless it’s something you really, really love. A small dose of Tylenol is a handy thing to have in your pocket as well, in case the noise /crowds/lack of sleep/alcohol leave you feeling somewhat less than bright eyed and bushy tailed at any point in the experience. Plus, a handy little bottle of 5-Hour Energy Drink in the bottom of your bag will save your ass.
Do: Take plenty of notes. If you’re covering E3, or you want to remember anything more specific than a giant blur, give your notebook a little love. After three days of sustained retinal assault, you won’t remember which of the six post-apocalyptic third person action games you looked at had the sweet looking ice cream truck and which starred a one-armed baboon. Write it down, record it, and write it up later. Don't try writing a post right there with your laptop. No one likes that guy.
Don’t: Be this guy, either. Freelance writer Mitch Dyer wrote an awesome post last year about leaving full-on-fanboyism at the door when some fool stopped a press showing so he could get a plush autographed. Dude, save it for the after party!
Do: Make time to wander the show floor. You might have 17 billion appointments throughout the week, but taking the time to wander the floor on your own is often where something will catch your eye that you had no clue about. That's how Scribblenauts, a game tucked away near the back of the Warner Bros. Interactive booth became a sensation. Get out there, walk around, and enjoy the sights!
Don’t: Load up on the swag. It’s 9 am on the first day of the show, and Square is giving out awesome bobble heads. What do you do? If you said “load em up, because my girlfriend/boyfriend/mom/uncle/sister all need six”, you would be gravely mistaken. The more you pick up along the way, the more you need to carry for hours on end and pack into your misbegotten luggage when the show ends.
Do: Seek out fellow E3 goers and make new friends. Too often people are head down, and warning signs up, not wanting to mix and mingle with other outlets. But most people are out here in the same boat you are, so why not make some friends? The food court areas and the Starbucks mini-bars are popular locations to congregate, so seek someone out and say hi. It never killed anyone to be nice. Well, at least not at E3.
Don’t: Forget to have fun. With all the mania and craziness sweeping by, E3 can be totally overwhelming. Don’t forget that it’s all about the games, the developers and the experience of being there. Take it all in, relish the opportunities to chat with favorite devs and just generally remember to enjoy the whole shebang.
Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should follow her on twitter for all of the relevant links and details: @danielleri