What Press Pass? At E3, a Convergence of Card-Carrying Bloggers

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- You couldn't turn a corner at E3, the week-long video-game carnival here, and not bump into a blogger with a laptop, a digital camera and a combustible quip. Something like: "Paris Hilton has a game? Is she smart enough to play it?"

"The bloggers are out here in legion," says Lia Bulaong, 27, who's been blogging on the popular gaming site Kotaku.com for the fifth consecutive day. She's up at 7 a.m., starts blogging at 9, gets to bed around 2 in the morning.

At the moment, she's standing in the press room of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where a group of eight men in matching yellow soccer jerseys are blogging for TenTonHammer.com. They're across from a group of four tall and tan Italians, bloggers for Multiplayer.it, who are seated next to three Japanese men, all typing postings for Gpara.com. Parked outside, there's a WiFi-connected "blogger bus" with leather couches and plasma TVs, and your ticket into this manor-on-wheels is a pledge to blog your little heart out about the Xbox. (Sorry, Nintendo and PlayStation fans.)

The game industry, not to mention gamers themselves, relies on blogs to disseminate information: most of it inside-baseball, much but not all of it accurate, a lot of it quite funny -- if you follow the industry and consider Will Wright a rock star. (Wright is the genius behind "The Sims.") Some blogs are owned by corporations; many are independently (and cheaply) operated. Whatever the case, the game publishers and developers who run E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, realize their influence and this year allowed more of them in the press room. That is, if they could prove they were legit.

"You can't just have a blog on Friendster or MySpace and say you're blogging about games," says John Fowler, an E3 spokesman. E3, which ended Friday, is this city's biggest annual convention, drawing 60,000 participants from around the world, including game publishers and developers, retailers and media folk -- many of whom are bloggers. To be credentialed as a blogger, one needs a business card, a business license for the blog and proof that you've been blogging for more than a month. That means everyone here has a business card, no matter how flimsy it is.

Many of the bloggers have outside jobs -- a security guard at a New Jersey casino, an 18-year veteran in the Canadian Army, an event organizer for a Buddhist foundation. They don't claim to be journalists, because they think being a blogger, quite frankly, is better. ("It's journalism without the rules. It's more opinionated," says Kyle Orland, who runs the Video Game Media Watch on VGMWatch.com.) Many do it for free, and the battle to break a story about a game or score an exclusive interview with a game designer is fierce, though entirely virtual.

"It's hyper-competitive, but it's not nasty," Bulaong says of her blog's competition with Joystiq.com. Kotaku.com, owned by Gawker Media, has 10 bloggers here. Joystiq.com, an AOL subsidiary, has nine.

E3 provides a year's worth of material. Last Tuesday, on the eve of E3, Joystiq.com had more than 1 million page views, says James Ransom-Wiley, a 24-year-old contributing editor. So far this month, Kotaku.com has had 2.8 million page views, says Brian D. Crecente, its 35-year-old editor, compared with 5 million in all of April.

Ransom-Wiley says Joystiq.com has more of "a professional voice," while Kotaku.com has a "tabloid style." Crecente begs to differ, saying that Kotaku.com has "better" writers with "distinctive" voices.

The bloggers are gamers themselves and on their blogs they've created online worlds that are just as fantastical as the game worlds they're writing about. There are blogs for practically every game and game system out there. Every move in "Guild Wars," the online role-playing game, is chronicled. The latest gossip about Xbox games "Gears of War" or "Halo 3" makes the rounds quickly. After meeting with a designer from "World of Warcraft," Anna Marie Neufeld, a writer for RPGamer.com, raved about it in her blog.

Neufeld, a student majoring in business and religion at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, started saving money in November to attend E3. She's rooming with three other bloggers and sharing her laptop with two of them. For her, "a laptop is still a luxury item." When she says, "I often tell people games for me are not an obsession, they're not a hobby, they're my way of life," you know she means it.

"The people who are blogging are the most enthusiastic, the most sort of evangelical," says John Porcaro, an online community manager for Xbox. He's also a blogger.

Steven Spielberg was at E3 on Friday, and the bloggers at Kotaku.com were immediately on the prowl. Crecente, the blog's editor, sent out photographers, and Bulaong, eyes pinned to her laptop, could hardly contain herself. "We're starting a new blog feature: Kotaku-Stalku! We're stalking Spielberg!" she exclaims. A few minutes later, a photo of her prey is on the blog, and Bulaong is off to other things.

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