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Mental Masturbation Marketing: Why E3 and Gamescom Should Ditch The Booth Babes Too

Matt Gardner
Booth Babes, E3, EGX, Games expos, Gamescom, PAX, Sexualised Marketing

Mental Masturbation Marketing: Why E3 and Gamescom Should Ditch The Booth Babes Too

I want to start this little piece off with a disclaimer. I like women. I like the female form. Women are wonderful, and I know that I am not alone in thinking so. Of course, I know as well that this shared appreciation has been used to sell everything from cars to soft drinks to electronic consumer goods. Market research has suggested that the sight of a near-naked woman crawling across the face of a smartphone will make it more appealling to a young male demographic.

It's this sort of thinking that makes me feel like  a grubby, sexualised simpleton, with only my dick for a brain. Except I'm not, and I'd rather that companies didn't aggressively suggest through their marketing campaigns that I am. Everyone knows what's happening, but no-one talks about it. As one Eurogamer Expo attendee said, it's a little like a fart in a lift, but for one significant difference. We can escape from sexualised marketing if we choose to.

This is seemingly the thought of EG MD Rupert Loman, who has pledged to crack down on booth babes for next 2013, apologising for the few companies who cloaked themselves in T&A at this year's show, and promising formal guidelines that will hopefully make it so that "next year the only thing people will be talking about will be the games". It's not a draconian policy dictating dress codes for women, it's not a policy borne out of "Think of the children!" sentimentality, it's about putting an archaic, sexist marketing model aside, embracing an industry that no longer needs.

"Quick," I overheard at Eurogamer Expo. "The hot girl is doing photos with people." I turned to see two bright-eyed teenage boys dash off into the crowd. I smiled a little, remembering a time when I was young, naive, had recently discovered masturbation, and was constantly crippled in thought by a hormonal second brain. This is to be expected in some cases in the behavioural patterns of a 13 year old straight male. To say otherwise would frankly be a blatant lie, but the vast majority of straight male gamers these days sit in  the 18-35 bracket, and have learned not to think exclusively with their nether-sausages.

Blessedly, though, such thoughts were not in the majority. EGX have had informal rules in places since inception discouraging exhibitors from flashing the flesh on their stand. This is a family show, after all; and it's all about the games. It's a mindset that's rubbed off too. Asked by a representative who looks like a Barbie doll and knows little to nothing about the product in your hands if you're enjoying whatever experience the product is offering, and the answer is often a stammered affirmative with little else. There's nowhere for the conversation to go. You both know that you're here for wildly different reasons, and there's a massive, silent, white elephant in the room. Replace that model with a knowledgeable community manager, for example, who's eager and has the capacity to engage with you on a level that with act upon and expand your interest and knowledge base, and we're onto a winner. We asked a bunch of people on  the show floor what they thought of Virgin Gaming's orange angels, clad in orange hotpants with QR codes stamped on each of their left buttocks. Here are a few of the best:

"Are they actually here for any of the games?"

"I spoke to one, but she didn't know where Master Chief was so I left."

"It's a bit embarrassing really, isn't it? It's a bit obvious, I thought we'd gotten past this."

"Talking to them is a little like trying to have a conversation  in a lift after you've farted silently. You both know that there's something slightly wrong with the situation, but no one says anything."

"Hahahahaha...no one uses QR codes!"

"I don't really care. It's all about the developers for me. If I saw Hideo Kojima, I'd probably try and hump his leg. He's an utter legend. I saw The Cave near the front. Is Ron Gilbert here? I think we could be friends. And then elope."

"They were cool, I suppose. A bit like wallpaper, though. I'm not sure I have much of an opinion on them frankly, I was too busy playing games!"

You see, this isn't about what women have the right to wear, or about the models who are just doing their jobs, those two things are fine and dandy. It's about breaking out of this culture of hypocrisy which says that games are for everyone, and then panders to a small minority defined by a stereotype that was out of date long before the turn of the millennium. Gaming culture has grown up hand in hand with the internet, we like to know what's happening, we want details and transparency and a connection with the creators of our culture, and everyone I spoke to at EGX was well-informed, interested, and eager most of all to get hands-on time with the games they love and hear the creators of those things talk at length.

Does adding scantily-clad women to that situation make things better and help one's audience? No. Does such action distract from what's on offer, and create an atmosphere of an uncomfortable nature for some? Yes. The abuse and re-use of the objectification of women by marketing departments is one of the ugliest aspects of advertising. It's indefensible, and we don't need it.

VG247's Pat Garratt has called on the likes of E3 and Gamescom to ban booth babes as well, and we're in complete agreement. We chatted to Warren Spector at Gamescom this year and asked him about his comments regarding the superfluity of virtual ultraviolence at this year's E3, and he said that the marketing forces within the industry were harming public perception.

"We have two opportunities every year – two – to talk to the real world, of normal humans: E3 and Gamescom [...] We showed one thing...and it was the one thing that confirmed everything our critics incorrectly believe about games. We did ourselves real harm, and that really bugs me, because I believe in games"

Although talking in this case about violence, and the plethora of bloody trailers, the same criticism can be applied to sexualised marketing too. What does it say about our industry, when an event supposedly made up entirely of industry professionals has to resort to the cheapest, lowest-common-denominator tactics to get people interested? Shouldn't we have some self-respect, and some pride in the industry that we've created? This isn't about war on cosplayers, or indeed about civilian fans of the boob tube and Daisy Dukes, it's about how this industry represents itself - about inclusivity and community. Gaming has come too far to be scuppered by misogynist dinosaurs in a marketing boardroom. This is something we can start fixing, and the organisers of E3 and Gamescom should take a long hard look at PAX and EGX and do what's right.

Add a comment9 comments
JonLester  Oct. 4, 2012 at 13:10

E3 needs to ban booth babes. Not for any moral or ethical reasons (of which there are many, that I really don't want to get into right here), but simply because it's a TRADE SHOW.

It isn't open to the public - only developers, publishers, press, distributors, marketers and students (and some community members, admittedly). We're all there to do business in as time-effective and convenient a way as possible. And yet, publishers deck out their stands like fairground attractions, with trade show models/booth babes who only get in the way of people who already tend to have appointments with the publisher in question.

E3 needs a massive overhaul, with its trade show model policy only being the tip of the iceberg (scroll down for a fairly sizeable comment).

On a more general note, I agree, the whole thing demeans everyone involved. The publishers, the companies, the models and most of all the attendees. Just stop it already or dress your models/reps tastefully.

Last edited by JonLester, Oct. 4, 2012 at 13:31
DrTrouserPlank  Oct. 4, 2012 at 14:27

As a supporter of equality who doesn't believe that women should be presented as merely "objects" that are there for other people's gratification, I would be quite willing (as a compromise) to see the girls dressed in outfits suitable for whatever product they are endorsing. Whether that is a Nurse's uniform, a French maid's outfit, or a police uniform, I think I would be OK with that speaking from a purely ethical standpoint.

RiKx  Oct. 4, 2012 at 14:49

As a supporter of equality who doesn't believe that women should be presented as merely "objects" that are there for other people's gratification, I would be quite willing (as a compromise) to see the girls dressed in outfits suitable for whatever product they are endorsing. Whether that is a Nurse's uniform, a French maid's outfit, or a police uniform, I think I would be OK with that speaking from a purely ethical standpoint.

I'm not sure I understand your point? It doesn't seem like compromise it seems like contradiction. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to correctly interpret your argument...

RiKx  Oct. 4, 2012 at 14:59

Great article, I've long felt this way about marketing for many things not just games. I love women too, they're awesome (well mostly ;) ) but I'd rather be approached from a marketing standpoint with the respect that a scantily clad hottie is not going to be the tipping point in a purchase. I also wonder what the benefit of booth babes at trade shows is about? Nobodies buying surely?! So it's entirely superfluous, no? How about cycling that money back into development eh publishers? I'm sure cost benefit wise it would be more productive than the sales you make to hormonal males who are as stated, a demographic that no really longer exists. Think it's taken too long for people to say that this has gone to far, but I'm glad someone started.

Quietus  Oct. 4, 2012 at 15:21

Maybe developers should make more games with hot chicks in them, so that the girls become relevant?;)

Shadowmancer88  Oct. 4, 2012 at 15:31

The same notion has to apply to any tech related conventions, Razor is pretty bad at this look at their facebook page and half of the photos are models with Razor branded keyboards or mice.

The last gaming convention I went to last year (Gamefest, the one by GAME) had hardly any booth babes at all, just PR guys and GAME staff all over place. For me that show was pretty decent as I was just focused on the games rather than observing 50 nerds surrounding one poor model in the skimpiest outfit. The only models there were a couple from zoo who left after an hour of signing magazines, no one went to them anyways as they were of to the side of the convention.

Last edited by Shadowmancer88, Oct. 4, 2012 at 15:31
psobloke  Oct. 5, 2012 at 09:26

It's strange seeing so many opinions on the booth babes after we've all 'put up' with them for so many years.

Specifically towards my experience with the Virgin Media girls though, I didn't feel the need to engage with them on any level (Can't get Virgin broadband, plus I thought I'd feel awkwardly over dressed - Almost like talking to a girl at a swimming pool when you're fully dressed), however as I walked passed a couple of them on their break to get the loo I heard one of them say to the other:

"...They're nice guys, I just wish they'd shower more."


X10  Oct. 5, 2012 at 12:00

What game are the redhead and blonde selling, I'll buy it!

narokatae  Oct. 19, 2012 at 11:52

I'm a female gamer, have been since Amstrad! It is a bit unnecessary to have scantily clad women hanging round. Gaming has grown up a bit and doesn't need dubious selling points like this. The games should be the focus and while I like a bit of eye candy, I'd prefer it to take the form of life size statues of the characters or even fans doing cos play.

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