Editorial: Why E3's New Rules Are Okay...Mostly
Editorial: Why E3's New Rules Are Okay...Mostly
By Bobby Blackwolf - February 13, 2011 at 11:11 AM
But you seemed so excited last year!
My first E3 was in 1997, in Atlanta, where I'm from. I attended as a developer for my father's company, as I was still in college at the time. I continued attending through his company or through my day job once I graduated, where I was also a programmer. I was not a programmer in the industry, mind you, but I was still a programmer creating interactive systems, and that qualified me to receive an Exhibits Only badge. Then, in July of 2005, I started The Bobby Blackwolf Show, and suddenly I was gaming media. In 2006, I started attending with a Press badge, and continued attending as press from then on.
On the cusp of my 15th E3 in a row, I was informed I did not qualify for admittance as press under new standards. My website (that I have run since 2003) did not register with various websites that track browser history of people with spyware plugins installed. Most of my audience either listens to me live on internet radio (on another website) or downloads my podcast directly in iTunes. If I do my job right, my audience never has to come to their computer and visit BobbyBlackwolf.com. Unfortunately, I did my job so well, I have been labeled as inconsequential to the industry and therefore E3 is better off without my presence.
And you know what, that's okay.
E3 Isn't The First...
E3 isn't the first gaming industry event that has shut out smaller outlets. Several years ago, the Game Developers Conference took the same approach to a more harsh level. I was not applying on my own, but rather with All Games Radio, the network I did my show on. It did a decent amount of traffic, and it does qualify under E3's rules. However, GDC switched to a professional journalist only policy - you had to actually be paid by a reputable organization to receive press credentials. Now, I personally felt that this was awkward, considering that GDC is the top stage for the Independent Games Festival (which I had covered extensively the previous two years) yet they were locking out the independent media from covering it. They agreed, and had offered me a complimentary Exhibits Only pass so I could cover the IGF but not the keynotes or panels. It was, unfortunately, too late to secure airfare or hotel for a decent price, and I politely declined their offer. The gesture was very much appreciated, though, as the offer came from out of the blue as I did not do any type of appeal after the rejection letter.
Why did GDC do this? Because some bloggers didn't understand what GDC was. Most of what goes on at GDC is really of no interest to gamers - it's developers and designers having conversations about methods and techniques to each other. Me, being a programmer by trade, was able to sift through it and present what I felt people should know, since I spoke both languages. But unfortunately, others weren't as qualified. The story I heard is that there was a panel by the designers of Final Fantasy XIII to discuss design philosophies and development strategies. The room was filled and people were being turned away - people who had paid upwards of $1000 for their badge to be able to get into GDC and learn from other designers and developers like themselves. 15 minutes into the panel, the many bloggers who went into the room seeking FFXIII news got up and left because they realized they were going to get nothing of value out of the talk and they were frankly bored by the discussion. Thus, there were empty chairs in a room where they turned away actual professionals in the industry.
I never sat in on panels at GDC, but I did attend the keynotes. The best keynote I witnessed was Shigeru Miyamoto discussing how he designs games, and the various iterations of his ideas. He showed early stages of the Mii back in the Game Boy Color days. He discussed why he created Nintendogs the way he did. It was extremely fascinating...Unless you were a gamer in the chat room I was liveblogging to, they were screaming and extremely upset that they were not announcing new games or showing off a new Zelda. Overall, the reaction was "I understand that they are talking to developers in the room, but Nintendo needs to understand that there are more gamers out here than developers in that room and we are their customers and should know what they are going to be releasing." So, when GDC imposed new restrictions, not many people complained...Because it was justified.
Why E3 Is Right
So how does this tie into E3? A lot of people believe that E3 really is just the world's largest arcade set to Free Play and want to go have fun and try all of the games. People don't realize that, if you belong at E3, it really is a lot of work. Yes, it's also a lot of fun, but that is the reward for the hard work. If you want to have fun, try Penny Arcade Expo. What is PAX? PAX is what people who have never been to E3 think E3 is like. Chances are, at E3, the games you'd want to play aren't even playable. I can't remember the last time a Call of Duty game was playable on the show floor, it was always a demo being walked through by a designer that you needed a previously scheduled appointment to see.
E3 is extremely crowded, and it is very hard for people who legitimately are covering the event to get appointments because there are so many people. And this is why I feel that the metric that E3 is now using - one media badge per 8,000 unique pageviews a month - is okay. It makes total sense. I am sure the heads of Public Relations departments are breathing a sigh of relief because they don't have to vet appointment requests as much. There will be much less "noise" and they can focus on the outlets that will get them the biggest bang for their buck.
You do realize that was why E3 collapsed on itself in 2007, right? 2006 was a record year for attendance. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and EA all said it was no longer worth it because of the amount of people. They said they wanted no part of it. That's why E3 changed to it's invite only format for 2007 and 2008 and then REALLY almost died. (Although, as a side note, E3 2008 was my favorite E3 in terms of journalism. I was able to see so much and talk to so many people and do a lot of great coverage - the only people who liked 2008 were the smaller outlets!) E3 went back to being like it's old self in 2009, but with more scrutiny. E3 doesn't want to implode like it did last time.
The only people who don't like the new rules are the people who don't qualify to get a free pass like they used to, or they don't get as many free passes as they expected to. The exhibitors see this as a good thing - they can concentrate on the outlets that will give them the best coverage, and the "professional" journalists see this as a good thing because they won't have to fight someone with a tiny blog for the same access time. It's a win-win for the people who do this for a living, not so much if you're doing it as a hobby.
In short, E3 needs to do what it can to please exhibitors, and one of those things is to make sure that the press is made up of quality outlets. Not everyone is going to be another Destructoid.
Where The Rules Need To Be Tweaked
It's not all roses, though. While I agree that E3 needs to "cull the herd" (even if it means culling me out as well) there are certain things that I would like to see revamped in future years.
1. Set up rules based on content delivery methods. The reason I was rejected was because I did not meet pageview standards. Unfortunately, pageviews are not my goal - iTunes subscriptions are. And no matter how many iTunes subscriptions I get, not a single one of those will appear on a site that tracks browser history via a spyware toolbar. I would like to see criteria made available to track those of us who do not deliver our content via text on a website, because we are just as powerful as those who write.
2. Pick a different month. For those that do blog, the bone of contention is that E3 is only looking at your statistics from December of 2010. December is one of the slowest months of the year in terms of gaming news. All of the blockbuster releases came out back in November, and not many announcements are made so as to not disturb the holiday buying season. Therefore, readership is usually down on these outlets. One of my colleagues was rejected for a press pass because his site only had 6000 unique pageviews in the month of December - however every other month of the year he had over 8000. That site's best month? June, during E3, where it had 16,000 pageviews - enough for TWO badges.
3. Do a little more research into the submission. This is important for people who have content syndicated among many different areas. When I submit my application, I include all of the sites I have done work for. However, they only check the first site I listed, saw that it wasn't tracked, and sent off the rejection. Several other outlets are syndicated across various sites, be it YouTube or GameTrailers or feed aggregators or a multitude of things, and maybe they don't meet the requirements for a single one, but overall they would. Unfortunately, getting your content as far and wide as you can is actually a detriment in E3's current rules. The reason they don't check into every application as thoroughly as they should is because so many people are attempting to get press badges, and they need to work as quickly as possible.
4. No really, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Even though this is the same as #3, it deserves it's own bullet point. I have been doing a live internet radio show and podcast about video games for five and a half years. I am the longest running video game show on All Games Radio - I was also the first. I was rejected because I did not qualify for the new rules, and I was fine with that. Several nights ago, another show on the same network was happily accepted and given an E3 press badge. Why were they accepted and I wasn't? Because they don't have their own website so they only linked to their show page on All Games Radio's website.
The punchline? It's not even a show about video games!!! Yet they're welcomed into E3's press room with open arms and the guy who helped launch the network was told he was unqualified. A simple 2 minute look at the website provided in the credentials would have shown this, however all they did was look at AGR's stats, saw that many people with spyware toolbars installed visited, and sent the acceptance letter.
I do want to note that I hold no ill will towards the host of said show. He realizes (I hope) that I bring this up to make a case for E3, not for him. I have sent an "appeal" email (very nicely worded) to the E3 registration email address but I am not holding my breath for a reply. I was already rejected, after all. I don't want to be annoying and call them because I honestly don't want them to hate me. Someday I hope to be eligible and would rather not do something that might accidentally burn the bridge.
So, What Now?
This is a very tough question. There are people out there giving advice and trying to keep the message upbeat. If you listen to Gamertag Radio's E3 2011 Media Roundtable episode you'll hear them say things like "go all in" "work hard and you'll be rewarded" and while all of that is true, there is also a little bit of luck involved. The sad truth is that you can "go all in" and still get rejected. Remember the person I mentioned above who only had 6000 pageviews in December? He actually IS "going all in" - working on that website IS his job. Various situations can change and factors can cause peaks and valleys that you can't really expect or control. All it takes is one person who has a lot of Twitter followers to make or break you. You may create amazing content but just can't get the word out to the right people, or you may create mediocre content but you get mentioned by someone with thousands of followers. So, just "going all in" isn't going to necessarily get you the reward by itself. There's lots of intangibles that nobody can predict.
One thing to point out: true "journalists", be them professional or enthusiast, should not be doing this just to get into E3. That is where some of the problem lies. Some sites use E3 as the carrot on a stick to get writers to work for them for free for the rest of the year. If E3 is the only reason you're writing words on a site, then I think you might be doing it for the wrong reasons.
Yes, I was somewhat negative. But that's because there's a point that everyone's missing. If you really want to go to E3, you can, as long as you are over 18 years old. It's not free, it will cost you some dough, and E3 can smile that they took your money, but it will get you roughly the same amount of access that free badge gets you. All the media badge gets you is access to the nice couches in the press room and you get to have your email put on the mailing list sent to all exhibitors to send out press releases and announce appointment scheduling. If you have sufficient contacts within the companies on your own, you can schedule appointments and get the exact same amount of access that you would have gotten with the badge. If you're a website that wanted to have 5 people cover E3 but only got 2 badges, you can still get the other 3 people in...It'll just cost you.
How bad do you want in?
As for me? I'll be fine. I've been to 10 E3's without a press badge. The only thing I'll really miss is that mailing list.
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