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The uncomfortable lack of security at E3
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, like every year, is a beacon, a celebration for games as an industry. The events’ three days in the Staples Center conference building in Los Angeles are technically the heart of the event, and attracted over 70,000 professionals in 2016.
Since the introduction of livestreaming, the soul of E3 lives in the spectacle and coverage of that spectacle surrounding the event. Large publishers and platforms throw large press conferences that attract millions of viewers worldwide, people that tune in to see what their favorite games company has for the upcoming year.
This left the showfloor in a precarious position: E3 used to be an industry-only event, but the value of the showfloor and exhibiting there dropped rapidly as companies could get more attention outside of the event. In effect, the showfloor had become a meeting space and a place for developer interviews.
So for 2017, E3 has radically changed what the show is: the expo now allows for the general public to register and visit the show. It’s an important step that is presumably necessary to ensure the continued survival of the event, and has brought back some value to exhibiting at the event. E3 graciously ensured that general audience badges were a neon yellow, and clearly distinct from the industry badges, and the enthusiasm and excitement of the general audience was a huge energy boost for the floor.
Regardless, for developers and press, it has made the event a lot more clunky. The influx of 15,000 new people, many of whom understandably approached the showfloor as if a consumer-show led to repeated chaos in the hall. Between a brawl, some instances of people being pushed over durning opening, enormous queues, and booths having to adjust for the audience mid-show, the chaos was palpable more than once.
Press can no longer quickly move between meetings due to the crowds moving with less of a purpose, a complaint that echoed frequently throughout the hall. Off-the-record conversations also had to be relocated due to the abundance of free-style vloggers documenting the showfloor with their mobile phones.
There were more structural issues related to the event clearly not being ready for public access, like a lack of volunteers or enforcers outside of the booth-provided ones, an unclear distinction between accessible and private areas, and poor funneling at key locations, and an almost non-existent clear-out policy of the E3 hall after closing time.
Now, these are all transitional pains, and I understand that E3 is in a transitional year. Many of these problems could easily be resolved by replicating other industry/consumer shows – gamescom in Cologne, Germany, for example, has a industry-only day and a seperate business area, so that everyone can get their work done while the audience checks into the latest our industry has to offer.
All of this would make for an acceptable event, if it wasn’t for one more thing: the unsettling lack of security. For every single day of the event, which was secured by private security contractors, I’ve tried to walk into the building from the street outside to the showfloor without wearing my badge. I succeeded every single time, over the period of three days, and every time I was carrying a backpack that was never checked for its contents. It would be trivial for someone to bring any sort of weapon to the event, and security would not be able to react fast enough in the hall to prevent anything from happening.
This is unacceptable. With the recent weapons threat at Phoenix Comicon, the general prevalence of weapons in the United States, and the amount of anger and vitriol thrown around online about games, this is not a safe state for such a critical industry event. All of the press conferences – even the Devolver Digital booth in a parking lot across the street – had better security – whether it was metal detectors, bag checks, or bomb-sniffing dogs. These are, and should be, minimum regulations for any showfloor that handles over 70,000 people.
Overall, it was clear that the ESA is trying to transition E3 to a new paradigm, and I welcome their efforts to experiment and understand that we can’t expect everything to be flawless. Despite the transitional pains, the event seems to have been extremely useful and fruitful for most attendees, and as such the ‘new E3’ can be considered a careful success for 2017. Security, however, is not a ‘you get to try again next year’ business. I trust that the ESA will take steps to ensure the industry and the general public attending in 2018 can enjoy the spectacle and business of E3 on a floor that can be reasonably expected to be safe and secure from weapons.
This article was posted at E3 showfloor close, to not spread information about security at the show during the show. I’ll have a post discussing my thoughts about E3 content and shows later this week.
As a Muslim video-game developer, I no longer feel the US is open for business
When I was a kid dreaming of being a game developer, I hoped that in the future I’d be joining a large studio and working on a blockbuster title. Things didn’t quite pan out that way. After leaving university with a fellow student, I am now the co-founder of my own company, Vlambeer, renowned for successful game releases such as Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing.
I was born in the Netherlands, the son of an Egyptian immigrant and a Dutch mother, and was raised as a proud Muslim. For the past years, much of my travel to the United States has led to secondary selection, investigation, or interrogation. For all 100 flights I took in 2014, I jokingly created a website that kept track of whether my boarding passes were marked for “random checks” before even reaching airport security. For many of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, whether they’re born in the western world or not, this is a recognisable issue with air travel. Many of my Muslim friends calculate an extra 30 minute delay for boarding and transfers.
The video game industry is one of the world’s most important creative sectors, generating $90bn a year in revenue, more than either movies and music – and it is strongly US-centric. While large game development pockets exist in the UK, north-western Europe and Asia, most of the largest companies, industry events, and industry press are centred around the coasts of the United States. For most developers around the world, their shot at success lays at the yearly Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, by far the largest gathering of industry professionals and knowledge in the world.
My studio has diverted significant resources towards helping fellow and aspiring game developers in emergent territories around the world. I often travel to speak to students, help coordinate communities, and guide opportunities for developers with potential. I spent a few days in 2015 researching what the relative costs to visit the Game Developers Conference would be. The results were shocking – for an Iranian game developer, going to GDC was the equivalent of £4,000. For someone from the Central African Republic with an average salary, the costs were the Western equivalent a staggering £120,000. For many enthusiasts around the world, visiting the Game Developers Conference is something they can afford maybe once or twice in their life – if at all.
When Donald Trump signed the executive order effectively banning Muslims from seven countries without any prior warning, the scene at many US airports was one of chaos and confusion. Muslims who boarded their plane in their country of departure with a valid visa and no reason to be turned back landed in violation of an order that didn’t exist when they boarded. Many Muslims were unnecessarily and illegally detained, or coerced to sign away their green cards. Muslims from countries not even on the list were turned away.
As one of the few visible Muslims in the games industry, I frequently talk about my experiences on the road with fellow Muslim developers who are flying to the US for the first time. In the wake of the executive order, many that spent years of their savings on the trip to San Francisco have learned that they won’t be allowed into the country any more. Even if they’d be allowed into the US, many are afraid of anti-Muslim sentiment from a population that can elect a president like Donald Trump, especially in the country with the highest homicide rate with guns in the Western world.
Many other Muslim game developers that live in the US – or even non-Muslims who only hold dual citizenship with a majority-Muslim country they’ve rarely if ever visited – are now stuck in the United States with no way to visit family or friends abroad. With many highly talented engineers coming from Middle Eastern countries, this not only limits the available talent pool, but also effectively prohibits travel for many workers in the US games industry.
Some game companies have started to speak up, with smaller studios taking the lead over the weekend. Mobile games company Dots placed a message at the start of its popular Dots games that allows players to donate to the ACLU for their opposition of the Muslim Ban. Other independent developers, including my own studio, donated parts or all of their revenue to the ACLU for a specific amount of time, raising tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Just today, larger studios and game developers have started to release statements criticising the executive order, reminding gamers around the world (and there are 1.2 billion of them) that the games that they love are made by people of all races, religions, and nationalities – including Libyans, Somalians, Yemenites, Iraqi’s, Iranians, Sudanese, and Syrians.
When I started travelling on my own back in 2010, my mother would frequently check in to see whether I was safe. After many years of travel, she stopped doing that unless I visited countries the Dutch government had a negative travel advisory for, often countries that are unstable, at war, or at risk of terrorist attacks. For the first time in years, she messaged me last week to check in whether I was safe, because I was in the US.
IndieCade Awards 2016
Last week I visited the annual IndieCade Festival, which was an absolute delight. I had the opportunity to check out some of the many phenomenal games on display – Wheels of Aurelia, Replica, Bad News, Beglitched, Killbox and Elsinore, just to name a few – and catch up with a lot of the local community. I was also asked to announce the winner of the IndieCade 2016 Grand Jury award. With that comes the ability to say a few words. My short speech was as follows:
It’s my firm belief that every game is important to our medium, and that every game that exists is both a miracle and a part of our collective history. So when the description says the winning game is a true work of passion, I say every game is. When the description says a game contributes to the cultivation of artistry in games, I remember that my original inspiration for making games was a coding tutorial for QBASIC from the eighties.
Every game is part of the ever widening history of our medium, sometimes improving and inspiring, sometimes comfortable and sometimes foreign, sometimes cliche and recognizable, sometimes rebellious and revolutionary.
Every game that you saw here this evening evoked something, somehow, that made us fall in love with games, that honors the foundations we build on, and gives us fresh hope for the future of our medium.
The Grand Prize, then, is the award for the game that exceeded the categories, that was found to evoke that feeling you can’t quite catch in words, the feeling that this game is something momentous in the history of this medium, something we can look to as we look to the future, and something that – when we’re in that future – can hold onto as a foundation.
When I opened the envelope, I was delighted to learn and announce that the winner of the award was the phenomenal 1979: Revolution by former Rockstar developer Navid Khonsari of iNK Stories, a Iranian-Canadian game developer. What’s notable is that, when I penned the speech, I was not aware of the winner – so while the speech mentions history, revolution, rebellion and foreignness, I did not know that the game I was about to announce fulfilled all of those hopes I have for this medium – that IndieCade lived up to every expectation I had of it as an curation and as an event, in such a way that I could write a speech perfectly befitting its winner even before knowing who won.
But after we walked of stage I realized that, in many ways, this was a momentous occasion in one more way: a Dutch-Egyptian developer handed out the Grand Prize of a major games event to an Iranian-Canadian developer, for the creation of a game about the history of a Middle-Eastern country.
So thank you, IndieCade, for being the place where that could happen.
The chairs at PAX
We were a bit late with preparation for the PAX South booth again, so the night before the event mostly involved racing around the San Antonio periphery visiting Best Buy and Target. Things went really well, and I quickly found a bunch of cheap televisions and computers, table cloth and power strips – but one thing I couldn’t find was chairs. Target’s entirely chair isle consisted of chairs as expensive as the televisions, and I was about to give up when I spotted four bungee chairs – not what I was looking for, and probably not super comfortable, but they’d suffice.
So Adriel drove me and all the stuff I’d bought back to the showfloor, and we set up one of the bungee chairs, sat down in it and they were amazing. We set up all four, one for each playable station, and got ready for the show. The laptops were set up within twenty minutes, and we loaded a playable build onto them. Together with the usual Vlambeer booth crew, we were done with setup in under two hours.
The first day was a massive success, and nothing exceptional happened. On the second day, a group of four friends walked past our booth, one of them pointing at the Nuclear Throne banner and excitedly exclaiming “this is that game!”. The friends stopped, came over and picked one of the station. One of them sat down, looked up to their friends and nodded.
“Oh wow, you’re right, these are amazing!”
The four friends left again without even looking at the game.