Gamescom is Europe’s answer to E3: in fact, it arose partly as a result of the ‘dialled back’ E3 in 2008 and 2009. Three years on, it’s the largest “games event” in Europe, and sized appropriately to rival the new, old E3: the convention centre it’s held in could do double duty as a set of airliner hangars; the site as a whole takes twenty minutes to walk without breaking a sweat. Gamescom is not just big, it’s vast – and it’s living proof that videogames are big money.
On the business days, timed to coincide with the end of GDC Europe, and throughout the convention in general, this is a place to do business at every level of the industry, from independent studios looking for publishers to retail distributors from supermarkets and brick-and-mortar specialist retailers (well, the ones which are left) looking for what to stock: while the next iterations of Annual Franchise Shooter and Annual Franchise Football are assured, this is a golden opportunity for sleeper hits like Landwirtschafts-Simulator 2013 (tr.: Farming Simulator 2013) to make it to the bigtime: a brick-and-mortar retail deal can push a game from a niche darling to a smash hit, especially in the offline-dominated genres: not ‘dad games’ per se, but anything that might come as a birthday present from a non-gamer. This place is serious business, in every sense.
Except that it isn’t: the other side of the Koelnmesse contains the consumer halls: the industry talking to the customer directly, even when that customer is dressed as Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII (there will always be a legion of Cloud ‘cosplayers’) or a Stormtrooper. And in terms of euros-per-customer-exposure, marketing budgets here are outmatched only by the amount of amplification provisioned for the Mr. Motivator-descended line of PR reps whose job it is to exhort, with all the faith and vibrance of a Southern televangelist that you really, really should play their new free MMO which works on phones, iPads, Facebook and (presumably) the Sega Game & Watch and Virtual Boy as well.
This year’s consumer-side convention is dominated by the free-to-plays, as well as the expected megatitles: in many ways though, the Blizzard, Activision and EA stands are doing very little except keeping up appearances. Their customer base is assured, and it’s merely a mark that they still punch their weight that they occupy huge swathes of conference halls. Blizzard’s stand is given over to legions of PCs running the World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria, and the new Starcraft 2 expandalone Heart of the Swarm: both are nice to have, and both serve a real interest in both the press and consumers, but ultimately, Blizzard are not here to make a sale. Everyone who sells games will already stock them, subject to the usual negotiations. Activision are not here to make a sale: you can count the number of current Call of Duty players who don’t plan on buying Black Ops 2 on fingers and toes, and the market is saturated: as a non-COD gamer, the franchise glances off me. Ultimately, Activision are spending perhaps the most, for the least real return: their job here is just to be here.
Near-irrelevant to industry’s conversation with itself and the consumer, this is a place for the geeks and gamers of Europe to bond over a shared love of Borderlands and disdain for Mad Catz peripherals. As much as a commercial event, conventions are a cultural one too: for professionals it’s a time to meet PRs spoken to only through emails; for the average consumer, it’s a chance to see that there really is a community behind the forum. Both of those sound like a good thing to me, and it’s why, if you’re in the Rheinland before Sunday, you should give it a visit.