Being a female attendee at E3 puts one into an interesting niche. The number of women present at the show this year was surprisingly high -- a quick non-scientific headcount showed about 3 in 20 to be female. However, booth babes flashed their wares from a number of stands, gleaming cars and trucks advertised games with no cars in them, and Paris Hilton trundled out to wow the crowds.
With all this advertising clearly targeted at guys -- and, by the look of the crowds, working well -- it's easy to believe the "neglected demographic" hype.
Several booths were only giving out swag to those who waited in line to have their photo taken with a babe -- this is more of a gimmick than a male-only thing, as plenty of guys didn't want their photo taken either. Was the reward for waiting the girls, or the swag? Given how many people were walking around with inflatable Conan swords, it looks like the swag won.
Most of the people I met at E3 were friendly and helpful, regardless of gender, race, or nationality. However, there were obviously exceptions. Especially when I spent time with PMS Clan and the Frag Dolls, I found myself prevailed upon to speak for all women. The questions "what games do girls like?" and "how can we get women to play our games?" are extremely important, but one E3 attendee isn't going to have a definitive answer -- that's why events like the Women's Game Conference exist.
You'd have thought by now that the concept of women playing all kinds of games was fairly well-known, but some of my experiences on the show floor at E3 belied this. PR representatives, more so than developers, were taken aback by such phenomena as playing more than five hours of games a week, knowing what WASD meant and being able to find the A button without help.
However, I'm glad to say that these incidents were definitely in the minority. Most of the time, gender didn't enter into it, though I did get odd looks from booth babes while touring the show floor with a camera. In conclusion, the people of E3 didn't seem to care whether I was male, female, or other, but the props enticing people into booths were overwhelmingly aimed at guys. Tomboys like me might be attracted in by cars, but other women I spoke to at E3 were disappointed.
With a non-trivial number of women present at this year's show, can publishers really afford to deploy booth props that will have no effect -- or a negative one -- on this audience? Perhaps the number of guys flocking to dancing girls in short skirts makes up for the lack of a single female face in the crowd. On the other hand, businesslike booths from companies like Nintendo and EA attracted huge queues because of their products, not their gimmicks.