Why Gamescom Matters To The Video Game Industry
COLOGNE, Germany – I’ve been attending Gamescom the past five years. It’s truly unlike any other video game convention in the world. For anyone who’s been to San Diego Comic Con, the 340,000 people who make the annual pilgrimage to Cologne Germany is twice the attendance of the more famous celebration of games, movies and pop culture in Southern California.
Over the years, Sony, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Microsoft and other big companies have embraced the European consumer show. Make no mistake about it, Gamescom is European through-and-through. But gaming is a global phenomenon. And just as the majority of American gamers and gaming press can’t fly to Cologne every August, most of the Europeans who trek to Cologne never make it to PAX East, PAX Prime, New York Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con. So Gamescom is THE show for game publishers to offer hands-on to the biggest games for this Christmas and beyond.
“We see the consumer aspect as a very important keystone for the success of the show because the exhibitors can test and try new games,” said Katharina C. Hamma, CEO of Koelnmesse GmbH. “Publishers can get feedback directly from the consumer and the media can see how games are accepted by the consumer.”
This year, the show was all about next gen. Sony used its annual pre-convention press conference to announce that PlayStation 4 will ship on November 15. Sony also brought in top developers like Quantic Dream, Guerilla Games, Polyphony Digital and Media Molecule to meet with the 5,300 members of the press that come to the beautiful German city to play the latest builds of games. Ubisoft had a new Xbox One fighting game, Fighter Within, at the show, which takes advantage of Kinect 2.0 technology. Electronic Arts offered hands-on with The Sims 4 – and even flew in 30 diehard Sims fans to play and test the game for a Sims “boot camp.” Deep Silver had the first playable version of its new MOBA, Dead Island Epidemic, on display. And Blizzard Entertainment unveiled Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls.
The thing I like about the show itself (I’m a huge fan of the German city, and Germany, in general) is that the organizers split the business center from the consumer side of the show. Unlike E3, where the cacophony of blaring music and competing booths make it hard to hear and conduct interview, the two halls that make up the Gamescom business area are quiet, easy to navigate and perfect for hands-on gaming and in-depth interviews for the media and business side of gaming.
The consumers get to experience the full E3 effect (although in a much bigger venue) in the rest of the other five halls. Electronic Arts takes up the bulk of one giant hall, offering gamers the chance to wait in long lines to get hands-on with titles like FIFA 14 (always huge in Europe), Need for Speed Rivals, Command & Conquer, Battlefield 4 multiplayer and Titanfall (definitely the biggest draw at the booth). One thing that is different in Germany is the strict laws regulating blood and violence in games. As a result, Mature-rated games can only be shown behind closed doors. So game companies build huge enclosed booths and consumers line up for hours for a chance to get 10 to 15 minutes with a game. There are also plenty of giveaways throughout the show, including exclusive hats, shirts and other cool collectibles not found anywhere else.
To say Gamescom is crowded is an understatement. The massive booths, one of which is about the size of the E3 South Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center, are packed with people. I asked the organizers how they deal with fire regulations and I was told that the convention center, which is relatively new, features emergency doors that open. Basically, anything that looks like a giant window is actually a door. It’s still a challenge navigating not only the halls, but the central corridor that connects all of them. People are packed like sardines in all areas, especially on Saturday and Sunday. This year, even Thursday was as crowded as previous weekend turn-outs (likely because of the draw of next gen consoles). Fortunately, the halls are all open to the press exclusive on Wednesday, so it’s possible to see everything, minus the crowds.
Another thing that stands out at Gamescom is that it’s not just about the gaming halls. The entire city takes part in the festivities, which includes fireworks, concerts and other events in the downtown area – in addition to big parties like the Saints Row IV celebration this year and the Wargaming shindig. Over 125,000 people come to Cologne just for the events outside of the convention center. It’s truly a celebration of video games and gaming culture – something E3 definitely is not. And it’s a much bigger show than the popular PAX consumer shows in the U.S.
Perhaps more than anything else, Gamescom shows that video games are universal. And despite the fact that many languages can be heard throughout Cologne, everyone is there because they’re passionate about games. For all of the negative stories that have surrounded the initial press events from Microsoft, gamers are truly excited about Xbox One (judging from the huge lines at the booth) and PS4. They’re excited about games, in general. And the line-up of games coming this fall is something to be excited about.
As developers have had more time to program on next gen hardware, the builds at Gamescom (and PAX Prime this coming weekend) are showing a more accurate depiction of what next gen gaming is all about. The fact that livestreaming brings the world to Cologne for five days solidifies this show's importance in the games space today.