Every summer, the Electronic Software Associate presents the Electronic Entertainment Expo, affectionately known as E3. The premiere video game trade show, E3 is where both software and hardware companies announce the most droolworthy upcoming video games, consoles, and accessories to the media (and, over the last two years, streamed online).
While PAX and Gamescom are open to the public, the only way to get into E3 is by being part of the gaming industry, either as a creator, publisher/distributor, retail seller, or member of the media. This is because the video game industry follows in the footsteps of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), despite the ESA separating the event due to disagreements with CES showrunners.
Registration for E3 is typically open during the first quarter of the year, though exact dates for each year can be found on the E3 website. Registration windows vary for industry attendees and media, and credentials must be submitted for either ticket type. While media credentials are free, attendee tickets cost $995 for a three-day pass.
If you happen to have a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket, you can also sponsor or exhibit at E3. Booth prices start anywhere from $10,000-$25,000 for a 10×10 space, with prices skyrocketing for large sponsored booths.
On top of the initial investment, many companies spend millions hiring celebrities and booth babes, hosting afterparties and press conferences in offsite venues, creating worthy swag to give attendees, and decorating their booth. Credentialing for sponsors and exhibitors is accomplished with money.
For more information on preparing a trade show exhibit, check out my article on Quicken’s Small Business Resource.
The below links will take you to the official E3 registration pages:
Attending E3 Press Conferences
E3 itself is a three-day event, though the events surrounding it extend it to nearly a full week. Traditionally a press conference day precedes E3, and 2015 saw so many press conferences that they started a day earlier and bled into day one.
These press conferences are invite-only, and are live-streamed by a variety of ESA media partners (sponsors). If you didn’t get an invite to the press conference, you can still show up and attempt to gain entry. Many members of the general public do so, and your E3 badge will typically get you in before them as long as you’re nice.
The E3 Badge
Tickets for E3 are sent via email, though all you need to pick it up is a photo ID. The actual entry ticket is a piece of paper in a lanyard. The lanyard is sponsored and often kept as a souvenir, which can be found and purchased on Ebay after the event.
The paper badge includes two bar codes, along with a QR code. Since all of this can be replicated, millions of gamers want in, and attendees routinely scalp their tickets for extra cash, an invisible watermark is also embedded on the badge.
Security at E3 is tight – blacklights are located at all entryways, and security has blacklight flashlights. In addition, to enter restricted areas, such as the media lounge, you’ll need to show both your badge and a photo ID, which must match the badge. With visitors from all over the country and world, security sees a lot of different forms of photo ID, so if you make a fake, make it good.
The E3 Show Floor
The main focus of E3 is the business of selling video games, and every company has flashy displays to draw gamers in to play (and either recommend or bulk-purchase) their games. In the main convention halls, huge displays are abundant, showcasing either exclusive footage or hands-on demos of every game mentioned in the press conferences.
Nearly every exhibitor gives out swag for playing the games. This swag includes early-access codes, in game rewards, game demos, shirts, hats, shoddy festival bags, buttons, pins, and a variety of assorted knick-knacks and toys. During the first two days, exhibitors are a bit stingy with the swag, though day three is known as the best day for quick swag grabs, as these companies don’t want to haul boxes of heavy junk back to headquarters to sit in a storage room.
Expect to wait in long lines at nearly every booth. The average wait time is around an hour or two before getting a chance to play big-budget, marquee titles for 15-30 minutes. With hardware like VR headsets and hologram glasses, an appointment is necessary. It’s important to reach out to video game companies beforehand to schedule appointments for any major tech or games.
Remember every major video game hardware and software developer has a PR company – find out who it is, and cc them in your email to the developer. Also, never send emails to a general department address. Search the name of senior marketing reps and execs on LinkedIn, and contact them individually. Be honest and genuine about who you are and why you’re attending – they’ll likely accommodate you.
In addition, E3 features an art gallery of video game-inspired artwork, along with hundreds of meeting rooms for companies to hold private sales and promotional meetings far removed from the glitz and glamour on the show floor.
Offsite Events at E3
Since E3 is a trade show, the focus is on commerce. Like any convention, trade show, or expo, most business is handled after hours and offsite. On each night of the expo, at least a dozen afterparties are happening in venues all around the convention. During the day, sponsored lunches and happy hours can be found all around the venue.
Afterparties are invite-only, though many of these are easier to sneak into than the conference itself. These parties are often better than a regular club night, and often come with free food and drinks.
If you’re looking to turn up to 12 with beautiful people and celebrity acts, look for parties from the big-name companies like Microsoft and Bethesda. If you want to network within the industry, try the meet-and-greets, hosted lunches, happy hours, or even the offsite PC Gaming Show that started in 2015 and should continue in the future.
What to Bring and Wear to E3
Food and drinks at the convention center are overpriced, but a variety of booths offer snacks and drinks. Sony’s press conference always includes free food trucks, and the lunch is provided for media and exhibitors. All other attendees will want to bring some snacks to avoid spending $10 on a slice of pizza.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the floor is huge and you’ll easily log 5-10 miles per day on your FitBit during E3. It’s summertime, so it’ll be hot outside, but the air conditioning inside the venue can get cool, so dress in easily removable layers for best results.
There’s no need for a backpack, as sponsored bags are provided in the hallways before entering the show floor, and many vendors give out bags. It’s very easy to overload on swag if you’re into free stuff.
Download the official E3 app to keep track of any appointments, as well as have a handy guide with you at all times. Though sponsors like Twitch, IGN, and YouTube provide video maps everywhere, you’ll need this app to know where you’re going, as the staff won’t know much. If you need directions to a hall, ask the staff, but you’re better off asking fellow attendees for directions to a specific booth.
Bring around $100 in cash to ensure you have enough for parking or any other incidentals that may come up. E3 is held in California, where it costs money to exist anywhere. At LA Live, parking starts at $20, and the surrounding lots can go as high as $100 by day two.
Though a video game convention, cosplay isn’t very popular among E3 attendees. You’re more likely to see someone wearing a Mario polo shirt than dressed up as Mario. Business suits are everywhere, and every exhibitor is wearing the team’s colors. You will see plenty of gaming characters, but they’re typically hired models being paid to do it, so save your Pikachu costume for ComicCon, PAX, or even EDC.
Brian Penny is a former operations manager and business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured in Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, Main Street, Huffington Post, Gaiam, Intuit’s Small Business Resource, and BBC.