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2005-06-01 - E3 Booth Babes

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     There's been a bit of hub-bub recently about how E3 has become useless as a trade show. Most notable is the corpnews article linked in this Slashdot article. (I hope the Corporation isn't too offended that I trust slashdot more for a permalink than them... since slashdot is about as permanent as a website can be.) And, of course, like all situations where debate can be introduced, very few people even attempt to understand both sides.
     But here's what the situation boils down to. E3 is a press-only event (although it's often used for industry networking since hundreds of companies are all there to interface with the media). Originally, this kept the general attendance low since there weren't very many people writing about video games. Up until recently, most of the organizations permanent enough to raise the funds and assign a reporter have been either print or TV journalism. With the advent of online journalism, though, the E3 attendance has shot up in recent years.
     On one side of the coin, you have a set of reporters for low-budget journalistic sites. They feel continually spurned by the video game companies who release no more information to them than is already publically available. The companies are unavailable for interview or comment for these reporters, and they don't even have enough press kits to go around. This is why you see tons of articles about the specticle of E3 ... the majority of reporters don't get any real information out of the companies so they end up reporting on an event about games instead of the games themselves.
     On the company side, attendance is up every year... and it's reached insurmountable numbers. Why don't the companies make enough press-kits for everyone? Because it would be cost-prohibitive to do so. Therefore they reserve the kits for only the largest media outlets, theoretically ensuring the most bang for their buck. Also, they only allow VIP's to actually hold meetings with them, as opposed to just having an open forum. Given the ammount of staff they have and the ammount of time in the show, there simply is no way that they could get to everybody.
     Kurt complained about how, a few times, he wanted to get more information about a specific title... but that the entire booth was staffed by "booth babes" and mail room clerks. You can ask all you want, but usually you'll just get a blank stare in response.
     So is there a solution? I think there is. Here's my 4-part plan:
     (A) Companies need to start staffing their booths more intelligently. Get some low-ranking developers or even PR staffers who are actually empowered to answer questions about the games. Also, give these booth staffers some way of finding facts they don't know (maybe some printouts of release dates, etc...).
     (B) Make promotional materials available to everyone on a first-come first-served basis (and make enough to go around, too). If this sounds like a spending nightmare, then scale back the kits themselves. Actual reporters don't need glossy print booklets with giant pretty photos. Put the photos on the CD. They just need enough to get an idea about the game so that they can ask your staffers inteligent questions aoout the games. They also really don't need the novelty keychains.
     (C) First-come first-served interviews with high level people. Allow anyone and everyone to schedule one interview with a company member. Take requests in the week leading up to E3, and when a particular interviewee is out of time slots to take interviews, then everyone else requesting is just (politely) cut off. Larger companies who can afford it should be encouraged to schedule their interviews pre-show (maybe turning the Pre-E3 press conference into a full-day affair).
     (D) Reporters need to understand that (at least in theory), they're there to work. Booth babes are not work. They're a cheap marketing ploy to get you to look at Company X's booth instead of Company Y's, not something on which you need to report. Don't be a complete marketing shill. The companies foot the bill because they're using you to sell their product, but you can at least try to ask some compelling questions while you're there. Game Girl Advance is a well-written website that attempts to represent "alternative perspectives" in video game culture. They sent reporters to E3, but from what I see on their homepage the only article they posted was about the lask of PSP software. Were I a video game company and I had a booth at E3, I certainly wouldn't give them a press kit next year, seeing as how they appear not to have even bothered opening a single one for a quick read through. Know what would've made a good article from them? Take any "alternative perspective" and talk about the games of E3 from that point of view.
     Now I have to admit that I'm neither an expert in the video game industry nor on journalism, just someone who's been reading about E3 and CES for about 15 years now. My summary, though: both sides have started treating E3 more casually, lending a comfortable party atmosphere, but both sides are lamenting the loss of professionalism. All I have to say to the game companies is: Booth babe articles last maybe a day at most. Articles about games from E3 last quite a while afterward and (for web journalism at least) will drive far more ad impressions, thereby earning you more money. So cool it with the booth babes already.

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