An alternative interpretation

For reasons associated with an internship I just began working on in LA, I was at E3 on Wednesday.

It was terrifying.

E3 is the Great Babylon of the games industry. E3 is a birthday designed by plutocrat after his kid couldn’t get a reservation at LaserQuest. E3 is a digital fleshmarket. E3 is what happens when the high gods of video games descend to earth and make terrifying ESRB-slaying love to the scaly-assed demons of corporate sin.

Okay, it was a ton of fun. But it was also insidiously evil and ultimately pretty horrifying.

I grew up in New England, where we have a reputation for stoicism, grim jaws, and frugality. I didn’t necessarily grow up in a frugal household, but my family are not the kind of people who wheel money around in a wheelbarrow in our back yard. We do not make daisy chains out of twenty-dollar bills and string them around our living room like holiday garlands. I’m naturally a bit wary of extreme expressions of wealth; I’ve always believed that people who make a lot of money would be better off using it to buy expensive PCs than platinum motorcycles. So to speak.

But the people who make E3 happen probably have suits made out of money. Stitched together with the hair of the poor. Yeah. They probably name their dogs “Benjamin” (or “Benjamins,” to emphasize the quantity they possess). E3 is an enormous lavish media-whoring dollars-spectacle of doom, and it is a bit chilling.

First of all: the media are the kings and queens of E3. It’s a publicity event, and they’re the real guests, not the industry people. I’m not saying that I saw Gabe Newell give five hundred dollars in cold hard cash to every media person he saw, or that Cliffy B gave the staff of Game Informer foot-baths with his hair, Mary Magdalene-style, or that Peter Molyneux personally kissed every baby of every reporter present at the entire conference—but the people (and they were mostly media people) at the Microsoft keynote DID all get free Xbox Slims. So. Make of that what you will.

Bethseda’s booth had a fifteen-foot-tall plastic T-Rex in it, and it was entirely walled off. You could only get in if you were from the media and had made an appointment. For the entirety of the show, Square Enix’s booth had an enormous screen playing footage from its upcoming games. The videos were synchronized with all of the lights on the booth, such that they would change color and flash in time with the footage. When you take into account how large their booth was, well—I’m guessing that this particular booth cost as much to run per hour as, say, a minor-to-middling Broadway production.

I bet if you tally up all the money spent at making E3 be E3 and divide it by the number of reporters present, you’re looking at many thousands of dollars per reporter spent. Like, maybe over ten thousand. Maybe a lot over ten thousand. And that’s the real focus, of course—spending money to make the media happy. E3 happens for the people at home, but so that the reporters to convey that experience to consumers in the best light, publishers and developers wine and dine the fuck out of them, so to speak. But here it’s more like “demo and dine the fuck out of them,” or “demo and free system the fuck out of them.”

So, yeah. I’m never really going to enjoy any E3 coverage ever again, guys. If I had been sent there by a media outlet, I would feel pretty fucking unclean now. Luckily, I wasn’t.

But still. It was like watching two strangers have sex in a tub filled with golden coins.

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17 Comments

  1. But this is inevitable. Publishers rely on journalists to hype the shit out of their product, all in the name of publicity. E3 would be a much nicer event, and I’ve heard this is a common complaint, if it was more oriented toward the interaction between the developer and the consumber, but hey, this isn’t how they make money.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 19, 2010

      I know. But that doesn’t make it not disgusting.

      Also, the media need to man up and quit allowing publishers and developers to treat them like prostitutes.

      Reply
      • But there are many media persons like being treated like prostitutes. Every year the internet leaks greasy, sweat-sodden E3 articles, written by people who Had A Fucking Good Time irrespective of what they had to cover. “I’m important because I went to E3, an exclusive club you know.”

        I screen most of the E3 coverage out. That’s my contribution – to not care.

  2. For my part, I’m just amazed at the complete lack of decent speakers at any of the major conferences. “Hi, I’m Johnny Corporate, and I’m here to give a horribly scripted presentation on our latest techno-gimmick! But first: Cornball joke! [pause for awkward laughter]”

    No one in the audience still believes that the CEO of your company was the creative auteur behind anything you’ve done, so why not hand the presentation to someone who actually knows how to talk to human beings?

    That wasn’t meant to be an irrelevant rant; let me tie it back in to what you said. These companies clearly blow an atrocious amount of money on booth babes and flashing lights and goddamn T-rexes, most of which gets ignored by the internet at large. Can’t they drop a few hundred dollars on a professional speaker to make the single most important part of E3 not suck?

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 19, 2010

      Well, Rod Humble was a fucking genius

      I think someone should give him an award

      Or let HIM be the one to kiss all the babies

      Reply
    • Heh, this is funnily borne out by the fact that the one speaker I heard the most about – Kevin Butler – is a fictional character.

      Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 19, 2010

      Actually, I was thinking about this– E3 isn’t about speakers, really. At all. Tehy don’t even have panels the way GDC or PAX does, because it’s a tradeshow, not a conference or a fan con. The demos and keynotes and big reveals are the whole point. Speakers are pretty much the opposite of what the people at E3 want– they want footage and screenshots, not talky-people.

      Which is a shame and all that, but I think it’s standard for tradeshows.

      Reply
  3. File E3 under both “Should’ve Stayed Dead” and “A Goddamn Shame,” in that order. I have no idea how absurd the Tokyo Game Show, but Japanese game journalism is dominated by Famitsu anyways, which has some bizarre scoring methods (and ethics, I’ve heard).

    Oh well. Alternative game journalists are better writers anyways. Even my favorite gaming magazine (Official Dreamcast Magazine) would sway towards mainstream opinions of games; they just did it in the most entertaining fashion possible.

    Reply
  4. Captain 'Tightpants' Mclovin'

     /  June 19, 2010

    I just want to say, that was an absolutely fantastic metaphor to end on. I mean wow. I am stunned. And horrified, but that’s a vaguely welcome by-product.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 19, 2010

      hey, thanks.

      I wanted to conclude this comment with something equally emphatic, but I got nothin’.

      Reply
  5. Laura, this post will obviously be your ticket into the games media industry.

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 19, 2010

      yeah, it’s not like I’m trying to do the whole “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” thing, but, um, yeah, actually, I AM trying to do that, except without the whole ‘having any agency over the things taking place around me’ part.

      Basically, going to E3 is a conflict of interest when it comes to reporting on E3? Actually, it’s not that bad. But it’s bad.

      Reply
      • “Basically, going to E3 is a conflict of interest when it comes to reporting on E3”

        That is a truly wonderful line and I wish I’d come up with it.

  6. I’m given to understand that the treatment of women at E3 is pretty abominable. Was that true or false?

    Reply
    • lauramichet

       /  June 20, 2010

      Well, there were booth babes, of course, so… true?

      I don’t know. At the Arcania booth, some booth babes were doing the whole booth babe pose with everyone who got a T-Shirt from them. A photographer took one pictures= of each person who got a shirt, and in order to get one, you had to do this with them Like, they’d do the whole sexy-leaning-on-you thing. And when my female friend and I went up and got shirts, they had to do it with us, too. We were all super uncomfortable, and I think they were, too. The standard pose they were doing involved one babe on each side, holding the shirt up to your chest with their hands on your shoulders. When they tried to do it to us we were all like “oh no, thanks, we can hold shirts up to our own chests, yep yep.” Then they took the picture and gave us a card with a number on it so we could go online and see our photos, if we wanted to. Because, of course, everyone who attends E3 definitely wants to be touched by and have photos taken with booth babes.

      The thing about booth babes and the way they’re instructed to behave at conventions is not only that it’s demeaning to the ladies who have to be the babes, but also that they’re exclusionary to the female attendees. Actually, to anyone who isn’t a straight male.

      Reply
      • The jump to respecting the non-straight male demographic could just be where gaming outraces film (and erotic novels, I guess). But growing up seems to be a distant fantasy at this point.

      • lauramichet

         /  June 23, 2010

        Indie games have got that shit down, though, as a genre. It’s very heartening.

        And, as we know, indie games are the great white hope of the industry, so to speak.

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