I’ve talked about games. I’ve talked about press conferences. But I haven’t talked all that much about the one thing I know you’re all curious about: me. Yes, today I’m going to share with all of you my first experience at E3 – the world’s largest gaming trade show. Try and restrain your excitement.
First off, it needs to be said: I live on the East Coast, basically around Baltimore. This means that the first hurdle I had to jump was actually making it over to LA to attend the show. This is an enormous pain in the butt and was easily the most painful part of the show – the flight alone is 7 hours long, not to mention it’s likely to be prohibitively expensive for most before considering lodgings and other expenses. If I didn’t have a decent day job and the full support (financial and otherwise) of Popzara’s leadership, I don’t think I’d have even considered it. That’s not even talking about the many flight delays I encountered, including the cancellation of one of my flights during my return trip.
As for the show itself, E3 is definitely more of an “event” – a sharp contrast with CES, which was a trade show through and through. There are plenty of games on offer for hands-on time, though I found that anything with mainstream interest would have absurdly long lines. It wasn’t really worth the time to wait, so the total period I spent in line was around 10 minutes throughout the show for two quick rounds of Street Fighter V between appointments. I didn’t feel like I was missing all that much; the majority of this stuff is going to be available in a few months anyway, and I’ll always prefer my home setup to the uncomfortable craziness of being watched while playing.
A corollary to this is that indie titles are largely ignored because everyone’s trying to get in on Star Fox Zero or whatever, so if there’s a particular small title you’re really into, you shouldn’t have any problems checking it out. I got a chance to check out Heart Forth, Alicia, for instance, without having to wait in line at all, and I also got to play some Skullgirls against other showgoers with no lines. Pretty cool.
E3 feels much, much less professional than other trade shows I’ve attended. You’ll either love or hate it – if you want a more casual environment, you’ve definitely got it here, but it’s also harder to get work done. If you make appointments with companies in advance, you’ll usually get some alone time with people who want to talk shop. These were definitely the highlights of the show for me; it’s certainly a more pleasant environment for hands-on time with a game, for instance, and while there’s plenty of PR-speak going on, you can communicate directly with developers as well.
Don’t get me wrong, few people are as skilled at spin as game developers, but this gives the opportunity to ask some hard questions that you might not otherwise be able to ask. Perhaps favorite moment at the show was an impromptu meeting with Dan Tudge, director of Sword Coast Legends and Dragon Age: Origins, who came off as a simple, down-to-earth guy who just loves gaming and wants to make something he’d love to play.
Otherwise, you’re wading through a sea of both media and fans – and, based on the number of journalists I saw wearing a developer’s advertising on a bag or their clothing, the two are pretty much interchangeable these days. The companies running booths were all too eager to provide the necessary tools to turn yourself into a walking billboard. Personally, I stowed away any swag that I came across, which also kept me from having to lug tchotchkes around all day; I also ensured that I didn’t bring along any apparel that was even remotely gaming-related in order to keep up the appearance of objectivity.
Coming from a traditional print journalism background, I was amazed at how eager some media reps were to walk around emblazoned with a particular developer or publisher’s logo. One of the quirks of this industry, I suppose.
One impolite thing does need to be said about E3: it stinks. Like, the show floor literally smells terrible, with lines near the more popular titles and heavily trafficked crossroads being the worst offenders. I could talk about how gamers have really earned their reputation for questionable hygiene, but I don’t think I’d be saying anything new there, and you’ll run into the same thing at any geek-centric convention you attend. After the first day I did a better job of avoiding the more crowded areas and navigating the “back roads,” both to save time and to preserve my sanity.
On the same note, you’ll rapidly need to learn how to deal with both crowds and with people with a severe lack of self-awareness; people will absolutely come to a full stop in the middle of the show floor, by the way, and there’s also no shortage of B-and-C-list YouTubers and streamers setting up camera rigs in the middle of crowded areas.
Another point worth mentioning is that certain necessities are in short supply and it helped to come prepared. Food and drink, for instance, is comically expensive, on par with the premiums you pay after going through security at an airport. Power outlets aren’t especially common, either, with the few available ones serving as campsites. The wise traveler would do well to bring along a Clif Bar and water bottle or something similar, along with a portable charger. Having Uber available for quick escapes is also handy, since it’s difficult to navigate the city otherwise.
That about sums it up, really: it’s loud, smelly and expensive, but E3 was certainly worth attending at least once. It’s definitely not the glorious Nirvana of gaming bliss that it’s been made out to be in the media and in gaming culture; you can get a similar experience, cheaper and with less hassle, by going to your nearest anime convention. Still, the chance to interact directly with industry professionals in a forum where they can’t easily wriggle away from questions was pretty great.
Would I go again? Well…ask me again in a few months and we’ll talk about it. As it stands now, I’m not in love with the idea of another 7-hour plane trip both ways before factoring in delays. And the work. And the dancing. And the smells. Oh boy, those smells…