Sexy 'Booth Babes' Under Siege

Most of the time they're polite and rarely do things that get out of hand. But Leifsson said "booth babe" was a term she could live without.

"Not my favorite term, but I guess it could be worse," she said.

Go Too Far and You May Get Fined

In recent years, the show has become littered with women in bikinis and high heels, not to mention revealing medieval and futuristic armor. And while the sight of these geeky but gorgeous ladies may not pose a problem for those on the showroom floor, many say it doesn't help to improve the image of a maturing industry trying to shake off some negative stereotypes.

With E3 2006 just a few months away, the association has sent out a gentle reminder -- along with the threat of fines -- to exhibitors that there is a limit to what is acceptable.

E3 officials say they are not changing the rules on booth babes, just clarifying them.

"The E3Expo dress-code policy is the same as it has been for the past several years and is similar to the policies of the vast majority of other major trade shows," E3 show director Mary Dolaher said in a statement.

What is new in 2006 "is an update and clarification of the enforcement policies; as we do from time to time, we have taken steps to ensure that exhibitors are familiar with the policy and how it will be enforced," she said.

The "clarification" comes after a year that saw several states attempt to pass laws targeting certain types of video games and after a scandal around alleged hidden material found in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

According to reports, the E3 exhibitors' handbook says spokeswomen wearing sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative clothing are prohibited. Nudity, partial nudity, and bathing-suit bottoms that were once seen as almost standard booth-babe attire will now land an exhibitor in hot water.

Companies that refuse to comply will first be slapped with a verbal warning, then a $5,000 fine that's due on the spot.

"Some of these are huge companies that are paying millions just to be at E3," Kasavin said, "so I don't know if a $5,000 fine is going to deter them."

Trying to Clean Up the Industry's Image

"I think that E3 is saying: 'Come on, let's dial it back a bit. It's a trade show; it's not a public show. It's designed for the industry and its related industries to communicate about things,'" said John Davison, editorial director for Ziff Davis Media Game Group. "Not having the booth babes isn't going to make any difference."

Davison says the event is supposed to be one for the industry, even though you might not know it once your feet hit the main halls.

He and others think the ESA is trying to help reshape the image of a business that many of its critics really know nothing about.

"The ESA seems to be under a lot of pressure these days to clean up the image of games and to at least demonstrate that the video-game industry is responsible in regulating itself," Kasavin said. Cracking down on booth babes may send a signal to the industry's critics, showing them that game makers can take issues of taste into account, he says.

"I think it does help to show that standards are more important now than maybe they were before."

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