E3 06: Despite controversy, booth babes still prowl show floor

Entertainment Software Association's warnings of strictly enforced guidelines have slowed the flesh parade, but publishers still use sex to sell games.

LOS ANGELES--If you came to E3 this year worried that the so-called "booth babes" wouldn't be here strutting their stuff, you already know you had nothing to fear. That's because, while the scantily clad women may be a tad less scantily clad at E3 2006 than in years past, they're still very much in evidence, and they're still showing a lot of skin.

In January, the Entertainment Software Association, which runs E3, caused a stir in the video game world by announcing that it would no longer tolerate the barely covered women--hired by game publishers to attract men to their E3 booths--unless they put on more clothes.

The booth babes had prowled the halls at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is held each year, in costumes meant to invoke various video game characters--costumes that in many cases were little more than bikinis. Booth babes have been such an attraction for many E3 attendees that there's even a fan site, E3 Girls, which sports the tagline "it's not about the games."

The ESA's announcement followed increased criticism that the video game industry was marketing sexual content to kids. The complaints were largely a response to the so-called "Hot Coffee" scandal, in which it was discovered that the popular game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas included sexual content, despite its being rated for under-18 audiences. The game was originally rated M for Mature, meaning it was intended for consumers ages 17 and up. After "Hot Coffee," its rating was changed to AO for adults only.

And now, with E3 in full swing, it's clear that the game publishers are working hard to ensure that booth babes are still on the show floor, are still posing for sexy pictures with adoring show attendees, and are still trying to get away with as much visible skin as possible.

Reuters reported in January that E3 rules state that "material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the show floor." From its perspective, the ESA said nothing has changed from past years except that it now plans to ensure that its rules are followed. That means, presumably, that in previous years it was letting game companies slide when it came to the dress code.

"The E3 dress-code rules remain identical to what they have been for the past several years and are similar to dress-code policies of the vast majority of other major trade shows," Doug Lowenstein, ESA president, said in an e-mail statement to CNET News.com. "What's new in 2006 is an update and strengthening of the show's enforcement policies for these rules, which was communicated to exhibitors as a routine update."

"I think the definition of 'booth babes' is really vague," said Susan Corben, vice president of marketing at Nyko Technologies, whose booth babe program at E3 is now in its third year. "They're trying to address blatant sexuality being marketed to minors. It's making a political statement regarding their position on sexuality in games."

Corben said that for E3 2006, Nyko had to have its booth babes' outfits approved by show organizers. And indeed, the Nyko outfits are clearly toned down from a year earlier. In 2005, the Nyko models were on the floor in very short wraparound skirts and form-fitting tops that ended just below their breasts. This year, the Nyko models are showing just as much leg, but they're wearing regular white shorts and T-shirts that entirely cover their midsections.

Corben said Nyko and other game companies were told that violations of the dress code would subject offending publishers to $5,000 fines. But she scoffed at the notion that such penalties would be a problem for those receiving them, especially because some companies spent six figures on their booths and as much as $50,000 on the signs for those booths alone.

Booth babe programs are "a lot more cost-effective, and I think publishers recognize that," said Corben. "Your (return on investment) is infinitely greater...I think a lot of people think the whole (policy) stunt was a joke." Indeed, on the show floor, men were still lining up to take pictures of booth babes, just as in years past. And while the women's outfits may be showing a little bit less skin, there doesn't seem to be any sense that the women are selling sex any less.

"Honestly, this is exactly what I'm here for," Channa DeSilva, a Los Angeles game tester, said of the booth babes. "I would not be able to do this conference without pretty females to talk to."

DeSilva, who stood in line for about 10 minutes to have his picture taken with four women posing at publisher Tecmo's booth, laughed at the idea that booth babes were any less in evidence this year. And without prompting, he quickly pulled out his digital camera to show off a series of pictures of nothing but the dressed-down young women.

To some of the women at the center of the controversy, the ESA's policy may well be much ado about nothing. "I just think it's silly," said Lana Kinnear, a fourth-year E3 model working this time around for Sapphire Technology. "All the body parts were covered. People wear less at the beach."

Further, said Kinnear, who was wearing a skintight full-body suit, the booth babes are only real-life representations of the game characters they're supposed to be invoking. "The video games (all) have half-naked people in them," she said.

Stephanie Arellano, a second-year model working for Vivendi Games and promoting its Free Style street basketball game, agreed.

"What we're wearing is reflective of the games," said Arellano. "Last year, I was dressed as (Lara Croft from Tomb Raider), with the boobs and everything."

But Arellano said she was happy that E3 is trying to crack down on the more extreme side of the booth-babe spectrum.

"I think it's great that they're cutting down on the nudity part of it," she said. "Last year, a lot of the women were practically nude. This year, it's being a (character from) the game, so you don't have to be nude. It's more clothing. It's more classy."

That said, Arellano doesn't think the ESA's enforcement policy has changed things all that dramatically. And she explained the publishers have an incentive to keep on bringing the underdressed women to E3.

"I don't think it's changed to the other end of the spectrum," Arellano said. "It's just calmed down. Like anything, sex sells. It's kind of like, we're never going to be covered up like a nun. They want sexy, (just) not raunchy."

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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63 comments
dungeonboss
dungeonboss

I agree that its in the games the companies are trying to sell. People know its in the games. And E3 isn't for kids, just the same as rated-M games aren't for kids. And as for kids looking online at pics, the parents have just as much responsiblity to moniter their kid's online viewing as they do the kids video game collection. Let those able to legally make their own decisions, make their own decisons. Let's face it--- a lot of video games are sold by sex. (Who bought DOA Extreme Beach Volleyball for its stellar gameplay?) And honestly attendees of E3 expect nothing less, they already know what to expect. Noone under 18 can go. Just the same as parents can block certain content online. Keep the computer in the family room. Parents should moniter their kids. And those 18 and up should be allowed what they want.... And I think E3 should drop its standards and allow girls to wear whatever thay want (or get paid to wear by developers)!!!!!!!!!!! """"" KufuuDAI The booth babes are a waste of money. If video game companies need some hot chicks to do their work then that means the company sucks. It's not even helping them OR us. Us becuase it will give the guys an extra "something" to carry around. """""" Exactly... let the good video game publishers showcase their games and the crappy companies showcase hot girls.

Bourne_Endeavor
Bourne_Endeavor

While I do agree it isn't needed. Sex sells; that's how it works today and it have worked for many many years. Beautiful women will hype things whether it's video games, cars or whatever. This doesn't cheapen women at all. I hate how people say that. It is completely within their right and choice to wear the outfits they are given. No company has a gun to the girl's heads saying "You better wear this or else!" (Okay Sony might actually try that ;)) Anyways that's the thing. They are not being forced at all. If these girls decide they want to walk around half naked. It is within their right to do that. Just like it's within the right for a girl to refuse to wear these outfits. E3 is 18+ so they are not showing off to children. (not that it would be a problem unless those kids had idiot parents) So what is the big deal? A guy wants to get his picture taken with a bunch of hot girls. Let 'em. It's not hurting you in any way. Personally I wouldn't really give a damn about some picture with people I will never see again but that's me. Oh and this $5,000 fine? I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Cry and the stupidity of ESA or laugh at it. These companies have well into the billions. Is there anyone stupid enough to think $5,000 would even bother them? Hell the Presidents of these companies probably wipe their ass with more then that in a week.

Mafia217
Mafia217

Nothing better than a hot chick dressed in a sexy latex suit, lol.....you go girls! lol

dead-flag-blues
dead-flag-blues

"Booth babes" is actually quite a demeaning term. Besides that, it makes it seem as if all gamers are incredibly disgusting like those spotty DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball kids. What about female gamers? I don't think having a man wearing butt floss is going to be appealing to other guys, as are women wearing the same to other women.

KufuuDAI
KufuuDAI

The booth babes are a waste of money. If video game companies need some hot chicks to do their work then that means the company sucks. It's not even helping them OR us. Us becuase it will give the guys an extra "something" to carry around.

tycoonmike
tycoonmike

It's too bad they won't be getting rid of the floor babes, there's enough silicon at E3 anyways!

classic_rocker
classic_rocker

i say we need booth babes, i mean at least 90% of the ppl at e3 are geeky males that don't have a chance to actually even stand next to a woman that looks the way they do at e3...hot. its the only female interactivity for these guys, they need it to have any self esteem... face it sex sells, and guys are pigs$$$ ;):) (no pics? lol) oink, oink, lol i luv booth babes!

Arguyle
Arguyle

i don't care about babes. They don't "just stand there". They're getting well-paid for that. Another useless investment. If you want babes or boobs just google it, they're everywhere.

Nawras
Nawras

I think that a game would sell with or without the sexual attention. The games that are usually on E3 have been on hype since like ever, and companies really do not require boobs just to say "hey come and check out the Gran Turismo you have been drooling for about 6 months" Usually all kinds of showrooms have booth babes, whether or not they increase sales or turnouts is not the problem. Booth babes have become part of the showroom experience. And many showroom even use booth hunks, and no one complains about booth hunks.

Pharoah6
Pharoah6

Puritans are so annoying.. I mean who has a problem looking at beautiful women? pfft

TonyBlazza
TonyBlazza

Enough with the women I demand male models for E3 2007!

edmorleysmith
edmorleysmith

i would volunteer to be a booth dude, but sadly im the geeky skinny videogame fan stereotype

stziggy
stziggy

Why isn't there ever booth dudes? We're trying to attract more women to industry. Let's have some half dressed men out there! I'd volunteer, but I'd scare people.

maximo1
maximo1

It's ridiculous that it's legal to have woman dress provocative in public. The whole "booth babe" concept is degrading to woman without a doubt.

aaron6581230
aaron6581230

isn't E3 18+? Then what's the problem with women at booths?

bobreturns
bobreturns

whats wrong with them they are not prostitutes they just standing there

Rej72380
Rej72380

Well, at least the Booth Babes wore more clothes this year than in years' past.

ftjx
ftjx

thumbs up for no pics .....pure gaming

markshell
markshell

Lol they make a big deal about the babes but don't make a big deal about the violence in the games.

Kaizen4
Kaizen4

is it strange that I would cause actual harm to somebody to get my photo taken with that giant Sonic statue at Segas booth, and yet, I couldn't care less about some paid model who couldn't care less about where she is!?... in fact publishers, listen up...Will wear thong for tickets to next years E3, it's cheaper and I'd look better (if you ignore my garbage)

madgamer2000
madgamer2000

I cant believe a publisher like EA or something would even care if the fine is a 'whole' 5,000$. wow. EA must spend that in like 3min every day.

rvinsc
rvinsc

No lets hear it from the men.

NeoJedi
NeoJedi

I laughed while reading this article... very much. Especially when booth babes, aka airhead dumbasses, speak about games all having nudity.

kissfan4life73
kissfan4life73

Why does everything get Censored? Wake up it's the 21st century

usyagi_2004
usyagi_2004

yeah this is an 18 and up show. It is not for anyone younger, so chill. The networks that cover it can just not show them. Ding! a brilliant idea

MrPuzzlez
MrPuzzlez

MHKnights... I couldn't agree more.

RazMasters
RazMasters

I'm female, and I'm all for booth babes. Plenty of videogames have scantily clad men, too; how many fighting games have bare-chested, muscular men? Yeah. Many. What about the RPGs with skinny, feminine guys for the crowd who likes that sort? Yup, they're there, too. And if you like 'em totally bad ass, there's Kratos. He just wears a loin cloth. It's fair. Let it be.

Zharak
Zharak

Sex sells, it's an universal truth.

diabolicscheme
diabolicscheme

Let's hear it for the booth babes =) Quite possibly one of the only things to help us dorky gamers feel not as loser-ish.

rt23
rt23

this what happens when you dont get laid....haha

Bahamut-Prime
Bahamut-Prime

Meh not a big deal they're still there promoting the games it's not like they gotta wear sweaters just be presentable

ssj4_2004
ssj4_2004

They say "sex sells" but what they are offering can be found in ever other place in the world. So there is no NEED to have them at E3. People need to keep sex entertainment away from other forms of entertainment. On A side note: If they have booth hunks at next E3 I think I'll vomit.

HXCDEW
HXCDEW

awww no more boobies for nintendophiles

sentay0
sentay0

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

og8440
og8440

I saw some pics of the booth babes for lack there of and I was very disappointed. We're talking t shirts which is totally lame. The years before that were awesome and I really don't see the problem with booth babes. Hell, the Pokemon on the WB shows more skin than the booth babes this year. :(

Goze
Goze

I say let them do whatever they want... It appeals to some people, obviously.

avamarine
avamarine

There's about a good 200 companies trying to show off its products at the expo. Certainly having booth babes garners attention for a companies who is trying to get their product out. Its like creating a great advertisement for the super bowl, to get recognition. God gave birth to these beautiful women, or either plastic surgeons, so they should show off those good looks.

JediBaja
JediBaja

I speak as a female who has gone to E3 2004 & 2005. At first, I was a bit annoyed and didn't really see why Booth Babes should be there. I was amused that guys would wait in line to take pictures with them, but hey they're guys. In the end, the girls are just there to get you hyped up for a game and have you play it. The Nintendo DDR girls last year were actually very nice to me and my female gamer friend and let us play the game as much as we wanted.

Spartan4001
Spartan4001

You know this article was just an excuse to talk to a lot of booth babes.....

boyblob
boyblob

Good. I think we all like booth babes. Oh I can just hear that fat nerd saying "It's about the games lol"

barulez
barulez

well, i would like to get make pics and show them on the internet- making a E3 fan site- that kind a thing.