E3 2016: what’s it really like to go to the world’s biggest games event?

It’s loud, chaotic, expensive and some say increasingly irrelevant – but attending E3 is still a games industry rite of passage

You see them at LAX airport in the second week of June every year, long snaking lines of them, sloping off long haul flights and waiting to pass through customs. They’re mostly men, mostly in their 20s and 30s, dressed in jeans, T-shirts and trainers; they’re in big groups, laughing and joking, enjoying the air of jubilant anticipation, but pretending not to. They’re all here for the same thing; the same thing 50,000 other people are coming to Los Angeles for; the same thing I’ve now been doing for 10 years. They’re here for E3.

E3 – the electronic entertainment expo – is effectively the Mecca of the mainstream video game industry. Held every year at the vast Los Angeles convention centre (except for a couple of ill-remembered jaunts to Atlanta, and two years when it was semi-cancelled), it is a trade-only event that everyone in the business has to attend at least once. This is where the big players – Activision, EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Sony, etc – show off their forthcoming multimillion dollar releases to a highly excitable crowd of retailers, investors and journalists. They do it at considerable cost (a stand on the show floor can cost around $20m) and with a ton of planning that takes all year. They do it because this is now a $100bn-a-year industry and there is a lot riding on building a buzz around your latest annual franchises. Even in this age of mass digital dissemination, you still need a focal point.

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