GDC, DICE, E3 Could All Be Press Invite Only Next Year

When the Entertainment Software Association announced two years ago that they were downsizing E3, cutting attendees, and in particular the amount of journalists invited, down to a fraction of former head-counts, there was a lot of consternation among the working press.

What if, people wondered, favoritism and nepotism were the rules of the day. Would journalists be blocked from covering E3 if they didn't write positive stories or angered a publisher?

So far, that doesn't appear to be the case, but now both the Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain (DICE) summit and the Game Developers Conference are moving toward an invite only system and the same concern is rearing its head.

But the heads of all three organizations say they're going to great lengths to make sure that doesn't happen.

The Game Developers Conference is moving to a new invite-only system starting next year, the show's director, Jamil Moledina, told me.

"We don't have it nailed down, but we are looking at moving to an invite model for press access at GDC," he said. "It's meant to be a networking event for people who make games, but more and more we are seeing a lot of individuals who are obtaining press credentials who aren't full-time press. It's kind of open to being spoofed, in a way."

In 2006, for instance, about 1,000 press members attended the conference, which had a total admission of just 16,000.

And it's not just that an abundance of press, both professional and amateur, get under foot, it also costs the people putting on the show money.

On top of that, Moledina says he has to worry about maintaining the show's atmosphere.

"Making sure the Game Developers Conference fits its core goals is the main thing we concern ourselves with," he said. "As long as it remains predominantly about learning, thats what we are concerned with."

The problem, Moledina says, is that the show draws some of the biggest names in development every year, which in turn draws quite a crowd of journalists and even more publishers hoping to show off their wares in the "halo" surrounding the show.

"I am concerned that if we don't focus on what makes GDC work we will face some complications down the road," he said.

That's primarily the impetus behind DICE's decision this year to cut down on press attendance.

"The academy's role, first and foremost, is to make sure the academy members are comfortable and that the role of the media is to be there to watch and not participate," said Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, which puts on DICE every year.

This year, the academy decided to cut down on press attendance by assigning the invitee lists to two public relations companies. One handled mainstream press and the other handled enthusiast press and blogs.

The decision came, in part, Olin says, after some misbehavior on the part of invited press in 2006. Some writers were too enthusiastically pursuing interviews, which led the developers to feel like they couldn't focus on the show itself. Olin said he felt like the show had also become a place for writers to find great interviews that could be saved up and doled out over the rest of the year.

"The opportunity to be among so many high-profile signature members of the game-making community is that it creates this opportunity to be, 'There's so and so, I need to go talk to him'," Olin said. "Some of our high profile members said they felt uncomfortable.

While DICE did manage to cut down on press attendance, mostly by limiting the number of those attending for one organization, it also seemed to arbitrarily exclude some sites, including, initially, Kotaku.

Olin acknowledged there were some issues with the vetting process this year and said that it's being looked at for next year.

"We will be reviewing our policies for 2009," he said. "I'm going to get a lot of feedback from our attendees and (journalists)."

The ESA, meanwhile, plans to stick to their invite-only system for E3, which involves getting a list of invitees from participating publishers and developers and creating their own master list.

While last year's show had some hiccups, the downsizing was generally well received.

Rich Taylor, senior vice president for communications and research at the ESA, said the main reason they went to the invite-only system was because the publishers and developers felt they were getting lost in the "swirl of attendance."

"There was a decision to match the need of companies with the goals of the show itself," he said. "We aren't interested in blocking freedom of the press. The selected attendees come from the publishers themselves. The whole point isn't to limit access but to get the information out."

"There is an expanding, exploding universe of folks who have the ability to write or opine about our industry and there just isn't a way to include all of them."

Taylor says there was very little "blow back" from bloggers and mainstream press last year over the invite-only system and promised that if an issue did come up they would be quick to address it.

Taylor added that news that both DICE and GDC seem to be, in some ways, following their lead in this regard is a "validation of a path we chose."

"Across the spectrum there is an increase in the number of people covering events and you can't just keep making larger doors to the convention halls."


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