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After It Doxxed 2000 Journalists, Why Should We Ever Trust the ESA Again?

In a world where personal data can be used as a weapon by harassers and hackers, the risk of attending E3 has gone way up.

by Austin Walker
Aug 9 2019, 7:54pm

All photos courtesy ESA

This morning, I did something I've done dozens of times before: I clicked a link in an email to take me to a media registration page for an upcoming games industry convention. The page had all the familiar requests: Name, contact info, something to prove that I really worked in this industry, a photo of my driver's license. And, with the Entertainment Software Association's recent unintentional doxxing of over 2000 game journalists fresh in mind, I paused. This event wasn't run by the ESA, and I did end up supplying the requested info, but that pause went on longer than I thought it would. But the next time the ESA does ask for my personal data? I'm honestly unsure if I'll hand it over.

I'm not the only one with lingering doubts about the future of E3 or the ESA, which is why on today's episode of Waypoint Radio, we dig into this topic (along with conversations about Anodyne 2, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, Star Wars: Outer Rim, and (of course) more Fire Emblem: Three Houses. You can listen to the full episode blow, or read an excerpt of our conversation about the ESA below.

Austin: Do I want to advise [young writers] to send a scan of their driver's license to a company that has proven that they cannot and will not protect your data? Ahhh, hmmm, not really. I don't want to advise that.

Patrick: Balanced against an event that, for however flawed it is, however going down in flames that it is, remains an important networking event to be a part of.

Danielle: Especially if you're new, yeah.

Patrick: My career does not exist without E3. Now granted, career tracks have changed, you can do a lot without going to a thing like E3 these days. But I also understand the tension that will remain and exist for folks. It's a chance to write for outlets that are hungry for [new writers]. There is a reason for lots of people still think "I should attend E3 because it could help me establish myself and my career," and you are now having to balance that against "But what does that mean for my personal safety?"

That only ramps up based on what is your likelihood of being targeted? Like I am high-profile, right? But also having talked to various women, people of color, and different minorities: They got targeted more than me despite the fact that I have way more followers than them. And so the the level of exposure, or the reason for harassment is going to vary based on who you are. And quite often it does not necessarily track with popularity. It tracks with identities the people want to attack for ideological reasons

Austin: Yeah, exactly that. To speak to your point on how E3 is important for someone trying to get into the industry: Even for someone like me, who was primarily writing as a critic the first time I went to E3, the connections I made there, the relationships I made there, the doors that opened for reporting, preview work, and critical work [were all very important]. I don't know that Waypoint happens if I don't go to E3 that first year with Giant Bomb. Because it puts in the place a lot of the the relationship that would go on to give me a really good year there, that would go on to impress people at VICE, that would go on to open this door. Right? And so that is a weird personal example, but if I go back in time and tell that Austin, "Okay. That's on the table, but also this is a company that is not going to protect your data, and (as Mike Futter has shown) [a company that] has a history of not doing this. Which is one of the key takeaways from the ongoing reporting. This is not [just] one time they messed up this past year.

Patrick: We live in a world where you generally just have to assume your information will get out there, but now it is the nature and duration of that exposure, the incompetence across so many years, the lack of disclosure. Or rather, what's scarier is not that they didn't disclose it, it's that they didn't know they had to disclose it because they didn't know it was accessible, right? It's one thing to have something leak, to leave sensitive data accessible, you didn't know about it, and then you've got to disclose after the fact. It's bad, that is definitely Capital B bad. But in some ways, it's like so much more disconcerting that all this stuff in various other years is also exposed, also accessible, and they had no idea until people started just mildly scratching at it.

E3 Expo Hall

Rob: The thing that I was dwelling on over the weekend is that this seemed like such an ESA fuck up. Like, this seemed so archetypal of the general direction we've seen the ESA go, and the direction of E3. It really drove home the degree to which the ESA has kind of adopted a minimum input maximum outcome approach to E3 for a number of years. Which has meant doing a lot of things that don't really react to how games media has changed. E3 feels like a relic in large part because of the people running it.

And maybe this is what has changed my mind a little bit on this. I used to think the landscape just shifted and E3 couldn't really change with it. This sort of drove home the degree to which the ESA may just not give a shit. Like, adapting is hard. Reacting to how the games media landscape in particular has changed, the way games media relationship to different segments of his of its audiences has changed. All these things are challenging, and require reflection and planning and reaction.

In the face all those changes, the ESA has either picked the wrong fights or it's just hidden from the shifting realities entirely.

The ESA hasn't really reacted to any of this. Their reactions we've seen it been enormously lazy and half-assed, like opening E3 to the public without doing anything to make it a public-facing show. And the fact that this list was out there really underscored the degree to which this is all just set up for the convenience of people showing games and PR firms making appointments at this--all of this is set up for their convenience, for it to give value to them. And increasingly, that value isn't our coverage.

This is the problem with the E3: The type of media outcomes that E3 generates are not what they were in 2003, 2004. You don't have as many games, you don't have as many retail outlets taking their entire purchasing decisions for the year on this one show, and you don't have people thirsting after these huge E3 roundups to find out what's happening in the game industry. So what's left is the fact that, well, you have a lot of reporters and you have their information. You can make them give you their information. And then you can turn around and give that to marketing types. And that's the value. That is the thing that is still useful currency in marketing and PR circles, the ability to directly target and speak to journalists.

That's the way things are moving, and who knows how long that'll even be the status quo, but the way this was all handled with "Ah, fuck it. You know that form we made everyone fill out? How about we just take the data from that form, export it to an Excel spreadsheet, and just posted online. And hey, don't hassle yourself with a password. Just click the link, it will download automatically." That is extremely ESA at this point in time.

It also just feels of a piece with the way this is an organization that used to serve a purpose, that used to kind of have a mission statement (just like E3 used to have a clear mission and purpose). In the face all those changes, the ESA has either picked the wrong fights or it's just hidden from the shifting realities entirely. And I think that's kind of what we've seen here. This is an organization that not only hasn't adapted, but on some level doesn't want to and doesn't care.


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