Some helpful advice on what to expect, what to do, and what you need.
Hello, readers! You may have noticed a slight delay to the arrival of this blog entry, an unavoidable outcome of me having to attend Eurogamer 2013.
In the aftermath of this massive gathering of developing teams across the games industry spectrum, which attracted a crowd of over seventy thousand in the course of four days (so I’m told), I thought it might be a neat idea to impart some amateur journalist wisdom to my fellow aspirants. This is a brief – and I mean VERY brief – rundown of the stuff you should know when walking into an event of this magnitude. Some of it is good advice for events in general, mind you, but nothing quite beats an Expo in terms of scale and bedazzlement.
Should you have important advice of your own that you feel I haven’t covered adequately, feel free to add it to the comments below. I’ll certainly be taking it seriously.
“Know Your Angle”
It seems obvious, but before stumbling through the doors into an environment that’s filled with colourful lights, displays, equipment, and huge screens, you really need to know what you’re trying to cover in a journalistic sense. Because if you’re trying to cover all of it that simply isn’t going to happen. Even professionals don’t write about everything that graces the floor at big industry events such as E3, Gamescom, and Eurogamer; they will have their angles lined up weeks in advance.
You might be lucky and have an editor who’s arranged for interviews with developing teams, in which case you need to know as much as you can about the products you’re going to be talking to them about. That usually means going to where the games/products in question are being showcased and trying them for yourself. Take notes on your first impressions, cross-reference these with what’s known about the product already. Is it entirely new? Does it have predecessors? How does it compare to other games/products like it? This will definitely help you formulate some interesting questions, assuming you haven’t already done that in preparation.
“What To Prioritise”
Everything you do at these events should be centred around your angle, the story you’re there to report, and if you haven’t got a fixed idea in mind of what you want to write about you need to think of one – fast. Try to be original.
Scheduled interviews, if you have any, must take priority along with the products attached to them. Get to those as soon as you can, because the more you know the more you can write about and queues are omnipresent at big industry events.
But let’s assume you haven’t got anything scheduled and you’re floating freely around a giant hall surrounded by nerds, gadgetry, and body odour. What then? Well, the truth of the matter is that it’s up to you how to spend your valuable time as an amateur journalist. If you’re there to play and give feedback on the mainstream titles and hardware, a lot of your day is going to be spent queuing up and chatting to fellow ‘enthusiasts’. It’s a safe, easy way to write feature pieces since much of the content will come from you, and editors are always happy to publish writers’ impressions of new games and tech.
But attending your first big industry event presents one of those key opportunities to expand your contacts list and meet the people you’ll be working with face to face – namely the developers, PR workers, and publishing reps. Use your knowledge of the industry, talk to these guys and make a solid impression. Play their products and be honest in your thoughts about them, show interest in how they came into existence.
The best place to do this on a floor filled with stuff to play and look at is in the area marked out for independent games. You will always have developers there who will happily talk to you about what they’ve been putting together, often without silly barriers like embargoes to worry about. The independent games sector is filled with potential stories about teams of dedicated workers, struggling to get their vision realised and on the digital marketplace, and you can learn a lot about the process of games development just from a cursory glance at that. You’ll quickly come to realise that it’s a harsh, demanding world.
“What To Bring and Why”
Here are a few tools you’ll find immeasurably helpful:
- A digital recorder. Not your phone; I mean a proper digital recorder that can reduce or eliminate background noise. Unless you can write shorthand, that is. If you’re interviewing anybody it’s a must-have device for obvious reasons, and they’re cheap enough that not having one – even as an amateur – is pretty damned inexcusable.
- A tablet/smartphone. For the amateur journalist operating on a budget, a smartphone is a reasonably efficient camera and video recorder, but having something with an open line of communication to PR contacts and your editors is essential.
- Business cards. You might be thinking, “It’s too early for me to have those”. It’s never too early to have your contact details readily available! Do you think you can remember everyone else’s name and email address off the top of your head? You might talk to a developer for five minutes or an hour, but if they don’t have your name and contact information at the end of that time period you should consider it a wasted opportunity.
- Pen and paper. I’m a huge fan of the classic data storage methods. If all else fails, pen and paper will get the job done. Emails, names, mobile numbers, interview questions, product details; anything and everything can be scribbled down with these timeless items.
Events of this scale tend to be organised in such a way as to engage and dazzle the visiting public, instilling awe and wonder. Don’t be taken in; be a sensible journalist and use an event map to plan ahead. Interviews will always take place in a designated press area, which will come with wi-fi access – a precious resource for all journos. And for the love of God, be approachable. Smile! Make new friends and be generally pleasant to your fellow event-goers.
As I said above, these are very basic things, but armed with this knowledge of the expo battleground amateurs can only raise the standard of their professionalism, which in my opinion is a good thing. Keep up the hard work, chaps!