Press Pass: The Most Important Game Critics at E3

Press Pass looks at the judges of the Game Critics Awards -- how they're picked, what they do and why they're so important.

by Kyle Orland, 5/21/2009 6:31 PM | 9 Comments

(Page 1 of 3)

In a little over a week, thousands of journalists and game critics will be among the tens of thousands of industry members descending on the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. But 29 of these critics enjoy a special position in the throng. They're the judges in the E3 Game Critics Awards (GCAs), and they're among the most important tastemakers and kingmakers on the show floor.

Press Pass: The Most Important Game Critics at E3
Marketers treat this as a badge of honor on game ads and packaging.
While the GCAs aren't directly affiliated with E3 itself, they've become the de facto independent standard for evaluating the show's hottest playable games since their start in 1998. Winning a GCA sets a game apart from the hundreds of games that come out each year, and helps drive the kind of hype and pre-release coverage that can lead to greater interest and sales when the final game eventually comes out. Indeed, winners of the GCA's 16 categories are often among the best-selling games of the year, and marketers use the "Game Critics Award Winner" badge on game advertisements and boxes as a mark of the game's quality.

So perhaps it's no surprise that the GCA judges get some special attention at the show itself. "The judges have the best access that there is," said VentureBeat's Dean Takahashi, who represented the San Jose Mercury News as a GCA judge for five years through 2007. "They can get into any of the behind-closed-doors sessions. [Before I was a judge] I got into rooms where they'd say, 'Sorry, we're only showing this to a few people.' But if you had the badge saying you're an E3 judge, they'd say, 'Oh, there's something we want to show you!'"

That special access for judges even extends to the weeks before the show, when many publishers offer judges-only access to the games that will be on display at E3 itself. For the publishers, it's a way to make sure their games get due consideration in the judging. For the lucky critics, the early access can help streamline coverage of the show itself. "Seeing the games early was incredibly helpful," said Stephen Totilo, deputy editor at Kotaku, who represented MTV Multiplayer as a GCA judge in 2007 and 2008. "Even the smaller E3s are a cacophony of noise squeezed into too-short meeting times. Having more time in calmer environments with any games was hugely helpful."

But some expressed discomfort about the special access judges receive. "Now, we have situations where some press are allowed to see some games, while some aren't because they're not judges," said Bitmob's Dan "Shoe" Hsu, who represented Electronic Gaming Monthly as a GCA judge before leaving the magazine in early 2008. "How come, all of a sudden, a game's ready to be seen by the press, but only if you're a part of this special organization? That seems strange to me, and even though I like having the access, I don't think I should be treated any differently just because I have a vote in something."

Press Pass: The Most Important Game Critics at E3
Bitmob's Dan Hsu has some reservations about the increased access enjoyed by GCA judges.
The award organizers, for their part, try to remain neutral regarding who has access to what games. "The Game Critics Awards doesn't dictate what publishers show or to whom," said Rob Smith, editor-in-chief of PlayStation: The Official Magazine and co-chairman of the Game Critics Awards. "Publications should be receiving preview access to E3 games based on their reach and editorial importance, not because of their membership in the Game Critics Awards." Indeed, some publishers open their pre-show briefings not just to judges but to other prominent members of the press at their discretion (others, like Microsoft, don't offer pre-show access at all, possibly for fear that news will leak out and limit the impact of announcements at the show itself).

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Comments

  • CG-Prophet
    CG-Prophet

    May 25 2009 1:27PM

    @GusMastrapa:

    Wouldn't it be easier if they tried to beat you up for 2 minutes? I'm sure it would be like being attacked by a roving gang of girl scouts anyway...

    Reply »
  • CG-Prophet
    CG-Prophet

    May 25 2009 1:26PM

    @GusMastrapa:

    Reply »
  • GusMastrapa
    GusMastrapa

    May 23 2009 5:28PM

    To get "jumped in" to the E3 judges gang you have to take a random game out back of the convention center and give it a brutally negative review.

    Reply »
  • YoctoYotta
    YoctoYotta

    May 23 2009 5:10PM

    A single paragraph on page three? Screw you.

    Reply »
  • WilliamAbner
    WilliamAbner

    May 22 2009 12:22PM

    Passed over yet again. This is destroying my self worth.

    Reply »
  • CG-Prophet
    CG-Prophet

    May 22 2009 12:05PM

    Maybe it is time for a REAL gamecritics awards group that is more inclusive.

    Reply »
  • ScottJones
    ScottJones

    May 22 2009 11:56AM

    Sorry, I meant "WE HAVE INVENTED A NATURAL ORDER HERE." Rat farts!

    Reply »
  • ScottJones
    ScottJones

    May 22 2009 11:55AM

    I've never been a fan of Keighley and Smith's "club."

    I've heard stories about what they put judge candidates through. It's ugly.

    What gives them the power to say who's in or out? There's a Lord of the Flies quality to the whole thing. "OK, we're invited a natural order here, and we're putting ourselves in charge. Everyone alright with that? OK, great."

    Reply »
  • CG-Prophet
    CG-Prophet

    May 21 2009 10:22PM

    So tell us more about these "rumblings" Kyle.

    Reply »

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Filed Under: videogame, video game, E3, Electronic Entertainment Expo, Los Angeles convention Center, GCA, Game Critics Awards, game journalism, game journalists, game publishers, Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat, San Jose Mercury News, Stephen Totilo, Kotaku, MTV Multiplayer, Bitmob, Dan "Shoe" Hsu, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Computer Gaming World, PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Rob Smith, Geoff Keighley, John Gaudiosi, The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, The Wall Street Journal, GameTrailersTV, Spike TV, CNN/Money, Time, Brian Crecente, Kotaku

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