This week, starting with a trade-only day tomorrow and running then open to consumers from Thursday through Sunday inclusive, Europe's largest annual video game show, gamescom, will take place in the German city of Cologne. In terms of scale, the organizers announced a few days ago that they expect exhibitors from 40 countries - more than 550 in total, which represents a nice increase from 505 last time. Together, they will occupy over a million square feet of space. It also seems likely that attendance will surpass the 2010 levels of 254,000, of whom 18,900 were trade visitors, the latter figure presumably including the reported total of 4,400 media.
From experience, I know that such numbers don't provide a complete sense of what such events are actually like. As impressive as they may seem, they're just statistics. Accordingly, they don't convey, for example, any real feeling of what it means to be in a show environment, surrounded by industry colleagues and, when you venture into the public exhibition areas, by waves of highly enthusiastic and sometimes boisterous fans.
In addition, as gamers, we're naturally focused on learning about particular titles that have captured our interest. As such, it can be difficult to appreciate that many attendees, especially on the trade side, look forward to and attend events like Gamescom for more than just this singular reason. It would take a lot more than just this column to examine them all completely, but to give you an indication of a leading F2P publisher's perspective I obtained some thoughtful comments from Kay Gruenwoldt, general manager of Frogster America.
He led off by noting that Gamescom is "the highlight and most important European event for anyone in the computer and video games industry", which makes it "the place to be." In this regard, a key consideration is the opportunity "to connect with our current and potential new games development and licensing partners, to gather important intelligence and tap into the vibe of the industry." Networking is a related factor, the chance to "meet with old and new friends, expand my network, exchange opinions and discuss ideas with my peers."
I think I can relate to this in my own way. As a member of the media, my primary goal at such shows was always to improve my sense of this industry vibe. To this end, I was fortunate in that I didn't have to write a bunch of reports on individual game presentations. This allowed me to concentrate things like on how the current trends were evolving, new ones that seemed to be developing, which companies were present but not willing to reveal anything to the public, which were looking for certain levels and types of staff, etc. It was also the best time to tap into the rumor mill; people would tell me things in person, albeit often off the record, that they never would by phone, IM or e-mail.
Gruenwoldt also believes it's important for Frogster to be visible at Gamescom because it fits with the direction of the industry. "Traditionally dominated by PC and console games, events like Gamescom these days are more often showing the rising stars of the industry, like browser, MMOs and F2P games. They are now being recognized by many of the 'old' players as being a valid model for the future, and are starting to really get the attention they deserve."
This doesn't mean consumers are insignificant - not at all. "Most importantly," he says, "this is the one place where we can directly connect to our customers, the people who love playing our games. Here, they have a voice, and we are able to get valuable feedback, ideas and suggestions on how to make our games and services even better and ultimately a more enjoyable experience."
My own take on this was largely observation-based. I'd watch people play and look for various cues. A few of the more obvious things were how long they did so, how easy or difficult a time they seemed to have starting, and how truly interested they seemed versus looking like they were just kicking tires while waiting for something else nearby. For example, a booth might see considerable traffic, especially if it's in a prime location. However, getting a lot of visitors may not be so meaningful if they generally only stop for a few moments.
So, as you see the coverage flowing out of Gamescon over the coming days, you may want to keep in mind that there's more to the show than meets the eye. If all you're interested in is the new games, elements and features that are shown, that's fine. I am too. But in addition, even though I won't be there, I'll be looking to see what more information and yes, even rumors, come my way.