This past week, I went to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, which is held annually in Los Angeles as a consumer and retail-focused showcase of all of the products and technology that are coming up in the world of video games. I went there because I am a video game journalist, and fans of video games are slavishly devoted to every item of news, impression or conjecture that emerges from E3, similarly to the way people you follow on Twitter who care about basketball have been behaving of late.
Is basketball over? I have no idea who won. And if you are a normal person or casual fan of video games who has not been obsessively employing the #E3 hashtag on Twitter or RSS-ing video game blogs for the latest detail, you might be aware that E3 went on and there were some video games, but you might have no idea who ‘won’.
In fact, so many normal people and casual fans of video games have asked me, with an air of morbid curiosity, ‘what is E3 like’, that I have decided to present this helpful primer about things that you do at a video game conference so that you will feel like you have been there. Except your feet won’t hurt and your blood will not be half-liquor and you will not be exhausted. Lucky you.
1. Decide Who ‘Won’. At E3, the three major console manufacturers – Microsoft, maker of the Xbox 360, Sony, progenitor of the PlayStation 3 and PSP, and Nintendo, creator of the Wii and DS and 3DS, each hold a press conference to announce their strategy for the coming year. This can include adding additional ‘exclusives’, aka titles that appear only on their console and none of the competitors, to their lineup; adding additional services to their online offering, such as Microsoft revealing you will be able to have YouTube on Xbox Live, or announcing new hardware or additions to the existing hardware; this year Nintendo badly explained that its next Wii will have some kind of portable touch-screen controller with it when it launches at an unknown point next year, while Sony unveiled a basically kick-ass new portable it calls Vita. You must attend all three press conferences and argue about whose was the ‘best’ and who is ‘winning’ the console war and which platform holder ‘won’ E3.
2. Attend Press Conferences. In order to decide who ‘won’ you must attend press conferences. Press conferences take place in large amphitheaters with tons of fancy screens and dudes in suits coming on stage to grandly announce things. Press conferences also feature celebrities arriving on stage (this year saw Ice-T playing Gears of War 3 and EA Sports bringing some actual NFL bros on stage to attest to how real the Madden NFL game franchise is going to be). Not only do the major console manufacturers host press conferences, but the major developers of software such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft also hold press conferences to show their software lineup. As such, press conferences are often successions of highly-polished video game demos and trailers on enormous screens that tend to make you feel like you are watching a movie. Sony asks you to put on 3D glasses because theirs are in 3D because they would like you to purchase 3D Bravia televisions. The trailers generally contain a lot of guns and explosions.
3. Visit The Show Floor. After the press conference, the Los Angeles Convention Center opens two separate halls where video game publishers, manufacturers of accessories and major platform holders fill the space with luminous booths. The word ‘booth’ does not seem to do justice to the visual appearance of the E3 show floor, where each booth, especially if it is being held by a wealthy and successful video game publisher, resembles a small theme park, usually erected via startling architecture, lush carpeting and gigantic statues of key characters. There are often people in costume, and although the industry had in recent years frowned upon having scantily-clad female promotional models, known as ‘booth babes’, this year the booth babes returned in full force to wear fishnets and army uniforms, schoolgirl costumes or other types of costumes related to the games they were intended to be promoting.
At every publisher’s booth are usually shrine-like kiosks where their newest games, most of them still in demo phase, can be played by media who will be writing ‘previews’, retailers who will be deciding how much room to make on their shelves, and attendees who are generally wearing enthusiastic hats, carrying enormous backpacks full of giveaway ‘swag’, and waiting in hour-long lines to try new products. People are generally eager to wait in long lines to play games that they will be able to buy a few months from now.
4. Eat At Food Trucks. Many food merchants capitalize on the massive foot traffic streaming toward the Los Angeles Convention Center by placing specialty food trucks at or around it. It often happens that the food merchants engender partnerships with video game publishers to give away, for example, free burritos in conjunction with a game, and you can get a ticket to a free burrito by attending the publisher’s booth and then walking to the food truck later. As a result, E3 attendees, being visually and auditorily overwhelmed by visiting the show floor and being generally broke and starving individuals, become extremely fixated on the food trucks, and commonly converse with one another using phrases such as ‘Did you see there was an In-N-Out Truck’ and ‘I am gonna try to get a coupon to the burrito truck’ or ‘I’ll be back soon, I’m going to go and see what that truck is all about.’
5. Become Ensnared In Embarrassing Outdoor Spectacles. Many advertising campaigns are staged outside of the convention center or in its immediate vicinity, which means you might be trying to walk to the convention center and see a real live Sherman tank driving around to promote a game creatively-titled World of Tanks. Or a company will be present promoting energy drinks and scantily clad women will chase you, attempting to give you a free energy drink. It is widely assumed that people who enjoy video games also enjoy tanks, scantily-clad women, energy drinks and free t-shirts. There will also be people from a technology company standing on the sidewalk throwing T-shirts at you even on occasions whereby you did not request or otherwise solicit a T-shirt. Sometimes a person in a costume will corner you and force you to accept from them a postcard bearing a ‘QR Code’, an inexplicable black and white symbol you can probably scan with your mobile phone to get [something].
6. Attend Parties. On every night of E3 there are numerous events hosted by exhibiting companies or by press organizations for the benefit of attendees, publishers and the press. These events are usually ‘open bar’ parties staged at the same handfuls of locations; often the parties double as demo events so that you can, if you have RSVPed so as to appear on a guest list, arrive at a party, obtain a plastic wristband, drink unlimited themed cocktails and then drunkenly play a video game while having shouting conversations with people you only see once a year. Since many parties are invite only or fairly exclusive, ‘trying to get in’ is a crucial part of most people’s party-attending experience. Starting at about 4 PM each convention day everyone begins to ask everyone else which parties they plan to attend so they can compare who got into what and whether one person can get someone else into another event and whether they must choose a different party solution even if it is lame so that everyone can get in together.
‘Are you going to the [thing]’ is a standard format for such requests, and ‘I dunno, I heard a bunch of people were going to the [other thing]’ is a fairly standard reply. You are liable to drunkenly meet someone you kind of know from the internet or someone whom you have interviewed before or who kind of does the same job as you and have a 20 minute conversation with them the substance of which you will feel vaguely embarrassed about or no longer remember the following day. You are intended to tweet about whom you are with, possibly Tweet/Facebook pictures with them, and introduce yourself to everyone even though you will need to be reintroduced next year because you were drunk and forgot them. By the end of the week your face will feel like a moon under gravitational pressure and you will arbitrarily feel like vomiting at any given time.
7. Hate Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles is not a visitor-friendly location. Given its lack of street culture and its general tendency to present meaningless building facades and overcrowded, overpriced restaurants, it is expected to be especially jarring to attendees from other, better cities. This is especially pronounced given the fact that to navigate several parties and return to their hotel, visitors are expected to avail themselves of taxi cabs, which do not generally respond to hails, take 15-30 minutes to respond to telephone calls, and even in the event should an attendee manage to procure a taxi cab, the driver is not liable to understand the address he is given even if you, an out-of-towner, generally understand the address on a common thoroughfare about two miles from your current spot. Most egregiously, drivers are known to refuse credit card payments despite having a credit card machine prominently displayed in the vehicle; therefore, ‘complaining about the cab driver’ is an important subset of hating Los Angeles and attending E3, as is waiting 40 minutes for a table in a mediocre restaurant, being misled by the one bus that appears to pass as public transit, or having it be difficult and tiring to even negotiate a brief radius due to the fact that relevant venues are never sensibly co-located. You should complain to someone about how much you hate Los Angeles at least once during your visit; for bonus points, Tweet about it and then have a drunk Twitter argument with everyone who disagrees with you.