You’ve passed thru the door of “Abbey Road Studios”, were wowed by The Beatles Rock Band and the mad skills of our demo stage team. Wandering around the Harmonix / MTV E3 booth, you step up to one of the three demo stations for a little hands on fun with some sweet controllers. Suddenly, in the middle of hitting a vocal “Triple Fab”, you think to yourself…”This is amazing! How does Harmonix and MTV make all this happen?” Umm, ok maybe that was your second thought.
Getting MTV and Harmonix to E3 requires magic. Magic combined with a lot of detailed planning and a Harmonix / MTV collaborative effort. No doubt, an hour in our booth can be better than a day at Disneyland. To dazzle our visitors and make our E3 event fun, magical and one smooth running operation required months of planning, preparation, a hardworking staff and lots and lots of gear and packing tape.
Here’s a list of what goes on behind the scenes in no particular order:
Booth & Booth Space
We buy it. We design it. We get folks to build it. The financial, creative and production process starts nearly a year out. (And yes, in a few months, we’ll be thinking about E3 2010!) If you’ve never witnessed the “before and after” of a large scale conference with giant and complex exhibits you should. It is a massive operation. Across South Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center, there are rows and rows of booth construction, boxes upon boxes of booth “stuff” received at the convention center and delivered to the appropriate booth location. The exhibit floor starts off looking like a demolition area and quickly turns into a recognizable space. I find it all fascinating. Maybe I can be a gaffer in my next life?
When our space was completely built out and subsequently struck at the end of E3, I wanted to make cookies for each and every construction/production person assigned to our booth and then give them all a big hug.
Dressing the Stage and Booth Space
We do that too! The talented folks at MTV concept and design all the art work for the booths. They handle everything from the signage to the light boxes to the little VIP invites for our private parties as well as recreating Abbey Studios for our main demo stage.
And hot damn, it looked GREAT!
Gear. Lots and lots of gear.
Lights, monitors and audio for the demo stage and booth stations were handled by a team of professionals. It was like having our own roadie crew for a nearly plug and play set up. Then there’s the rest of the gear. Here’s an abridged list of what we needed for the demo stage, booth stations, two meeting rooms and special events:
21+ Mics – 21+ Mic Stands – 13 Drum Kits – 13 Drum Thrones – Drum Sticks – Assorted Guitar Controllers 13 Gretch’s, 33 Rickenbacker, 13 Höfner - USB Hubs – Batteries – Cords/Wires – Stickers – Wrist Bands – Hand Sanitizer – Multiple Xbox Consoles, PS3 & Wii Consoles – PSP - Cough Drops – Stickies – Sharpies – Paper – Packing Tape – Ibuprofen - Shipping Labels.
I’m sure there is something I’ve left off of this list.
All gear was lovingly packed and shipped from Harmonix and MTV offices to Los Angeles and then unpacked. It’s a big job (thanks HMXKat!) and a very important one. Because we do love (need) our gear! After E3, everything was repacked and shipped back home. Somehow, and we don’t know how, we ended up with more boxes than we had at the start. We DO know is that UPS is our friend.
We brought enough staff to stage a military coup in a small foreign country. And here’s why. Over the course of 3 days we had approximately 36 main stage demo sessions. Approximately 2,880 people had an exclusive The Beatles Rock Band demo. These 2,880 folks filtered out of the demo and onto the booth floor along with assorted other visitors (too many to count) to play the game at our Xbox, PS3 and Wii stations. We spoke, sang and played with everyone! And it was FUN!
Who are these people?
Demo Staff – 2 full bands for the main demo stage and PR related demos (1 drummer, bassist, guitarist, 3 vox); 2 staff for each of the XBox, PS3 and Wii demo stations; staff for the RB Unplugged PSP stations. Let’s not forget the demo stations at the Lego Rock Band stage and the special crew for the Microsoft Press Conference. The demo staff was also responsible for booth set up and strike. Whew.
Senior Staff – we let our CEO and assorted HMX & MTV VPs tag along because they had to do cool things like hang out with The Beatles, give press interviews and talk to important people about important stuff.
Interviewees – we’re so rockstar, we needed to bring staff along just to be available to talk to the press. To be honest, they helped with the demos too, they’re humble like that.
Sales – there is an entire MTV gang that deals with our assorted retail friends to make sure you can find a place to buy The Beatles Rock Band. We’re launching worldwide on all platforms. That’s a lot of global shelf space!
Public Relations – this team coordinates all the interviews between major media outlets and all of our awesome producer, designer, artist, exec types. We’re ready for our close ups Mr. DeVille.
Reception – aka “we’re not really booth babes” booth ladies. This is where I hung out along with another HMXer and two super gals from MTV. We are the meeters and greeters. We smiled and chatted with each and every person that passed thru our booth. We answered questions, got people to where they needed to be. With the help of our security guys, we kept the crowd flow into the main stage and booth space organized.
Hotels, Travel , Scheduling
In addition to the staffing and booth construction portion of event planning there is the logistical part where we get staff to Los Angeles and back. We make sure everyone has a roof over their heads and clean sheets. Along with helping HMXjohnd with the staffing schedule and party planning, my job for E3 was to coordinate travel & hotels for the Harmonix team heading to E3. I had it pretty easy compared to MTV Meredith who did the MTV hotel rooms, conference registration for everyone (including guests), gear schlepping, booth dressing and who knows what else. In fact, she should be writing this piece!
A few little tidbits to consider – MTV and Harmonix staffed combined had approximately:
Round trip flights: 55+
Hotel Nights: 275+
Tired Feet: 110 give or take a few
E3 fun and games doesn’t end on the show floor. There are parties, lots of parties. And yes, Harmonix & MTV host a few. Our parties aren’t your “get a 12 pack, a couple of pizzas and have the gang over to jam” kind of thing. Alright, we had pizza last year. And this year we had those fancy pizzas, but you get the basic idea. Our parties require planning, staffing and yes, more gear! This year, it was an invite only chance to party in “Alex’s Suite”. For 3 nights, special guests could rock out to Rock Band 2 and The Beatles Rock Band. Did I mention the open bar and yummy snacks? The total bar tab for all three nights was quite impressive and did me proud!
Gear 1 RB2 set up (2 guitars, drum kit, mic & mic stand) in one room, 1 Beatles set up in another (drum kit, 3 mics & stands, Höfner, Gretsch, Rickenbacker) along with several monitors and a bad ass sound system for both rooms. And to all the hotel guests on the 2nd and 3rd floor near the back staircase, we’re very sorry for the loud music and the chorus of party goers singing at the top of their lungs till 1am.
Staff: Yes, Harmonix staff gets paid to play and sing along with the party guests just to make sure everyone is having a good time! Sounds like a good gig eh? Keep in mind, those who staffed the party till 1am also had to break down the set ups when the party ended. AND the tireless HMX team also had a 9:00am call time and had to be ready to rock the show floor at 10am!
Coda: There is always the emergency run for something during set up – and despite all the planning and the “I wonder if we’ll need this let’s throw it in the box” there is always something we forgot or have to replace because it broke. Long story, but this year, I have renewed love for GPS in LA rental cars.
If I could pick one thing I love about E3 and E3 planning is the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of people. E3 is the game industry’s debutant ball. Even with all the pressure around The Beatles Rock Band, Lego Rock Band and Rock Band Unplugged’s media coming out party, everyone I worked with stayed enthusiastic, professional and good humored. Any unexpected changes, accidents and general confusion that arose, our gang could roll with it. We ended up having one of the smoothest E3s ever.
We’re back and in the groove of the regular work week, researching remedies for sore throats and raspy voices, humming assorted Beatles lyrics stuck in our heads and enjoying the comfort of our own beds. Even after more than 3 days (and nights) of playing and singing the Beatles, I must honestly say, I never once got sick of seeing conference goers having fun playing The Beatles: Rock Band and grasping the vocal harmonies. The oooo’s and aaahhh’s over the game art and peripherals were music to our ears.
E3 was a magical event. Seeing everyone’s smiles and general state of frenzied giddiness over The Beatles: Rock Band was hands down worth every exhausting moment.
Check out more of the 2009 Harmonix E3 recaps!