Last week I flew down the coast to hazy Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, aka E3: the video game industry trade show and one-upmanship-fest that has for years been a Mecca for gaming insiders.
This was my first E3 and though it may seem that I’m already being snarky and mean about it, I found the event to be amazing. E3 is a trade show, not so much a “convention” in what has become the traditional sense for gamers and SF/fantasy fans. If you’re under seventeen years of age, for instance, you can’t get in at all. If you’re seventeen or older you have to prove that you’re actually involved in the video game business in some way.
I went down to meet with clients and prospective clients of my consulting business, and had to actually send a copy of my business license and other proof that I was who I said I was and did what I said I do, before they let me register. So the people you meet at E3 aren’t just hardcore gamers, they’re hardcore gamers that, at one level or another, have made gaming part of their professional lives.
There are no seminars at E3, and very few scheduled events of any kind. This is business, and people who show up, with very few exceptions, are there to get their business on. There’s an app and other resources to help people schedule their time. I didn’t go from event to event, I went from meeting to meeting, scheduled in half-hour blocks. In some cases the people I met with had a booth with a meeting room, or just a meeting room, and I could go to them. In other cases we set up a place to meet then had to do something I take it is de rigueur for E3, but I’ve never seen anything like it.
Here’s how it works:
Through whatever means are at your disposal, you make some kind of contact with a person who will be at E3, and you email, call, or text each other to set up a time and place to meet, say: 11:00 at the entrance to the art exhibit.
This was a fairly popular place, also right next to the Target lounge, which was a kind of fabric igloo where Target gave away bottles of water and iced tea and some snacks, and had great free Wi-Fi (I spent a lot of time there, thank you, Target).
Now, with only a few exceptions, I had never met any of the people I was meeting with at E3 in real life, and though we may have seen pictures of each other, we’re still two strangers in a very crowded room full of strangers, trying to find each other. But it’s a convention, so we’re all wearing badges with our names on them, thankfully printed in large, easy-to-read block letters. The trolling begins.
Some people choose the passive approach: This is the time and place, I’m going to stand here and be found, letting my eyes dart from badge to badge in search of the name of the person I’ve come to meet.
Others take the active approach: I’m going to slowly wander past the rows of passive meeting-goers, scanning each badge as I pass.
In either case, hopeful glances are exchanged, eye contact stealthily avoided, then BANG! the moment of realization—we’ve found each other!
It reminded me of a really awkward junior high school dance, except everyone was grown up, almost all of us were men, and there were potentially millions of dollars at stake.
These are companies who are competing with each other for part of a very, very big industry. Video games are a bigger business than movies. This is serious dough we’re talking about here, and a great deal of money was spent by the bigger companies to attract the attention of the various industry attendees, who include members of the international press, retailers, potential licensees, and other people who can help these companies make even more money, so this isn’t just sound and fury signifying nothing, but sound and fury signifying tremendous wealth.
That sound and fury takes the form of a sort of competition of spectacle unlike anything I’ve seen outside Las Vegas. In fact, if the E3 meeting troll reminded me of a junior high dance, the exhibit halls reminded me of Vegas, shrunk down (though not by much) and enclosed in a giant room.
This competition, seen from a purely cynical perspective, takes three forms:
1. My Screen is Bigger Than Your Screen
I’m not talking about big-screen LCD displays, or even big projector screens, but in some cases actual stadium-style jumbotrons. I was moved to send this Tweet on Wednesday:
Standing in the middle of EA booth at #E3 is literally OVERWHELMING.
It was. The size of the thing . . . it wasn’t the EA booth, it was the EA Cathedral, and the worshipers were there in force.
2. My Subwoofer is More Deafening Than Your Subwoofer
Well, come on, if you have a screen that’s three stories tall, you can’t just hook it up to a boom box (am I showing my age on that reference?), of course you have to blast it so hard that the sheer force of the sound makes it difficult for passersby to stay on their feet. I actually felt the Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer in my nether regions.
And speaking of which, the last point of contention among E3 exhibitors:
3. My Models’ Boobs are Bigger, Rounder, and Firmer Than Your Models’ Boobs.
There’s no way to go into this without coming across as creepy, but it just has to be said. I’m a straight man, okay, and there are only so many of these girls you can march past me before I have to take notice. And they were everywhere, and they wore very little, and many of them were very friendly and walked the convention floor trying to get you to do stuff—and even though that stuff was just to come to their booth and play through a game demo, if you’re a straight man, you’re going to do that thing. Trust me.
I didn’t take any photos because I was afraid of what my wife would think, so you’re just going to have to go to their web site.
So, yeah, E3: Bigger is Bigger, and in all honesty, in at least two of the three cases above, bigger is better, too.
I’ll be back next year, my eyes fixed to the badges of potential clients . . . and other things.