Many consider E3 to be the Mecca for gaming, and the annual trip to Los Angeles is the Hajj. That’s not quite hyperbole when you consider the number of small websites for whom the event is almost a religious experience. Unfortunately for them, E3 management is clamping down on media-badge assignments this year, and a lot of people from smaller sites aren’t going to be able to attend the 2011 Expo. I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing.
E3 is often used as a carrot for smaller sites to get people to write for them for free all year. Honestly, if someone is writing about games with the sole intent of attending E3, then I’m not sure they should be at the Expo. People should write about video games (or anything) because they love doing it or have something significant to say.
And before anyone tries to bring up Destructoid, site founder Yanier Gonzalez wasn’t just some fan who really wanted to go to E3. He had a plan to turn his attendance into something meaningful as well as the professional background in the appropriate fields needed to make it happen. He’s a unique case and is not representative of who we’re talking about here.
While it may be a bitter pill to swallow, E3 is not a community event that the video-game industry throws to reward gamers. E3 is a venue for the big publishers to get big games journalism to cover big titles. This allows them to establish the consumer-media narrative for the rest of the year. It’s true that there are plenty of smaller companies and game developers who also take advantage of the venue to try and get some media attention, but the event doesn't concern itself too much with these more modest ventures.
E3 is also an opportunity for the video-game industry to attract some mainstream media attention that doesn’t involve the effects of media violence on children. That's also an economic angle. E3 is about business.
I’m not trying to argue that smaller sites have no place at E3. The size of a site does not determine the quality of its work. But if E3 is going to act as a carrot, it should be leading websites to produce quality content all year in order to attract readers who provide the consistent number of unique users they need in order to send teams to the Expo.
If these restrictions stay in place, less significant websites are going to have to be picky about who writes for them and who doesn’t, even if it means taking a temporary hit on their traffic to build new teams. Budding writers who have drive and talent are going to congregate to the upstart sites who take their work seriously, and they’ll compete for those positions. Once they’re on board, the writers on those sites will then compete with each other to provide the best work possible in order to earn a shot at covering E3.
I’m not seeing the downside here.
The perception that video-game journalism sucks is due in part to the misapprehension that the job is nothing more than throwing together some words on a page or shooting a YouTube video. It isn’t. If anything, I think that we should hold up the quality of the output right next to unique page views when doling out tickets for E3.
But I’m sure that E3 management doesn’t have the resources for that, and unfortunately, outrageous antics will always garner an audience. Low-quality sites, if they have the right gimmick, will still satisfy these unique user requirements and send larger teams than small sites which try and do unconventional and interesting things. Only so many gimmicks exist, however, and eventually the well will run dry.
For the record, I’m not speaking from a position of privilege. I’m not nearly established enough to guarantee my own access to E3, but I recognize that I ought to have to work for it. If I’m attending E3 as a member of the press then I should have to comport myself accordingly (in other words, work my ass off and look for unique story angles, not spend time hoarding swag and ogling scantily clad booth babes). I wouldn’t have it any other way, nor should anyone else who wants their attendance at E3 to actually mean something.
Second photo by Nixie Pixel, licensed under Creative Commons.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. He has written for The Escapist, Gamasutra, G4TV.com, and @GAMER magazine and maintains a blog at punchingsnakes.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DennisScimeca. First Person is his weekly column on Bitmob concerned with questions around the video-game industry and the journalism that covers it.