Now here is something interesting: Kmart Games’ Corp-blog is bringing three citizen bloggers to E3. That in itself isn’t very interesting; places run contests all the time. What IS interesting is that 1) the winners will be writing for both their own blogs and KmartGamer and 2) winners will pretty much have autonomy to comment on whatever they want.
In 2006, I was slaving away on what would become Superman Returns for the DS. The console team was crunched like no other and in fact, couldn’t spare any designers to go to E3 and give people their first hands-on look at the game. EA threw together as many knowledgeable roustabouts as they could. Being an extremely junior game designer who actually knew quite a bit about the design process on the console game but without any of the scheduling ties, I was picked as one of the folks who would represent EA.
We were “media trained” which really meant techniques to avoid making you and your company look like big assholes when you are avoiding questions. I was, honestly, pretty good at it. I could be a politician if I was a sadist. But being on the other side of the coverage after nearly two decades of being a consumer of E3 websites/magazines/stone tablets (in reverse chronological order) was honestly a bit off-putting. All day you repeated yourself over and over again until your brain shut down, you had an out of body experience and could float above the din. You would wander to the edge of your booth hoping for a gaze of something new and interesting that would be respite from your routine.
After sixteen hours on my feet answering the same questions over and over and over again, I just wanted to wear a sandwich board with the release date, characters, platforms and major features so I wouldn’t have to scream myself hoarse over the noise since this was all anyone ever asked. Honestly, I was a bit shocked at how easy it was. Tiring, but mentally trivial.
Out of literally a hundred interviewers and writers I had talked to throughout that weekend, only one ever asked me interesting questions. We talked about the history of Superman and the difficulties of designing around such an iconic figure with few weaknesses. I took his card. I think I still have it with my other E3 things. He was a freelancer. A blogger. An interlocutor. I don’t think I ever saw his article.
But what stood out for me was the routine of it all. The presenters and the interviewers go through the motions, expecting little out of the others and getting it. The E3 previews often look like press releases. Ho hum.
Yet if you filtered out the marketing goons, there were literally hundreds of interesting game designers and writers there, dying to talk about something interesting – their hopes, their influences, things off the official marketing talking points. Yet unless you were the “face” of a company – the CliffyBs or the Will Wrights – no one cared to ask anything but the obvious.
This is why I’m particularly excited about KMart’s contest. With luck, they won’t just pick the most passionate three bloggers they read. My hope is that they pick people who will ask the questions that provide insight that no one else will ask. Because what do they have to lose? They are just bloggers. They won’t have to only gloss the surface due to deadlines and quotas. They can have fun. They will have the autonomy to beat the professionals at their own game and provide some memorable content.
Actually, during the writing of this post, I decided I’d enter the contest. Why not? I have experience both in writing and in giving interviews. I’m a designer with insights into how the process works: what is flourish and what is truth. And being an educator, I’m no longer tied to the success or failure of any particular company’s products. KMart has come out of nowhere in the past year, from an afterthought in the games retail space to a top choice for both price and communication with customers.
I think the key there is authenticity. The KMartGamer blog feels decidedly un-corporate. There’s a real human behind it, not a group-written PR statement. And us gamers respond to that authenticity with praise and respect. Easily, this contest could have had a big asterisk saying: *KMart reserves the right to your likeness, words, soul, etc. You must talk about this and this and this because our partners are looking for particular coverage.
No. It’s just going to be three bloggers telling others what’s up at the biggest public-facing industry event of the year.
I dig that.