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E3 is loud, expensive, sexist and violent: It's also the only place to be next week

E3 is a loud, confusing mess of a show where the games with the most money are given the most attention. The press conferences will be filled with splashy reveals about franchise titles, sequels and likely remakes and upgrades. We’ll see a lot of people die in really bloody ways on very big screens.

The only way to maintain your sanity is to continually gobble over-the-counter headache remedies and blast your hands with sanitizer after every third handshake. The lines to see a trailer are only bested by the lines to buy a coffee.

It’s madness, and you can count the millions being spent on it by the square foot. It's also one of the most target-rich environments for interesting people and stories this industry has ever put together.

The case for E3

The show itself can be very off-putting to many people, and that seems almost by design; the often aggressively sexual tone of many of the booths and models are aimed squarely at the imaginations of adolescent boys. Much money and time was spent trying to appeal to the male industry folks and press, making the show floor itself a less than welcoming atmosphere for many in the industry.

You can also, in many ways, ignore the show floor itself and see its existence as an excuse to get some of the most interesting developers, press, and business people into a single square mile in Los Angeles.

The reason I love E3 is that I get to come face-to-face with the people I cover. This job is still mostly done in your home or the site’s office, sitting in front of a computer. You talk to people over Skype and e-mail, and sometimes even the phone, but there is nothing that matches breathing the same air as the people who make the games we’ll be talking about for the next year.

The meetings may often be carefully orchestrated dances of what will and won’t be shown, and what can or cannot be talked about, but we’ll still learn a great deal about the games that will inform the entirety of the industry until the next E3. The tone of the next 12 months will, in many ways, be set by the events of next week. We'll be meeting, and speaking directly to, the people in charge of the future of this art form.

We’ll likely see amazing things in the small, cramped meeting rooms far away from the show floor itself. E3 comes to life when you get to sit down, meet the person who is helping to make the game you’re about to see, and then a controller is put in your hand. Everything else is bullshit leading up to the moments where you have those three wonderful things: A game, access to a person helping to bring that game to life, and a controller so you can play it for yourself. That's where the real work happens, and it's lovely. The rest of circus is still there, but you don't have to pay attention to it.

Getting into the expo, and getting floor space or even a meeting room, is an expensive proposition that’s out of reach for many developers. But they too know how to take advantage of the density of publishers and press and will descend upon the city to sleep in cheap hotel rooms and bring laptops into the lobby to give guerrilla demos of interesting games to anyone who is willing to give them a little bit of time.

Hotline Miami was first shown to me on a laptop at a lobby bar. Last year Devolver Digital, the publisher of Hotline Miami, its sequel, and other games like Broforce, set up shop in a parking lot near the convention center with a few gleaming campers filled with televisions and developers. The atmosphere tended more towards party than industry event, and the company spent the money they saved on an "official" booth on barbecue.

It can still be a pretty punk rock show, you just have to know where to look and be willing to entertain the often unkempt and crazy-eyed developers walking around with a demo and a dream.

I’m having lunch with a developer who is working on new uses for the electronics she’s implanted in her body. This is what happens when so many interesting people come into one area; you get to share a sandwich with someone who may be the world’s first indie developer who is also a cyborg.

Moments like that are why I love E3, and its ability to pull so many different people into a single space for a short period of time. The stories that publishers pay good money to present can be rather boring at times, but there's plenty more to find once you take a few steps off the official path.

The next year of coverage

There is also the industry parties and impromptu gatherings at local bars and watering holes where everything is off the record but you’re given a crash course in the state of the industry and many publishers by tipsy industry insiders.

E3, after hours, turns into a soggy venting session where everyone shares what’s wrong, and right, with damned near everything having to do with video games. Many secrets and details are spilled that, while you may not be able to use them directly in a story, help to guide your coverage and your understanding of what’s going on.

E3 has problems. The atmosphere can be unwelcoming to women and punishing to anyone who has issues with crowds or noise. It’s an imperfect, expensive show that often drives home just how loud, gaudy and violent the video game industry can be.

For all of those issues, many of which need to be fixed for the industry to truly move forward, it’s still one of the most exciting weeks of our year. Especially when you leave behind the expo hall and barely dressed women throwing energy drinks at you.

What people leave out when they talk about the cost of the show and the type of games that enjoy the focus of the industry, retail buyers and even the press is the social value of simply being there. The idea of cozy industry parties at hotel bars may seem like something that benefits the press more than it benefits readers, but those moments are where the real work is done.

The features you enjoy, the in-depth interviews you want to read, and the informed work that comes from your favorite sites will often start at a conversation at a bar during an event like E3. Every conversation at E3 is an opportunity to find and share information about the industry and games we all love, and that's why we go. The giant video screens are a distraction from the real work, not a part of it.

The trick is to collect as much information about the big games as possible while also stepping outside of the machine of the show to find the more interesting, personal stories. Stories that couldn't be told unless you were there in person, meeting people, finding the truth of the industry that exists below the PR people with clipboards and handwritten schedules. You can only cover the top of that story remotely; being there in person allows you to dig deeper.

This may sound like a rant for industry insiders, but it's important to share with readers why E3 is still such a big deal for so many publications, Polygon included. The hours are long, the open bars are usually skipped so we can feel clear headed in the morning, and the cost of covering an event with this many people can be prohibitive.

It's worth it because the stories, and the groundwork that's laid down for future stories, are only found when you show up and put the work in. What E3 is, and what it means, can be determined by how you approach it. There will be plenty of posts about trailers, but you'll see the benefit of E3 coverage throughout the year, in many different ways. Some obvious, some not.

The show may loudly reward many of the wrong things but, if you’re willing to take the entire experience in your teeth and shake it until the good parts fall out, there are amazing experiences to be had and stories to be told. Don’t listen to the endless articles about why E3 is on the way out; for one week the entire gaming world will be centralized in one location. It's hard to justify being any place else.

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