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The Free Zone: Two Questions About Game Shows

By Richard Aihoshi on September 02, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Two Questions About Game Shows

Like many MMOG fans and gamers in general, I tend to pay attention when major game shows roll around. I'm no longer a regular attendee like I was for years, but I still look forward to them. That said, I started to question a few years ago how much I do so due to force of habit rather than their actual importance. In addition, while looking for information on this year's upcoming Korean event, G-Star, I wondered about its future and potential.

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How important are game shows?

For quite a long while, I never asked myself this question. I took it for granted that I'd be at certain ones every year. Simply assuming they were vital to attend, I went to every one I could. When being there in person wasn't feasible, I spent countless hours tracking them as closely as possible. Over the past several years, however, my feelings about the importance of events like E3, Gamescom et al have gradually softened.

In some measure, this is because the shows have evolved. As the industry has grown, they've become increasingly formal and business-like, and thus less personal. Although this is only natural, I definitely miss the way they were. For instance, back a dozen years or so, my schedule would include at least a few meetings for drinks and/or dinners with senior developers.

Note that I'm not referring to chatting with people for a few minutes at parties, but rather about sitting and talking games with one or maybe two people for two, three, even four hours. These occasions were all off the record, but I learned a lot about key people behind the games I was covering and how they were thinking. I also got tremendous insights into the making of MMOGs plus more than a few pieces of advance information and/or hints about things that wouldn't be revealed for a few months, a year or more.

Regrettably, such opportunities slowly but inexorably declined in frequency. As the events became progressively more formal and structured, companies took greater control of senior developers' schedules, first evenings and then breakfasts, and also placed more restrictions on what they could say, even off the record. This meant the shows grew even more heavily focused on game presentations and demos. How good or bad this shift in balance was depended on what you wanted to get from attending. I lost a significant part of the kind of show experience I'd gotten used to and would still very much prefer.

Admittedly, other editors were affected less if at all by this. It's also undeniable that many gamers don't really care about the same types of things I do. If you feel this way, that's completely fine - for you. I'm not suggesting you ought to change your mind. What I am saying is that as game shows have changed, they've become less important for me because they no longer fit my personal wants, needs and preferences as well as they used to. Don't get me wrong. By no means do I think the major ones are superfluous. I still pay considerable attention to them. Just not as much as before

Due to my abiding interest in the global market, the way MMOGs have taken hold in the Far East is a factor in terms of how I now regard game shows. This brings me to my second question...

What's up with G-Star?

The 2014 edition of Korea's leading video game exposition will take place November 20 to 23. It's an event I look forward to every year. Even when I don't have the chance to attend in person, I can always count on receiving more information and news than usual. Last year, according to basically all of the reports I saw or heard, was better than 2012's, but still uninspiring.

While the show is still nearly three months away, the indications I've seen and heard so far doesn't lead me to feel as if a significant turnaround is likely. My doubts center on the exhibitor list. As you'd expect, Nexon and NCsoft will be there. They don't appear to have announced which upcoming MMOGs they'll show yet, but between them, they have Peria Chronicles, MapleStory 2 and Lineage Eternal plus MOBA Closers and the seemingly MOBA-like Metal Black: Alternative. Even without any new announcements, this looks pretty decent.

But what else will be on display? Publisher Daum is likely to show Black Desert. While I said last time that I think this is an interesting project, it has only gained limited traction in this hemisphere. Developer XL Games is expected to attend, but featuring Civilization Online rather than ArcheAge, which is far more visible here. The latter also isn't upcoming in Korea where it launched in January 2013. 

After that, the pickings look even slimmer. Other major domestic publishers such as Neowiz, NHN and Webzen are unconfirmed. Among foreign companies, the one that immediately stands out is Blizzard, especially considering the huge presence it has had a past G-Stars. The seemingly probable absence of other familiar western publishers isn't surprising given their lack of success penetrating the Korean market.

Perhaps even more than this year's outlook, I wonder about the show itself. Eight to 10 years ago, I thought G-Star had the potential to become a very significant global event, more Asian- and online-oriented than E3 or Gamescom, but this seemed like a good thing in terms of balancing rather than reprising them. It's clear that this hasn't happened.

Given that it doesn't even draw all of the major Korean companies, I can't help but wonder why. How big a factor is the government participation in the decision-making for the event? Would it help if the show was in Seoul where the bulk of the country's game industry is clustered? Should G-Star put greater effort in gaining visibility in the west? I don't pretend to have definitive answers to these and other questions. However, unless significant changes of some sort are forthcoming, I can't see the event becoming close to what I still feel it can be.

Closing queries

  • Which game shows are most important to you, and why?
  • What changes / improvements if any would you like to see in how shows are covered?
  • To what degree do shows produce enough substance to warrant the amount of hype they generate?
The Free Zone The Free Zone Editorials
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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