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E3 2011: What we learnt about covering the show

E3 2011

We learnt a lot this year at E3, not just about what new games are on the horizon, but about how to cover the show. I thought it would be useful to list both the suspicions we verified and things that we would do differently next time.

Press conference WiFi can’t be relied upon

We suspected this and it more or less turned out to be the case. Of the five press conferences we attended, we had a reliable WiFi connection for about two and a half of them. All provided free, open networks, but with so many connections, they were easily overwhelmed. If you need a reliable connection, you need to bring your own mobile wireless hotspot.

CoverItLive is an outstanding piece of software

This is what we used to do our live blogs and it performed exceptionally. It’s built to handle very poor connections and it caches updates until it can send them. The iPhone app isn’t bad either.

Press conference WiFi is for laptops only

In most of the conferences, phones were blocked from using the WiFi to preserve the quality of the connection for laptops. If you want to live blog or similar, take a proper computer.

Have a second live blogger on standby elsewhere

One thing I’d love to do next year is to have a second commentator on the live blog who is situated elsewhere. With a decent connection, they could watch the event online and fill in the gaps in commentary when the WiFi becomes too unstable to transmit from the conference itself. This would have been much better than our radio silences when WiFi went dead.

It’s all about appointments

There are really two E3 experiences: one for those with appointments and one for those without. It’s at E3 that you realise the real value of PR contacts – without them you’ll be stuck in queues for hours and won’t get much done. Luckily, we had quite a few, so didn’t waste too much time standing around.

Use your queueing time efficiently

When you do have to queue, don’t just stand around doing nothing. If you know that you’re going to have to wait in line, go and see another game and then write your preview while waiting for the next game. There are few experiences more boring than just aimlessly standing around for an hour.

Put everything in Google Calendar

There were four of us at E3 and we each had our own appointments. In order to make sure we weren’t covering the same thing twice and to keep track of who was doing what, we used a shared Google Calendar to log our movements. This proved to be really valuable, both before and during the show.

Write up as soon as possible

The sooner you can start drafting your article, the better it’ll be. If you can just grab a seat or sit down in a hallway for 10 minutes, you can knock out a first draft while everything’s still fresh in your mind. Come back a day or two later and everything you’ve seen will blur into one.

Carry a notepad

Perhaps it’s obvious, but it’s considerably easier to write a preview if you take notes during a presentation or after a demo. If you can’t write your article immediately after, this allows you to jog your memory when you can.

A smartphone is a perfect show floor companion

Instead of carrying a laptop around for the last two days of the show, I opted to use just my iPhone and an Apple Wireless Keyboard. This combination is much lighter and still lets you type quickly. You really don’t want to carry a 2.5kg laptop, bottle of water, notepad and other stuff around all day!

Take care of yourself

Whether it’s at the convention center, going down the street to grab a bite to eat, or mingling with people at the after parties, you will be walking a lot. Make sure you bring footwear that caters well to long distance walking/running – comfortable yet durable. Also, it’s good to stretch your legs as often as possible, preferably in the morning before walking, during the show when you have free time, and after. Never skimp out on eating and keep yourself hydrated – energy drinks can only take you so far.

Speak up

E3 is a time where you’ll be under the same roof as many influential people: developers, top competitive players, YouTube ‘celebrities’, and an assortment of writers ranging from the prolific, all the way over to the up and coming. Yes, there are games to be played, appointments to be kept, articles to be typed, but every now and then it doesn’t hurt to have a little human contact, especially if you recognise someone you respect. Aside from its obvious treasure, perhaps one of the most overlooked jewels of E3 are the various opportunities to network, lying in wait. Looking to interview a developer or game celeb for that special article you’ve always wanted to write? Want to be noticed for your work? All these things can happen, but you have to first speak up!

Quality vs quantity

Filling your day with appointments isn’t always the best thing. Always stay true to your interests. For example, if you’ve never played an MMO, don’t care about MMOs, and would never play an MMO, then why bother scheduling blocks of time that will be wasted? Your interest in a product will greatly affect how you take notes and how much heart you can put into typing up the article.

You live in a bubble for a week

Strangely enough, while I was at E3, I felt completely out of touch with the rest of the world. You simply don’t have time to check your email, Twitter, the news and so on. If it wasn’t announced at the press conferences I went to or was on the show floor, I didn’t know about it. I only found out about the PS Vita’s name when I saw it on a banner at the LA Convention Center!

E3 is hard work, but it’s a lot of fun

E3 isn’t a holiday in almost every traditional sense. You’re up early, then walking around the show floor, in meetings and writing up during the day, writing again in the evening or at parties. Your entire day is taken up by the conference and everything that results from it. You don’t have as much sleep or eat as much as you’d like, and by the end of it, you’re knackered. But it was worth it, for the people, the games and the experience. Once the dust settles, you can’t wait to go back next year.

Thanks to Stew Chyou for his contribution to this post.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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