Having been to a few trade shows like E3 and GDC the thing that really struck me was the number of consumers or at least people only loosely tied to the industry there were in attendance. I usually found this out from either talking to people or… to be honest, it’s pretty obvious. The few people in cosplay or getting really rowdy are probably not necessarily there for work. I have no issue with this of course. I mean, if you want to go and enjoy yourself, then go for it! In fact I kind of miss going to consumer conventions like the MCM Expo in London, which I used to attend twice a year, because of the atmosphere and amazing people who would turn up. Trade shows aren’t like that. Yet I’ve heard a lot of non-industry people talking about how they would do anything to go to E3 and I’m not sure if they’re just setting themselves up for disappointment. I’m not saying don’t go, but I’d like to explain some of my experiences of shows like E3 and you can make up your own mind if it’s something you want to spend your cash on. My focus here is mainly on E3 as that seems to be the one that most people want to attend, but it applies equally to other trade shows.
One of the main reasons people seem to have for wanting to go is getting to see the people you admire. This is actually very unlikely. The truth is they’ll be too busy to talk to you or most possibly, hidden behind a wall labelled ‘meeting rooms’ where biz dev-y types like me congregate. They’re there for work – PR is handled by people who handle PR. There are exceptions, but not many.
The other reason is that is that people think it’s good for industry networking. Again, I’m not sure that this is true. Most of the big events will be invite-only. And the ones that are open to the public probably won’t be attended by the people you really want to get in with. Of course that’s not necessarily true. There are always recruiters around, but there are also other less expensive networking events you could be attending. Also, a tip if you’re there to network or have dreams about breaking into the industry – remain professional. Believe me, professionals do notice if you’re over-excited and running around and shouting. It’s a trade show, so people are there to work. It doesn’t bug me personally, but I know others feel differently. And you want to make a good impression and not come across like a fanboy/girl right? This is probably common sense, but that means leaving your cosplay costumes at home if you’re trying to snag a job or break in to the industry. That probably won’t go down well.
That brings me to my next point, which is atmosphere. There is a lot of flash at E3 and lots of light shows and loud music and so on. However, if you’re expecting the atmosphere to be anything like a consumer convention/comic con, you’re going to be disappointed. The few people who do cosplay are often given weird looks and do seem to end up feeling uncomfortable more than anything. Also, if you’re the type to be into booth babes, you’re also going to be disappointed, because there really isn’t as much of that as you may have been led to believe or perhaps it’s changed in recent years. Basically it’s a much professional environment than consumer shows, which are about going all out and getting people’s attention. Trade shows don’t have that atmosphere of geeky abandonment and openness that’s so prominent at consumer shows. So perhaps you’d be better off going to a consumer show, where you can be a bit more free to enjoy yourself, but again that’s just my thoughts on it.
Another big draw is the press conferences. However, those are actually separate from E3 (they happen the day before) and you won’t be able to get in without invites. So unless you’re press or working with them or have friends in high places you’re probably not going to get in. Tickets are very limited. And is it really worth it? It’s cool seeing it in person, but other than the light show and atmosphere, there isn’t a huge difference to watching online if you’re a consumer and not there for work. If you’re at E3 for other reasons, it’s worth it, but if you’re just there to watch the press conferences… I’m not sure.
Of course, there are all the demos you get to try and sure, like all other conventions there are games you can try if you line up long enough. If it’s really worth going all the way there to check out the games for a few minutes then go for it! But again, you get to do that at any convention. Maybe it’s just that it’s not that important for me to get to try games for myself before they come out. I usually already know if I’m going to buy a game or not when I see the trailer and read the news and the ‘trying out’ bit comes after I buy it, unless there’s a beta. I realise some of you might feel differently about this.
I’ve basically gone over this point already, but I think the cost is probably one of the major downsides for non-industry people. A three day pass for E3 was $795 ($995 after 4/28/14). That’s compared to $75 for a three day pass for Pax East. Yeah. Free industry passes are available to qualifying industry professionals, but obviously this process is quite stringent, so if you’re not actually working for a company in the industry, you’re not going to get it. There’s also the difficulty of getting even a normal pass – it is NOT open to the public, so you’ll need to go to a fair amount of effort to prove that you are connected to the industry.
Of course if none of these things put you off attending E3, then go for it and I hope you enjoy yourself! I hope my input on this topic at least provided you with at least a little bit of helpful info for you to make up your mind. It’s definitely a cool event, probably a LOT cooler if you’re not working 24/7 while you’re there, so I’m sure you would enjoy yourself if you’re a dedicated gamer.