Editorial – E3 is Energy, Exhibits, Equilibrium

Most gamers remember what E3 was like in the early to mid-’00s, even if they didn’t attend: showy exhibits, loud music, plenty of swag, booth babes, and a festive atmosphere. It was more than just a trade show; it was a festival of gaming for the industry’s best. It was the chance to try out games that weren’t out yet and talk with developers. It was an exhausting sensory overload and a collective experience that made many wonderful memories.

But by 2006, it was clear that things were getting a bit out of control. Exhibitors kept trying to one-up each other, and E3 went beyond being a fantastic spectacle. In 2005, the last E3 I attended, the music was obnoxiously loud — so loud that you couldn’t conduct an interview without shouting at the top of your lungs (I’m looking at you, Namco). There were lots of non-media attendees (such as employees of game retail stores) clogging lines and swiping media kits that were labeled “Press Only.” Booth babe clothing had become unbelievably skimpy; one company in Kentia Hall had women wearing low-rise thong-like booty shorts. It was ridiculous and embarrassing (even for a non-prude like myself) to stand near a bunch of bare buttcheeks while trying to talk to a developer about a game.

In 2007, the show changed to a scaled-down press-only event consisting of closed meetings between companies and selected members of the gaming media. Though there were no trappings to hinder business, the change was not for the better, and the consensus was that E3 was dead or at the very least dying. 2008 wasn’t much better, and companies like Atlus and NCSoft opted not to exhibit at all.

This year, the Entertainment Software Association has a new outlook for E3. ESA CEO Michael Gallagher cautions that E3 2009 isn’t a return to the E3 of Yore, but it’s “much more reflective of the energy, excitement and creativity of our industry.”

Perhaps E3 will now achieve the balance it needs. It’s still an exclusive event, as it always has been, but it’s not press-only. Non-press members of the gaming industry are welcome to attend provided they have qualifying credentials. Retail employees may attend, but only if they have been selected by their company, which means that there may be fewer GameStop employees walking off with press kits.

Of course, returning to its former style means bringing back one classic E3 staple: booth babes. Whether you love them as eye candy or hate them being used as an unnecessary means of luring visitors instead of letting the games speak for themselves, they’ll be part of the display once again. But “booth babes” are not exclusively female. Superannuation has collected a number of craigslist ads seeking various types of booth support staff. Some have traditional tastes, like an ad requesting six “bikini models” and another seeking “attractive female models.” Others show a different gender preference; one seeks a “tall and athletic” male, while another requests “a muscular caucasion [sic] male model between 6’4” and 6’6″.” Then there’s this seemingly gender-neutral request for booth staff. It isn’t clear if this indicates the beginning of a shift caused by the growing realization that not all gamers are straight males, but I’m not getting my hopes up. The use of booth dudes is not a new idea, much like the use of costumed characters.

And speaking of which, there are a few ads for those as well. There’s a request for two “petite” people to dress as the Mario Bros., which isn’t surprising at all. There’s also a request for a male between 5’5″ and 5’7″ and weighing no more than 122 pounds to wear a full “Red Dragon” costume. In case you’re curious and want to try guessing which company it is, the company is apparently Japanese. The strangest of all, however, is the ad that asks for “2 very outgoing people under 4’0-4’2 needed to dress in costume and run amock [sic] during an outdoor promotion in LA.” With Blizzard passing on the event, my guess is that this won’t be a couple of Gnomes from Azeroth, but it has the potential to be a really creative promotion or a politically-incorrect disaster.

But the exhibitors make the show. Companies that skipped last year have registered for this year and the exhibitor list is fairly promising. A number of notable RPG-affiliated companies — from Atlus to XSEED — are exhibiting this year. There’s been a lot of speculation and rumor-mongering about what will be revealed at the show, but almost anything is possible. I have never cared for rumors, so I won’t discuss them. Some titles, like Mass Effect 2, have been confirmed for the show, but most of the talk is just talk.

While it’s interesting to see who’s going to be there, it’s almost as interesting to note who isn’t. Atari is attending but has declined to exhibit, saying that they would rather spend their resources on promoting Ghostbusters and their new MMORPG, Champions Online. Either this is a flimsy cover for being too poor to go, or someone should tell them that showing your games at E3 counts as promotion too. Blizzard has also passed, but that’s understandable with Blizzcon coming up. Sadly, it means no World of Warcraft or Diablo 3 next week. Silicon Knights hasn’t said anything about attending E3 and they are not on the exhibitor list, so unless Microsoft takes the reins, there will be no Too Human 2 either.

Over the last month or so, there’s been concern over whether swine flu will be the wet blanket on E3’s fun. Maybe the hot swag item for this year will be a bottle of hand sanitizer. With everyone getting their grubby hands on controllers, it will certainly come in handy. H1N1 is a bit worse over in Japan, so it’s not too surprising that Japanese companies are playing it safe. KOEI and Capcom are sending limited numbers of staff members. Square Enix is also keeping a number of staff members at home, such as the Kingdom Hearts development team, so those who booked appointments with that group in advance will be sorely disappointed. Interestingly, Sega, Tecmo, and Sony have all thumbed their noses at the swine flu hysteria; all have stated that it hasn’t changed their plans one bit. H1N1 hasn’t deterred the attendees either, it seems.

E3 2009 will begin on June 2 and run through June 4, though there are press conferences and parties to attend in the days before. It will be a crazy week, and we’ll be in the middle of it. Stay tuned for our coverage all through next week!

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