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E3 tips for up and coming gaming writers

May 8, 2013

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I’ve seen a fair few writers ask for some guidance recently with covering their first Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) assignment. As one of the biggest gaming conferences in the business, it can be extremely overwhelming. Industry newcomers are usually subject to E3 due to the fact that outlets tend to send their biggest team, seeing how the event is in the United States, has all three major console players present, and as a general rule, hosts a large amount of new reveals and hands-on opportunities.

As a result, you may find yourself packing up and booking a flight to Los Angeles in the near future. You may be a nervous wreck — but don’t worry, as E3 is completely manageable. When I covered my first E3, I was nervous too. I reached out to some industry experts and asked if there’s anything I should do to prepare for my first foray in LA. Nine times out of ten, I got the response “wear comfortable shoes.” It’s basically an industry joke, and it’s most likely the one and only response you’ll get. While it’s a funny thing to say, it’s not exactly helpful. So I set out to write up a small guide of my own, in the hopes that it will help alleviate some the anxiety a few of you may be feeling. I’ve been covering E3 either live or online since 2009, so if you have any questions about the event, get at me on Twitter and I’ll add them to this guide, if at all possible.

  • Know your workload. Your outlet will give you a general feel of how many articles or games you should be covering a day. Many small outlets will only give you a few assignments. Always ask to do more if it’s an available option. Not only will new games be revealed at E3, but there will be plenty of opportunities to check out the much ignored indie booths, which will feature games your outlet hasn’t even heard of. If you own your own outlet, go berserk and show the industry what you’re capable of. In my first two E3 appearances, I wrote over 25 articles per year — each time, I felt like I could have done more given the sheer amount of media that can be consumed at E3.
  • I feel like I need to reiterate this again, but don’t ignore the indies. At nearly every conference, there are people waiting in line for over an hour to watch a video of the next Assassin’s Creed game, while 50 indie booths lie in wait with zero lines. The secret is to scan these booths and see what catches your eye — even if you aren’t into indies, who knows — that cool looking retro game could be the next big XBLA/PSN/eShop hit.
  • Having said that, don’t be nervous. Your outlet is sending you because they trust that you’ll provide sufficient coverage. The fact that you’re even going says a lot about your work ethic, so be confident in your ability to deliver. While there will be a few hundred games in total to play at E3, you only need to test a small handful of them.
  • If you can, get to E3 a day early and leave a day after. You want to be sure you can pick up your badge early, but there’s another big reason to get there a day before — pre-E3 coverage. You’ll see crazy setpieces like skyscrapers with giant 50 story Final Fantasy XIII banners on them, Plants vs. Zombies dance parties, and cameos like The Ghostbuster‘s Ecto-1 parked out front of the convention center. You’ll want to enjoy the sights, take pictures, and if possible, share it on your outlet. You may also have the chance to check out the annual art exhibit without crowds.
  • Get all of your apps and bookmarks set up a day, or a week before E3. Things like this guide, the E3 website, a potential E3 App, and so on — bookmark them so you don’t have to fumble around in a tight situation. Print off directions to your hotel before you leave in case your phone or laptop dies.
  • Similarly, get your business cards sorted weeks in advance in case of shipping issues — seriously consider adding your Twitter handle to your card. Possibly consider adding a QR code to the back of your card, linking to your personal blog or your account on your outlet. Give people your card when it is pertinent. Don’t hand them out like candy or sprinkle them on the ground, but always offer your card if you feel like you’ve had a connection with someone, and be polite. That hand-off may turn into a job interview or a developer interview.
  • Yes, you should wear comfortable shoes. But more importantly, you need to watch your health. A constant consumption of both food and water will ensure that you don’t become exhausted, or worse, start to get sick. There will be water fountains around the expo, but pack a water bottle and some snacks (granola bars) in a backpack. If you’re aren’t a backpack person, slip some snack bars in your laptop case. You’ll thank me later, as you’re rushing to check out a brand new Metroid game on the way back from a brand new Mega Man game, prior to your interview with the new Actraiser producer.
  • Speaking of food, convention food as a general rule is terrible. There isn’t a quick place to eat in the direct vicinity of the LA Convention Center, but there is a Starbucks and a few fast food places down the street about 10 minutes away. As you can see, getting there, ordering, eating, and walking back can take up time. Because of this, you will want to plan accordingly, eat a big breakfast, pack a lunch, and treat yourself to a nice dinner after the show is closed for that particular day. Doing this will ensure that you’ll have the energy to keep going throughout the day. The Westin Bonaventure, around 10 minutes from the convention center, has a Subway at the top of the lobby — you can get a breakfast sandwich here before the show, and get one for later to store in your backpack.
  • After breakfast you may want to get to the showfloor when it opens for one reason — AAA lines. AAA games tend to have the biggest lines, sometimes encroaching the one to two hour mark. To alleviate this, get there when the showfloor opens, and rush to the game you need to cover. If you’re not sure where it is, ask the day before and physically find the game station, then go to it the next morning. This is easily the best way to avoid wasting hours on lines, while you could be checking out multiple games in that period. It can get really bad — the year Nintendo debuted the 3DS, lines were consistently two hours long all day, every day.
  • Manage your time well when playing a game. Take as much time as you need to get all the pertinent information for your write-up, but be mindful of other people waiting in line. Play a few games in the franchise or genre that you’re assigned to, to get a better feel of the titles you need to cover so you’re not completely lost when trying them out. Picking up a game and knowing prior mechanics can save you a lot of time.
  • There are ways around lines. Sometimes, if you’re press, you can simply ask the employees at the booth if there’s a press demo unit or a press line. The worst they can say is “no,” if you ask politely. Also keep an eye on games around a game with a major line. You can go play multiple sessions of games that have no lines, and watch and see if the bigger lines cool down. Many times I’ve tried out a game I wasn’t assigned to, then found an opening to something across the way and snagged it. If someone is showing you a game however, be polite and let them walk you through it — don’t just run off in the middle of someone doing their job — it makes you and your outlet look bad.
  • Regulate your swag intake. Yes, you will get swag — often times, t-shirts. It looks very unprofessional to cosplay as Captain Merch when you’re trying to conduct a serious interview. You should definitely have fun, but think about stuffing that God of War t-shirt into your laptop bag, or even going back to your hotel quickly to drop off swag.
  • E3 will have a media room for people with press badges. It does have internet, but it’s not guaranteed. Many a time I’ve entered the press room with the intention of writing a hot story, and have been shut down by a conference’s internet. If your outlet has strict deadlines, look into getting a wireless hotspot plan for your smartphone that month, or if you can swing it, get your outlet to bill a mifi device for a month.
  • Events or conferences will most likely not have wifi. Plan accordingly if you’re trying to get that hot new PlayStation, Microsoft, or Nintendo announcement out while attending a press conference. Work out with your outlet where you can provide direct information in a chat program, and the “home team” can actually write the article and provide pertinent images, that you’re emailing to them live with your smartphone. It will ensure faster event coverage as you’re not scrambling with your outlet’s publishing interface.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2013 2:28 pm

    Great tips! Some things I didn’t even think of. Considering I’ll be flying out to LA in a month, I’ll be sure to keep these in mind.

  2. May 8, 2013 2:47 pm

    A lot of great advice for E3 and any business convention in this article. Thank You!

  3. May 29, 2013 11:02 pm

    Appreciate you taking the time to help out others. Hope one day I can use these tips at my first E3.

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