E3 booth babes: don't expect change any time soon
By: Jeff Rivera
I'm rarely one to jump on a current hot topic or to capitalize on a controversial issue, but the dust up over E3 booth babes is growing into a full blown sandstorm. And as someone who attended E3 2012, I think it's important that I weigh in on the booth babe topic and talk about how I feel the gaming industry is doing at a whole with its treatment of women in marketing efforts.
I've been going to E3 since 2002. During those times I've seen the coming and going of some odd trends at E3. Aside from one year when booth babes were banned if they showed too much skin, they've been one of the constants of the show. And while some companies have pushed the envelope a bit farther than others in regards to how much skin they have their models show, most have been pretty consistent in how their models dress and behave. A few companies, like Tecmo-Koei seem to use the booth babe to draw eyes but have no interest in using them to help demonstrate product. If anybody remembers the infamous Dead or Alive girls stage shows and photo sessions, they'll know what I mean. Other companies, like Sony, Nintendo, Bethesda, or Ubisoft actually train their models on how to play and explain the game that they're responsible for presenting.
And I guess that's what it comes down to. The issue is unnecessarily unclothed booth babes, not booth attendants or models themselves. In any industry, it's no secret that if you go to a trade show that models are going to be on the floor. E3 isn't uniquely guilty of employing models. It's been such a standard at expos for decades that The Simpsons even did a parody of the practice back in the 1990s.
I actually don't have a problem with publishers hiring models to demonstrate their products. Many of them, when properly trained on the games, do a great job and it's simply unfeasible to expect a developer or publisher employee to man every demo station on the show floor. But simple eye candy roaming the halls? Well, it feels quite juvenile and cheap.
I understand why the ESA allows booth babes. Publishers know that by employing attractive women to stand in front of their booths that they'll get drooling men to stop and hang out for a while. The ESA knows that with booth babes on the floor that pictures and video from the show will be plastered on thousands of gaming blogs, websites, and social networks. But if the ESA decides to regulate booth babe clothing, they risk undercutting all the free exposure that comes from stuff like this GameTrailers video below. And for now, it seems as if the ESA is fine taking a couple of weeks of heat after the show in exchange for the free press.
I'll be the first to say that those videos are tasteless and do nothing to add to a site's value, aside from the hits they bring in. I can promise that here at Gamer Theory we'll never be posting low brow content like that. But if you go to YouTube and put in "booth babe" as a search, you'll find that it's hardly an E3 specific practice.
The tactic extends well beyond expo halls. The latest Carl's Jr./Hardee's ad featuring Kate Upton was based completely around the idea of getting people to stop and look through usage of an attractive woman. And like pictures and videos of booth babes, the Kate Upton ad appeared on blogs, websites, and social networks. The ad went viral, and millions of views were doled out that required no airtime purchasing. Go Daddy does it. Budweiser does it. Axe does it. The ESA does it.
Just because everybody does it, it doesn't make it okay and I want to make it clear that I'm still in favor of booth babe reform, but I understand why it's not happening. Given a chance to regulate things, I'd say that women need to be dressed in business casual outfits unless they were appearing in character. I would much rather that the ESA do away with the bikini tops, barely there bottoms, and skin tight unitards at E3, but I don't dare hold my breath for such a ruling to come down. This problem is not an E3 problem alone, it's a problem with many expos and trade shows. Given the ESA's attention hungry nature, they're not going to be the first to ban provocative dress from their show. Doing so would be symbolic that the ESA cared more about the software and hardware at the show rather than promoting itself, but unfortunately, as a lobbyist organization, the ESA fights for every bit of recognition and exposure they can get and that GameTrailers clip (and thousands more like it) above promotes the E3 brand and helps sell more attendee passes for the next year. In the end, booth babes mean more money for E3 and the ESA still has the excuse of "but it's an industry standard" to hide behind.
Since I began this article, Patrick Klepek over at Giant Bomb posted his own take. In his article he got a direct quote from Dan Hewitt, the ESA's VP of media relations:
"Exhibitors determine for themselves what is the best representation for their companies. Models are welcome if companies would like to have them, but that's an individual exhibitor decision.”
So there you go. Expect no changes. If the ESA doesn't outright regulate the dress of the booth attendants, it's going to be publishers fighting with one another for attention the same way they always have; and based on the crowds that gathered around Jessica Nigri (dressed up as Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw), few publishers are going to risk letting that crowd gather elsewhere because they put a polo over their models' bikini tops.
People will tell you that barely dressed booth babes are a part of the show, and they are, but it's for the worse, not the better. Next year is set to be a big E3 show. 2013 will usher in more new hardware, more new IPs, and big follow ups to the Wii U's first wave of software. Despite those things, there's still going to be hundreds of guys tripping over themselves to snap a shot with Namco's models that can't even name the game that's being demonstrated behind them. For two to three weeks after the show, we'll hear about the booth babe problem and what needs to be done about it. Again, it will all fade out and become a dead topic. Leading up to the next show all the hype will be centered on the games and hardware and the cycle will begin once more.