Prior to the start of last year’s global pandemic, video game press events were always pretty restrictive in terms of who they were accessible to. From location, to building accessibility, to crowds, to financial barriers, video game press events were pretty inaccessible to people who couldn’t afford travel costs, were not located near key towns, or had disabilities which might impact their attendance of an in person event.
The pandemic this past year has changed how a lot of industries operate, and video game press event coverage is one of them. Without big press conferences to attend and in office meetings where games could be shown off, video game developers and their PR teams have had to get creative about how they showcase their upcoming games, and in the process have accidentally made those events more accessible.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about how video game PR companies have changed their practices during the last year, and made covering their events more accessible. We’re going to talk about some of the technology being used to facilitate remote press event attendance, how this helps disabled game critics, and why we need to make sure these new tools are not dropped as soon as the world is safe to travel in again.
So to start, here’s a quick summary of the pre-pandemic video game press events. There were basically three main classes of press event where you might get to play a game ahead of release, or interview a developer.
At big conventions such as E3 you have a show floor full of people lining up to check out demos in a crowded convention hall. Critics ideally pre-book appointments to try out games or talk to developers at some point during a multiple day event. These events are usually crowded and stressful, full of a lot of sensory information and physical people that can be hard for people on the autism spectrum, with shifting schedules that are difficult for people with ADHD, and often difficult for people with disabilities to navigate. Additionally, they usually take place in expensive cities, so travel to those events, and accommodation during them, can be a financial barrier given their multiple day nature.
Then there’s press events at company offices. These events are usually quieter single day events, with less crowding and noise, but dependant on the studio can still involve travel to areas not well serviced by public transportation, and the accessibility level of office buildings is widely variable.
Lastly, there are destination events, where press are flown to a specific location, not a convention centre or an office building, to check out a game. These often exist because PR companies want to tie their event into some setting or activity that tangentially relates to the game, like hosting a horror game press event on a spooky disused ship. These events use unrelated scene settings to try and impact media’s perception of a game, and are usually very much unnecessary affairs. They’re often in venues not designed with disability accessibility in mind, that require travelling, but are not as chaotic as a convention based event. Sometimes these kinds of press events will offer to cover travel costs, removing that barrier to access, but the event itself may not be as accessible once press arrive, and the sheer act of international travel can be a risk for some, such as powerchair users who frequently risk their mobility aids being damaged by flight crews.
In all three cases disabled players, those who are less financially stable, and those based in more remote locations are inherently less able to attend in person press events, and as a result have less access to cover games before release.
So, what more accessible solutions have been used this past year? Well, there’s a few different options different studios have been making use of.
Some game developers this year have replaced hands off presentations about games with watermarked video presentations. These videos can usually only be accessed a single time, with a predetermined IP address, and feature a watermark bouncing around the screen to ensure if it is leaked, it will be clear by who. These presentations allow for showcasing footage, gameplay, plot, and developer discussion of games prior to their announcement, and only require a strong internet connection to view. Obviously a strong internet connection is a barrier to access, but for many disabled critics that’s an easier barrier to overcome than physical event attendance.
Second, and this one is likely obvious, but many developer interviews now take place over video calls using Zoom, Discord, or Skype. It’s a little harder to press a developer on a hard question effectively remotely, but this does open up getting to interview developers without needing to physically be where they are.
And lastly, several game developers have taken to using Parsec, a remote desktop tool with low latency, to allow for hands-on game demos performed over a distance. These Parsec demos in particular have been really vital in allowing hands-on experience with games, without requiring physical attendance to a convention, or company offices.
While there will always be a place for in person events, some genres like fighting games for example don’t hold up well to being previewed over remote connections, many of this year’s pandemic solutions to remote press coverage I really hope we see stick around.
For disabled gamers, who in many cases are less able to attend these in person press events, this year has really opened getting to be involved. Like so many industries this past year that claimed they couldn’t make themselves more accessible, this year has proven doing so is not only possible, but viable.
The video game industry has made some real leaps forward this year in becoming more accessible to gamers who can’t cover press events in person. I only hope they keep these options in place once things start to open up again in the coming months.