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[Interview] 600 Exhibitors & 250K Attendees: Sitting Down with the People Behind Gamescom

Talking about the largest trade show in the world, with the Chief Operating Officer of 5th largest venue in the world, Koelnmesse - Katharina Hamma, and Gamescom Communications Manager - Franko Fischer.

While covering E3 as a very green interviewer, I was given the amazing opportunity to hear about Gamescom from an incredibly unique perspective - that of its creators.

I sat with Katharina Hamma, Chief Operating Officer for Koelnmesse the venue which has proudly hosted Gamescom in the city of Cologne, Germany for 5 years running. At Hamma’s side was Gamescom Communication Manager, Franko Fischer, a power duo if ever I had met one. Settled into an area of boldly colored couches and chairs in the noisy South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention center I talked with the driving force behind Gamescom, while nearby indie developers hawked their wares to consumers at the Entertainment Electronics Expo.

What I learned from Katharina Hamma and Franko Fischer about Gamescom, was staggering.

Being one of the largest gaming specific gatherings in the world is no easy feat

Hamma is the COO of Koelnmesse, the 5th largest exhibition venue in the world, who remarked with pride that this was the company’s 5th year hosting and organizing the community based gaming celebration. She states,

“As a venue owner it is different than in the US, we are not only a venue, but also a show organizer.”

This initial fact alone gave me a far different perspective on the power-suit clad, German speaking group assembled before me.

Hamma and Fischer both touched on business related facts with clarity and pride, for example that Gamescom has seen a strong increase in vendors and exhibitors year over year without fail.

Gamescom dwarfs U.S. gaming events

Most recently Gamescom hosted 600 exhibitors and roughly 275,000 guests, mainly from Europe, across 140,000 square meters (1.4 million square feet) of exhibition space. To put those numbers into perspective, E3 boasted less than 250 exhibitors in their show spaces, and Pax East reached max capacities at significantly less than 100,000 visitors.

At the E3 expo as a member of the press, surrounded by color coded badges delineating media from vendor and buyers from consumers, I was curious to see how those numbers broke down.

Hamma indicated that roughly 10% of Gamescom visitors are from the trade side of gaming, mainly exhibitors and buyers representing most of the international guests of the show. Beyond that only about 5,300, or roughly 2% of the total visitors, are from the press who also represent internationally.

While in the US we know the difference between the consumer and community driven events like PAX East and Prime, and the business driven exclusive E3 and CES, Gamescom challenges both halves of the equation. Year after year the city of Cologne proudly throws open their doors and welcomes trade visitors and community members alike to embrace the Gamescom motto, and “Celebrate the Games.”

The business side of things

Hamma explained that their presentation is far different from the hustle and bustle of E3, with noisy showrooms and blatant competition for business and attention between booths. At Gamescom the trade representatives are able to enjoy a quiet and businesslike atmosphere, near to – but segregated from -- the main exhibition areas. There is always a “trade day” wherein Hamma comments that most business is conducted, so that the show can be enjoyed during the rest of the week.

Prior to the 5 day celebration of games that is Gamescom, developers are in the spotlight at GDC - giving trade representatives the ability to fully prepare for the Christmas season (everyone’s key focus at this time of year) in one straight run.

“The Most popular and the biggest issue, for the trade visitors, is that we have the segmentation that the business area is solely for business. It’s more in a calm smooth business  atmosphere, and you’re not disturbed by show elements by entertainment, and so on. This is something that the trade visitors really appreciate, because they can do business in a very smooth and comfortable manner, and they have a short way towards the entertainment area if they want to show something, or be involved in some manner.” - Katharina Hamma, COO of Koelnmesse, 5th largest venue in the world

After having to drag myself through a heavily populated and well represented show floor to make it to our meeting, I asked Hamma about how the presence of vendors was managed at Gamescom. Sometimes in the US it's easier than we would like to admit for a vendor or a title to monopolize nearly all the space and audible real estate when we’re browsing at an event. Hamma indicated their approach is that

“for every platform and every player, there is some content, making it more attractive for everyone.”

Gamescom’s team felt strongly that there is a more universal opportunity for the exhibitors to woo the business, and the consumers equally, so that everyone wins.

The place of community at Gamescom: Everywhere

While Hamma did make some very key points on the differences between the American exhibition ways of conducting business during a show, she did make one concession—everyone loves a good party. While the Gamescom hours are more along an E3 schedule of 9-6 during the week, the weekend following the event is known as the Gamescom Festival. She states that the city and the community close streets, and put it all on the line to welcome and celebrate the gaming community.

“Finally we have the gamescom festival in the city of Cologne. If you can imagine, you would shut the doors [at E3], and go downtown, and there would be a party going on. And the people could celebrate the games, downtown in the streets.”

- Franko Fischer, Communication Manager of Gamescom

“This is a real street festival, where we close roads and we have another 100,000 celebrate the games in the city.”

-Katharina Hamma, COO of Koelnmesse, home of Gamescom in Cologne, Germany

Cramming close to 300,000 people in one space – no matter the size - is no easy feat.

Family Focus

Fischer proudly detailed that Gamescom is incredibly family friendly, providing an outdoor picnic and beach area with games and activities for families to enjoy. They also offer an on-site kindergarten/childcare option as well, a feature that for me personally is unheard of in the US. Gamescom takes it a step further to make sure that families can celebrate the games together, by offering Sunday as “Family Day,” working with vendors to compile and offer content suitable for family gaming, and gamers of any age.

While Hamma did say I would have to wait and see what this year’s most popular Gamescom feature would be, I did have some very pointed interest in some of their community driven features.

Cosplay Villiage

While browsing their website I came across something called “Cosplay Village,” and immediately became enchanted. Fischer and Hamma agree that their cosplayers are very endearing, “picturesque” even. Offering the cosplay village is an invitation for  cosplayers, many of whom spend large sums of money on their costumes (Fischer quoted 50,000 euro for some). In the past the event had actively tried to work and build the cosplay community by attempting to break the world record for the most cosplayers in one location for an event. At 390 fully attired cosplayers they came in just short of the current world record of 400. When asked whether or not they would make another attempt on the record, Fischer remarked that “it’s a difficult balance,” noting again the financial involvement these individuals put in to their trade.

Giving Back

Over the past year in the US we have seen a marked upswing in gamers helping gamers through various charitable organizations and events. This ranges anywhere from livestream events and bake sales, to life-size charity slot machines as seen at Pax East 2013. I was curious, based on Gamescom’s obvious commitment to its community, where do they stand on gamers helping gamers. I was incredibly impressed by the tact with which Hamma indicated that there is a huge difference when it comes to this aspect of the gaming community. Largely in part, she said, due to the cultural differences between American and European societies.

In the European societies, she indicated that

“involvement with, support of charities-- that is viewed more as the responsibility of the government, not of the people.”

An interesting concept when one takes a step back to see what we in America have accomplished with the gaming community driven charities at our events, but also in taking into account the difference in need between the European and US societies.

(That folks, is another article for another day.)

Of note however, Fischer did mention that Gamescom actively works to give back to their community by making more access to the event, and its tickets - reminding me again that inclusivity is their driving force in this community event.  

 

Indies, Indies everywhere!

It seems that the Indie revolution taking hold of the US gaming community is sweeping out across the European gaming communities as well. While Indies get their time in the spotlight at GDC, they are also given a fair amount of attention at Gamescom as well.

Specifically Hamma noted that the pathway for Indies is being laid for the future. She stated that while this year, the clear driver is on the new consoles for the holiday season, the Indies are in their focus, and it is a focus they will be looking to develop more into in the future.

 

Where have we been, where are we going?

When asked what they felt was the biggest achievement of Gamescom over the course of their inaugural 5 years – Hamma and Fischer agreed on a few points.

Excellence in exhibitors

They feel that their “biggest accomplishment, is in having so many exhibitors, and so many visitors, for the whole industry.”

Local community engagement

They remarked that the “city of Cologne is really proud of being the host, and has opened its gates to the community with the street festival.” Try and picture the kind of welcome this power duo described, like children on Christmas morning, discussing the closing down of streets, the ongoing parties and concerts and festival atmosphere, all in the name of gaming.

Big event, bigger plans

Looking ahead, Hamma is planning to keep Gamescom at least at its current level of attendance both from exhibitors and visitors. She hopes “to be the platform for the gaming community and industry,” and aims to have a “slightly better focus on the eastern regions, reaching into the Asian region” in the future.

It is easy to see that despite their clear business focus, and drive—that their passion is here, with the community so drawn together by a love of celebrating the games. We ended our talk with Hamma and Fischer ardently inviting me to come and celebrate the games with them this week.

Although I couldn’t make it to Gamescom- we still wanted to give everyone the chance to get this up-close look inside an amazing celebration.

Published Aug. 24th 2013

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