Video-game fans will keep Santa Claus busy this year. With Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo releasing their first new machines in at least seven years just in time for the holidays, developers predict their new titles will top gift lists. Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft Entertainment and others swarmed Cologne, Germany, this week to woo gamers -- more than 275,000 are expected -- and get their pre-orders ahead of the key holiday season at Gamescom, Europe's biggest gaming conference.
For such a big event in the industry, preparation is key. But it's kind of difficult to plan for Gamescom when the normal day is anything but. Well, for me at least.
6:30 a.m. Get up and join thousands of gamers already filling Cologne's streets. Bonus points if you're in costume. Highlights include characters from Zelda to Peach, the Mario princess. I also spotted a giant banana and monkey couple.
7:00 a.m. Stand in line outside -- it was 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) at sunrise. By the way, you'll spend most of the day queuing: first to get in, then to go hands-on with the new games.
10:00 a.m. Opening bell! The gates open and let the gamers in.
10:01 a.m. Now would be the right time to get some exercise: The conference center hall morphs into a race track as gamers sprint to be first in line to try their favorites from a list of upcoming blockbusters. Printouts of the conference hall's floor plan help them navigate the madness.
10:15 a.m. Look left, look right: Get to know your neighbors because you're going to see a lot of them. You're in for a long wait -- just 15 minutes into Gamescom and the line-up in front of the biggest booths, whether it's EA's "Battlefield 4" or Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag," is already running four to five hours long, according to a security guard posted there.
10:30 a.m. Get your new friends to keep your spot and grab some breakfast. Beer and pizza are the popular choice. Yes, I said breakfast.
11:00 a.m. A 19-year-old student from Cologne -- still wearing his souvenir bracelet from last year's Gamescom -- is antsy to get inside Activision's giant "Call of Duty Ghosts" booth. Sure he's pre-ordered the game already, but he says he still needed to get there at 6:30 a.m. to be the first to play it.
1:00 p.m. Gamers' hands overfloweth as the first rule of Gamescom is to grab every goodie in sight, from game-branded bags to flashy bracelets and plush toys of your favorite characters.
1:30 p.m. Get some lunch. If conversation isn't your thing, don't worry: Many people play games on their smartphones while they eat.
3:00 p.m. Take a screen break to give your eyes some rest. Boredom is not an option: Sponsors that make everything from energy drinks to toys have packed hall 10 with a skate park, go-kart, a laser-gun battlefield, a tiny track to race battery-powered cars on, as well as giant ping-pong and foosball tables.
5:00 p.m. Admire one of the many extraordinary sights you'll witness only at Gamescom: The girls' washroom is empty, while boys queue up (again). That's what happens when maybe 90 percent of attendees are men.
6:15 p.m. Get your picture taken with a mascot. Take your pick: zombie, assassin, special-ops agent, man in an orange radiation suit….
8:00 p.m. Go home. Not because you want to -- or maybe you do after this ordeal -- but because the doors are closing. Come back tomorrow and repeat from step one.