Should E3 time also be party time for journos?

Party hard party hard party hardBy the logic of the  press corps, these White House social events have no real effect on the news narrative. I find that interesting. There are some very smart people in the the White House. It would seem that by now they would know their soirée press strategy has been a miserable failure. And yet they press on. I wonder why?

-Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Biden Beach Party”

With E3 and its attendant array of late night press parties coming up next week, the above quote could easily be used as a challenge to the video game press as well as the political press. Just replace “The White House” with “big name game publishers” and the essential question remains: If these lavish parties really have no effect on how a company is covered, why do all these savvy game PR firms continue to waste money on them?

There are a few possible non-sinister answers, of course. Publisher parties aren’t always just for the press — they’re often for all the employees and developers and retailers and distributors and dozens of other people a party-thrower is trying to impress as well. Even when they’re press-only affairs, these parties are sometimes the best opportunity for many journalists to play some games that are hard or impossible to try elsewhere at E3 (I distinctly remember placing my cheese plate on the floor and tearing in to 30 minutes with a Super Mario Galaxy demo at a Nintendo party one year).

And even if there are no games at a party, the events are great opportunities to network with game-makers and executives in a casual environment, getting off-the-record information or even stealing away from the thumping music for a quick on-the-record interview. These parties are also the main place where journalists from competing outlets meet and chat with each other at the show, passing on tips about the sleeper hits of the show and helping to form the conventional wisdom that will shape what games and companies come out as the “winners” of the show (a concept that deserves a post of its own).

But even with these mitigating factors, some of these lavish parties are a bit hard to justify. I say this as a person who’s gladly eaten endless smores and ridden a mechanical bull courtesy of Bethesda Softworks, left a massive dance party at Dodger Stadium with a free travel suitcase courtesy of Sony, and gotten to see Queens of the Stone Age and The Who at exclusive concerts courtesy of Harmonix. And that’s not even counting the dozens of open bars and re-warmed hors d’ouvres I’ve had to endure on a publisher’s dime since becoming a game journalist.

So I’m obviously not above dipping into the trough at these things. And if pressed, I’d probably offer up the same defense as political reporter Marc Ambinder: that the relationships between the press and their subjects “can be cordial, occasionally cozy, and they can simultaneously be professional and skeptical.”

But part of me worries, as Glenn Greenwald does, that attending these kinds of parties “helpfully reveals what our nation’s leading ‘journalists’ really are:  desperate worshipers of … power who are far more eager to be part of it and to serve it than to act as adversarial checks against it…”

OK, I’ve extended this political metaphor without really settling anything for long enough. How do you think we should fight for the public’s right to know while also fighting for our right to party? Oh look, there’s a comment link right down there!

11 thoughts on “Should E3 time also be party time for journos?

  1. E3 is a work event, not a party. If you publication throws a party, that’s one thing: I understand that. But the number of messages/posts I’m reading about other members of the enthusiast press stating their excitement for the parties leaves me wondering why they’re going: to work or to party?

  2. The worst coverage I read every year is every website’s coverage of E3. This could be due to writers having to haul ass everywhere, but it could also be due to their heads not being in the right place.

    I know that time is limited for each writer, but I’ve almost given up anyone producing anything meaningful w/ the written word during E3, and just focusing on the G4TV.com coverage.

    That, and given how serious consequences can be in terms of ad buys when someone pulls a ‘Shoe’ and stands up for editorial integrity, many people look at the publishers and press and don’t see a huge distinction, and these parties reinforce that.

    I don’t think these parties should end, and I don’t think they’re bad, but they do convey that ‘they’ (you & the EGM crew & other publications + the publishers you cover) all party together while ‘we’ (the readers & players) sit at the office or home and read about that world that many young men think they want to be a part of.

    Great post! Very thought-provoking!

  3. E3 is always a work-heavy event for me — I’m covering for 3-5 outlets this year and will probably spend most of my non-LACC time locked up in the hotel writing — but as someone who lives very far from most of the people I work with and whose games I cover, I’d love the opportunity to interact with them on a casual basis at a party, or meet other new folks in the industry. If you’re going to E3 with the intent on partying first and worrying about work later, then sure, I understand the worry. I don’t personally buy into the “stardom” and “worship” aspects of the job, but some no doubt do.

    As it is, I haven’t really been invited to any parties (unless Activision’s E3 event on Monday has a party-like atmosphere), and thus will probably just work the entire time I’m out there. But if I had time, I’d certainly be interested in hitting one or two parties to take in a little of that social side of the industry that I don’t get in Chicago.

  4. Personally, while I haven’t attended E3 before, I’ve found similar events useful.

    Sitting and chatting with devs and publishers over a beer gives you a far better perspective on them as people. They also let their guard down a little too.

    That’s not to say that they drop the company line entirely, of course – and you wouldn’t quote them off the record – but it does offer an improved picture of where the studio/publisher/game is at. Every little counts when you have to write a piece.

    This is complicated, obviously, by those that don’t/can’t inject any of that character into their work.

    But the readers keep everyone in line, ultimately. They know what is good and what is bad. They know when they are being deceived. If you do it too often they will just drift away.

    If E3 parties, or any free-booze-drenched event, make you overly kind to games and companies that just don’t deserve it, you’ll be found out. Once a game is out there, it’s not just the game but also the coverage that’s being judged.

    So, I believe, it’s fine. Let us party. And let the reader keep their watchful eye over us.

  5. I think going to a social event is fine, as long as its focus is still on the news subject. A good example of breaking that is Capcom’s Hawaii stunt. Looking at that coverage honestly gave me a feeling of discomfort. It seemed overtly lavish, and I couldn’t see what Hawaii had to do with the games being put on display.

    One question I have Kyle, is if it’s possible to cover games and refuse fancy parties, without suffering any consequences. If you decline these parties, will you fall out of favor with publishers?

    I wonder if many game journalists go to them out of fear of getting cut off from major companies.

  6. I think you hit the nail on the head – these kind of events are perfect for networking and getting hands on time with games (most times).

    For folks going to these for a free drink or whatever, I think they are missing an opportunity. But there’s hardly enough time during E3 to get the work done, especially being a small one or two man shop like we are – so we can’t just waste the night away at a party. We’ll go, get our work done, say hi to a few friends and hopefully make some new ones and move on.

  7. No, there’s definitely no risk in not attending any specific party as far as interview access goes. In fact, there are so many overlapping parties that you have to necessarily miss some of them. That said, if you do skip a party one year, you might not get invited to that party next year.

    The only way you might possibly get into trouble, access-wise, is if you tell a specific PR person personally that you’ll be there to talk to him and then decide to skip it. Outside of that, though, most of these events are so big that no one will notice even if you RSVP and then decide to skip out.

  8. Having covered eight E3 shows in the past decade I am envious of anyone in games press who can do a solid job *and* attend parties nightly. I typically manage one – usually Monday or Tuesday – and after that I’m just too busy and/or exhausted to do anything BUT spend the hours after LACC closes to edit video and write.

    Some – mainly print writers – probably have a little more latitude than online press in this regard, unless they have a very inconvenient deadline. But if you’re working for a website in particular and you’re finding time to get plastered every night… well, more power to you if you can retain employment I guess.

    I do find it frustrating that E3 forces you to choose your poison. Either service readers in the short term by focusing on timely, quality delivery of content from the show. Or do yourself a more long term benefit by joining the bleary-eyed, hungover masses who often opt for the cut and paste shuffle so they can unwind at a open bar.

    Sadly, the second option is probably better. Game developers are every bit as superficial as the rest of us, and they respond to semi-drunk bonhomie and/or flattery probably more positively than emails or phone calls from someone they barely recall from (x) product showcase. After all – who would you prefer to be grilling you about your next title? The people who keep it strictly business, or the group of guys you did shots with until he passed out? More often than not the latter will give you an easier run. Of course you’d prefer to deal with them. It’s pretty annoying to take the high road when the easier method is the one yielding results – especially when most readers have arrived at the conclusion all games press are equally tainted.

    Having said that, I’m not a fan of the grandstanding a few editorial operators feel the need to constantly engage in. I’m 100% behind the notion of fierce editorial independence, but ramming down reader’s throats how -you- don’t play the game:

    (1) semi-implies they’re the sole bastion of truth. And thus derides the efforts of those of us who believe wasting editorial space talking about games press as opposed to games, publishers and developers is self indulgent and just feeds a cycle of negative perceptions people hold, and

    (2) It’s somewhat arrogant and presumptuous. They’re essentially bragging (or if you don’t like that word, how about “highlighting”?) about… doing their job properly. Admittedly I have a skewed perspective as someone who does this for a living, but even if I wasn’t I would find it a sad state of affairs. Take a step back and it’s akin to the editorial equivalent of a politician telling constituents how grateful they should be that he/she isn’t corrupt.

    One suggestion Kyle while you’re delving into E3 – perhaps you should discuss what kinds of treatment and access E3 judges typically receive. I think a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it might be highly interested and have their perceptions of certain higher profile editorial figures shift as a result.

    /vent finished

  9. I’m on my ninth E3 this year and I think I’ve attended a total of four parties in that time period and that was only to play the games that I didn’t have a chance to see on the show floor.

    It would be nice to go to them but this is such a work intensive event that I just don’t have the time to justify going to one of these events.

    Not speaking for anyone else but E3 is usually getting up at 6AM, getting ready for the show, reviewing appointments, and grabbing breakfast. After that it’s 10-6 on the show floor, get back to the hotel by 7, ordering in dinner, and then writing until 1-2 in the morning. Then rinse, wash, repeat.

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