What Are Game Industry Events Actually Like?

Gamescom

Graham: When I was a teenager, I used to read internet coverage of E3 and dream of having the chance to go myself. I don’t remember exactly what excited me at the time, but I’m sure it was the mixture of access to games I liked and the presumed sense of self-importance I’d attain by attending an exclusive event.

Now that I’m super important and have been to all the major gaming events numerous times (hi), I wonder whether there’s a disconnect between reader perception of these events and what they actually are, mainly because I don’t often enjoy them. So I asked Pip.

PIP. What game industry events have you liked or disliked?

Pip: You know that the answer is going to be eSports events, right? Unless your cunning use of the word “industry” means I can’t use this as a soapbox…

Graham: Climb aboard.

Pip: I feel like that might be cheating though. I like them because they don’t feel like industry events. I think with industry events I’m often assessing the merits of a game and working out whether I think people should pay for it or be interested in it. At eSports events that basic legitimacy isn’t in question – it becomes about who manipulates the game best and about how fans channel their enthusiasm in creative ways. There are human stories to find and team narratives to watch unfold. It’s not universally positive stuff and some events are far more interesting than others but you’re not assessing the game in the same way.

Graham: The last major esports event I attended took place inside a cavernous warehouse, where after an initially impressive opening ceremony, the size of the room sucked out all the atmosphere. By the end of the first day most of the people had gone, leaving only uncomfortable chairs strewn about and knocked over.

I think this is my problem with major games events. Once they reach a certain scale, they seem like terrible settings for enjoying games, whether you’re spectating competitive matches or assessing their quality. I find playing games an intimate experience, but that’s diminished by the soulless, airless halls and booming music and litter-covered floors and jostling crowds.

Gamescom

Pip: I think it depends on how those events are structured and what you’re expected to do. At gaming expos you’re expected to be able to watch and chat with friends and play all in the same loud, dark airless environment while strangers try to do likewise with their friends or alone. If you’re supposed to be working you’re trying to talk to people while they try and monitor their game and answer questions from the general public. I remember when we were at Rezzed last year I had such a bad headache I sneaked out for a tactical visit to a dollshouse fair in a neighbouring hall just to refocus (and look at tiny, tiny battenbergs). I look at pictures of GamesCom and wonder if I would just have a full on panic attack lost in a crowd somewhere.

At dedicated tournaments there’s less you’re expected to do that distracts from the tournament. There might be stuff like meet and greets or cosplay but generally you’re sticking to one thing and the event organisers are trying to facilitate that. For smaller events it can be chaotic though. People needing to share space for several games, distractions, jostling, food, noise. I guess there’s a continuum. Some have tiny venues and get put together in a kind of ad hoc way, others get the stadium treatment.

Graham: It sounds like esports events are generally designed for humans in a way that other industry events are not. If nothing else, there’s a presumption that if you’re there, you’re already interested. E3 and GamesCom have to vie for space and the attention of attendees alongside dozens of games doing similarly.

The stadium comparison seems fitting. Whether or not it’s a bombastic action game in front of me, I find the experience of playing games is a quiet, focused one between me and the screen and systems and ideas in front of me. Doing that in a giant hall feels a little like going to Wembley to see an acoustic folk band. Something is lost.

The events I do like tend to be much smaller. Games in small rooms or more of a focus on talks and conversation. I think this is why GDC has become so popular outside of its initial remit as a conference for people who work in development. It’s great for press because it’s relaxed, and despite its growth, has stayed away from the stadium rock treatment. I think that serves the games better.

Gamescom

Pip: You’re right about gaming expos feeling like they’re vying for your attention. Often it feels like a total sensory overload – an escalating battle of bright signage, music, costumes…

What’s GDC like, though? I’ve never been so I don’t really have a sense for what it’s like to be an attendee and whether I’d get 4 hours in and suddenly be struck by the urge to board a bus and head for the nearest area with grass and air and natural light.

Graham: There are a couple of halls where games want your attention, but there’s no loud music, no huge signs, no flashing lights and dance performances. They tend to be small tables with posters and a laptop, or quiet, private booths with company logos outside.

Those two halls aren’t the focus of the event though. That’s either the talks where developers deliver wisdom intended to inspire, educate or impress their peers, or it’s the meetings that go on external to the convention itself. I’ll spend my time hopping between lecture halls where programmers talk about new hair simulation technology and hotel rooms and coffee shops where designers will talk openly and normally with less of the PR-controlled sell-sell-sell mindset you find elsewhere.

By the end of it I will be very tired and my feet will hurt, but I think it’s good. And I don’t typically enjoy leaving my house.

Pip: But that sounds really interesting! Wait. Was this whole post just an extended exercise in making sure you could really rub in the fact that I’m not going?

Graham: Pip, have I told you recently about my importance?

Readers! I’m curious what your perception of industry events are. In the next week, you’ll see GDC mentioned in passing at a the start of a lot of interviews and features about games. What does GDC – or E3, or Gamescom, or any other event – look like from the outside? Do they seem fun as they did to me, or like the work events of any other industry, or like something else? Please share in the comments.

This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

26 Comments

  1. Chaz says:

    Dark halls full of booming music and crowds of people trying to shout over said music to make themselves heard. Lots of young punters carry plastic bags full of printed promotional swag that they grabbed purely because, you know, it was free. Which will probably end up in the recycle bin when they get home or the bins outside the exit of the venue.

    So kind of like a large noisy arcade, but one where you have to pay to get in and the games are free and don’t have cigarette ends stubbed out on the controllers. Possibly there may still be a booth containing a lank haired bearded guy, closely watching all the folks playing the slot machines.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    Back when I was ridiciously young, I used to visit the HCC (Hobby Computer Club iirc) Dagen in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, which basically involved large amounts of computer geeks stationed in several halls, and lots of hardware being sold for the cheap (Think Nvidia TNT2s, Voodoo 3s, and Geforce MX 440s for the general time frame). The next year they added something called the “Gaming expo”, which at first was really fun as you could play a lot of pre-release versions of games. Now I have been ‘properly’ gaming since 1998 or so but the first games I got my hands in the year they were actually released were Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Shogun 2 – notably, both games were gifts — tl;dr: I did not own any new games, so this was very interesting.However, next year things inside the ‘gaming expo’ just already got too busy for my young autistic mind, and by the third year it was all flashy lights and no chance to actually game.

    so in the end I squatted near the Flight Sim and Gaming groups of the HCC organisers instead, which were both far less busy and the original reason the event had been organized – as well as having people who were really passionate about what they did instead of people trying really hard to sell you something which could not be bought yet.

  3. ffordesoon says:

    They seemed fun when I was a kid. I suspect this has more to do with being part of the target audience at the time than it does with such events being particularly interesting. I still get giddy every time E3 rolls around, and I’m as guilty as anyone of excitedly gossiping on Twitter about it, but the increasing homogenization of games in the AAA space has made watching the horrid shouty thing increasingly tiresome. I find the most interesting “game” showcased at recent installments hasn’t been a game at all, but the social media metagame of picking E3 “winners” and “losers.” I couldn’t tell you what games were announced at last year’s E3, but I can still tell you what I thought of all the PR megaconferences.

    This is odd, because all I want during the conferences is for the executives to shut up and show off their games. And yet, I’m so rarely intrigued by the bloated garbage on show that the most interesting thing about the individual games for me often ends up being the space they fill in a platform holder’s portfolio. Even the “surprises” are predictable. “Aha, there’s the new installment in a cult favorite series being produced as a loss leader to restore Microsoft’s hardcore cred after last year’s casual-focused conference!”

    Which is, on reflection, a pretty sick thing for me to say to myself while watching toy advertisements (oh, hush, you know as well as I do E3 has as much to do with the artistic side of games as a dolphin has to do with a toaster) on my phone. And yet, I think this is how the game industry – and games media, to the extent that the two are separate entities during E3 – has trained us to react. They can’t surprise us anymore, so they’ve given us all the opportunity to turn into jaded PR execs for a few days, because God knows we love being jaded here in Videogameland. And by giving us that opportunity, they get free marketing, and who cares if we eventually give up on the cavalcade of nightmare pageantry in disgust and quiet shame? There’s a sucker born every minute.

    …I made myself sad.

    • particlese says:

      Oh, man, I hadn’t realized it until now, but Microsoft’s PR disaster and Sony’s subsequent finger-wagging with their PS4 announcement is nearly the only thing about that show that kept me interested. Not particularly because Sony won, but because of the metagame you mentioned plus the perception that freedom had won out over DRM City. The only surprise I remember was how completely oblivious MS appeared to be to consumer desires. Slightly jaded sounds about right.

  4. particlese says:

    My 90s impression of E3 (there were no others I remember) was based on things like PC Gamer and Nintendo Power (good old local library) and was one of games, games, some really big building in California or something, and more games. I had no sense of the horrendous (thinks me now) crowds, so yeah, I longed to go some day.

    Probably in the 00s, or shortly before, I became aware of the booth babes and the crowds. I’m not claustrophobic by any means, but combined with The Internet, the apparent de-emphasis of PC games at these shows, and my growing preference for PC games, the crowd made it definitely not worth going (not to mention the need to buy a plane ticket). And the booth babes were just kinda…there. Sometimes attractive, but always out of place.

    In the 10s, the only shows that seem to rekindle that original excitement are developer-centric ones like GDC, Valve Time (or whatever that one was), and Siggraph; plus some miscellaneous physically-small new ones like AGDQ. Ye olde booth babes became an extremely hot topic somewhere in here, and then spontaneously combusted and ceased to exist*, and the crowds seemingly became more and more ridiculous, to the point that I enjoy reading about the Oculus Rift demo line almost as much as the games themselves. No interest at all in attending something that big. I went to an Oculus-centric event with about 1000 other people a few years ago, though, and that was awesome. Relatively small, but it still had the keynotes+seminars+demos format that the bigger shows share.

    *While not explicitly about games, some seem to have escaped to CES, where pixels can’t exist without someone to caress them and point the sides of their thumbs at them.

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    Skabooga says:

    As a child, E3 (the only video game conference that I was aware of) seemed like the most fun place on earth for a few days. The newest games available for you to play nonstop for three days, but only super important people, like journalists, were invited.

    As the years progressed, perhaps the events morphed into something more brash, or perhaps the journalists became harder to impress, but the coverage they gave of E3 and other gaming events slid more and more towards the negative. I have only their opinions and views to go by, but these events, at least the largest of them, I would find a difficult time to enjoy.

    Much like the Oscars. I wouldn’t want to go, but I enjoy reading other peoples’ opinions and analyses about them, and so on a certain level, I’m grateful they exist, not only for the unintentional entertainment they provide, but also for how an industry views the people they are purportedly trying to serve.

  6. Daniel Klein says:

    I’ve been to a bunch of events for Riot, both eSports and more general. The biggest was probably gamescom. I’ve been to gamescom 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The experience as someone working in the industry is you come in early, before the guests (if you managed to get up early enough, which is hard), run through the schedule / prep the booth, then the masses come in and it all becomes a blur. My personal experience was mostly mingling in the crowd near the booth, talking to people. I’d do one or two things on stage (most recently in 2013 a presentation on a champion I’d worked on), but 90% of my time was talking to excited players about anything they wanted to talk about and trying to catch some of the eSports matches in between. It’s exhausting and health-wracking; I don’t think I’ve come away from any of the gamescoms without a major flu. But it’s also wonderful and of course a huge privilege, to spend 3-4 days having people mostly tell you how much they love what you do for a living. That’s just… there’s no comparison. By the end of it you can’t stand upright, have no idea what your name is, have probably lost your voice, but you go home happy. Couldn’t make it out last year because I had a champion release just after gamescom but hoping to make it back this year.

  7. Cei says:

    So, many moons ago I used to write peecee reviews (and the occasional PlayStation) for the long defunct Madgamers.net. I went to ECTS at Earl’s Court like, three times, and some weird and wonderful events. I won a Mario Kart Double Dash press tournament and got given a GameCube by Nintendo. Sony gave me a black Yaroze PlayStation, and a test PS2. I literally rolled around in new hardware that was totally free. Even better, games arrived by the literal sack for review, but most of them were utter bollocks.

    Looking back, it was basically all that was wrong with the industry. Everything was free, from hardware to software with alcohol, dinner and free travel inbetween. No wonder people had a hard time staying impartial.

    Madgamers closed as it got too big, and the owners had to decide between committing full time to the site or simply closing. They closed. However, one of my colleagues did rather well in the end – Keza McDonald, who has worked at IGN, Kotaku, Eurogamer the Guardian… I on the other hand just went back to playing games and not writing words about it.

    tl;dr
    Press events used to be ridiculous

  8. DThor says:

    I work in visual effects and the one thing you always attended was SIGGRAPH. It was simply the *thing to attend*, and I was lucky enough to be working in the field back when Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park were exploding on the screen and it was the champagne and caviar time to be in the biz. Digital Domain was a startup, you could say morph and not be laughed at and I distinctly remember trying on VR headsets in Dallas in ’90 that still seem to be mostly the same nowadays. Now, since it’s dropped the rockstar status and become much less exclusive, expensive and profitable, SIGGRAPH feels more like a job fair. The cost of carting gear and people around the world(admittedly the gear has gotten lighter) isn’t as cost effective as it used to be – you have demos available online, courses, etc. I’ve stopped going since I’ve found more useful communities online that share more useful information. I’m wondering how long before gaming conventions become the same? Perhaps it’s different because it’s less of a professional event each year and more about marketing?

  9. shimeril says:

    Only been to one in Australia a year or two back and it was crowded, noisy and I refused to wait for an eternity for a few minutes play of some new attraction so i didn’t get to play a lot of stuff. Titanfall was on show but there was no way known I was going to lineup for 2 and a half hours to play for 20 minutes. So I go continue to go to non-video game conventions like CanCon, MOAB and the like instead where boardgaming, tabletop games and card games take precedence. Been going to them since those since the mid 80’s. Still crowded but it is a very different type of crowd, who are far more interesting to hang with than those at EB Expo. And yes, I am ancient. So YMMV.

  10. Monggerel says:

    It took me quite a while to figure out that I have a massive crush on Chris Avellone. I thought I just really really liked the game design talks he gave! I guess I still do at that.

    Never been to one of these massive hum-an gatherings though. Pretty sure I would end up shivering in a corner or somesuch. The one part I care about, the aforementioned dev talks, often tends to be recorded and Youtube’d for posterity, so I think I get at least most of what I want out of the event.

    Which reminds me, someone should make a YT channel chronicling the things in one nexus for convenience. But I suppose that would be difficult to arrange and more so to actually manage.

  11. MOKKA says:

    Two years ago, while I was having too much money, I got myself tickets for GDC Europe and Gamescom. I don’t consider myself to be “press” (I have a tiny German YouTube channel where I talk about them) but I actually went there, hoping to meet some developers and other interesting people.
    I really disliked Gamescom and I honestly didn’t get much out of GDC either, but I talked to a lot of fascinating people and I met some German press members who got me into the Ubisoft Party, which was really weird. At one point, while I was playing Rayman Legends with someone else, I got cheered on by a pair of women who apparently got paid to be there. I also didn’t really capitalize on the fact, that I could get drunk for free while there.

    Last year I managed to get to Gamescom again, this time as a normal visitor. I spend the whole day walking around the Indie Megabooth, playing games and talking to developers. I think I spend almost an hour talking to one of the devs of Desktop Dungeons. I also got to meet Nifflas, which was great since Knytt Stories was one of the first Indie Games I’ve ever played.

    To be honest, I don’t think those events really aren’t for me. They are too loud and too crowded for me to enjoy them. I also don’t like the aggressive advertising that bombards you constantly.
    I think I would rather go to smaller, quieter events where you have the chance to talk to people, which isn’t really possible at events like Gamescom.

  12. kaisergav says:

    I used to dream of going to E3 with my friends some day, but these photos look like something I really, really wouldn’t enjoy :\

  13. welverin says:

    I would consider esports events and conventions (e.g. PAX) as distinct from industry events (E3, Gamescom, TGS, GDC). Industry events are more about publishers and developers shilling their wares (E3, Gamescom, TGS), or discussing what they do (GDC). They other things are about people just getting together to play things and socialize.

    Industry events hold absolutely no allure to me, when I was young I wanted to go to such things, but having a much better idea of what they’re about now I wouldn’t even consider it.

  14. Sin Vega says:

    There was a photo in an issue of Amiga Power (all bow) taken at some convention or other, with a caption reading simply: “Be mauled to death by unpleasant infants”.

    Having never been to one, this is approximately how I feel.

  15. Koozer says:

    I quite enjoyed Gamescom. There were the big, noisy halls full of League of Legends and Starcraft II matches and shouty people, and the huge queues to get in early in the day, but it wasn’t as packed as the images above show all time, everywhere.

    I got to obliterate numerous Germans in Magicka: Wizard Wars with my brother and two cousins. We had a nice sit down to watch a World of Tanks tournament, my first ever esports experience, which was very entertaining. We visited the retro games area, where I realised that I am too old for CRTs and Mario Kart 64. I regretted not visiting the Witcher 2 stand on the first day, before they ran out of free t-shirts, and severely regretted the soggy, anorexic excuse for a burger that cost 3 euro. On the plus side, I did get a millionty Street Pass hits every day.

    A ‘highlight’ was when visiting the World of Tanks stand for more free stuff, wherein we had the chance to sit down and play. I ended up left with the PC hooked up to the giant monitors, where a hundred hardcore players were staring as they waited impatiently in the queue. I planned to pick something new, something shiny to try out for the first time, but the pressure of two hundred eyeballs got me. I picked an old reliable, in which, of course, I died horribly in within minutes. I could have sworn that the mumbling from the crowd got louder, with the laughs and grunts clearly impressing on me utter embarrassment of a match I had subjected them to.

    Our final day challenge was to get as much free stuff as possible. This led to the situation of three 20+ year olds perching on the edge of a tiny stool, playing through a weird LEGO Diablo-like, just for the goody bags of complete tat at the end. My cousin also got rather enthusiastic about plucking free earplugs out of the air, being chucked out by one stall.

    Good times.

  16. Wytefang says:

    The crowded events suck, just like one might expect and the e-sports are no less annoying and uninteresting. I fully agree about GDC being quite cool. E3 can still be fun depending on your perspective.

  17. RobF says:

    Small queues for the ladies loos, mainly.

    Less flippant, I don’t really get on with them. I’m too old to be excited by a sneaky peak of Same Game 7:The Franchising, too tired most of the time for the noise, can find a million better ways to spend my time than listening to how someone made a subset of a videogame for one hour or boring me with how I should make money this year and most definitely uninterested in parties because screw parties, mainly. Industry events are pretty much the last place on Earth I want to be as a rule because there’s beaches and hills and a million other places I could be at instead.

    BUT I like the people. Still. I enjoy nipping down and spending time chatting with a few people about videogames and gossiping about they did what now oh my and seeing what they’re working on. Those moments where someone pulls out a phone and they’ve got a video of their game on it and you’re like “oh coool, that looks so good” and all that stuff. They’re the good bits and I like that these days, there’s plenty of ways to get to those good bits that don’t involve stuffing your body into a giant auditorium and staring into the distance wishing you could be anywhere else.

  18. derbefrier says:

    I always thought it would be a blast to go to a PAX or an E3. I’d get to see some cool stuff. Maybe play some early versions of games. Chat with some developers etc… Maybe you’ve becomea bit jaded since for you its a job to be there and you are working instead of just enjoying things without having to worry about anything else and maybe once you have been to a few of the it loses some of the magic and becomes mundane.

  19. JimmyG says:

    All things in moderation, right? I’ve been to two games events myself. The first was a very small Wii Summer Games 2010 Competition. Nintendo blew up a two-level tent in a California parking lot, me and my bestie were flown out to compete after taking the top slot at our regional mall competition, and the day before the finals all of the competitors got to play Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and a few other games that had yet to be released at the time. Even when they opened the doors to the public, the event was on very few radars and no line lasted more than 10 or 15 minutes. It was all small and wonderful, though I doubt Nintendo got much out of it.

    The second was the inaugural PAX Australia. I’m from the middle of the States, so I’m never on the coast to go to the famous events, but I went to Australia to visit my sister and applied to be a PAX volunteer, too. I was assigned to the retro games corner, which was far from the expo hall and really special. A local collectors’ club brought all of their old systems and games out, we hooked them up to donated CRT TVs, and my job as a volunteer was just to play with people or exchange the game if they wanted to play something else. I watched a preteen almost beat Battletoads, saw plenty of N64 Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, and got to see some obscure new stuff, too — Japanese imports or fanmade Dreamcast shmups or young pirate cartridges, like Plants Vs. Zombies on Sega Genesis. I also got to draw some fun stuff on our dry erase board. Just a stone’s throw away was the thriving tabletop lounge, and the kind-of-weirder handheld lounge, overrun with people just wanting to monopolize the beanbag chairs.

    The takeaway I got: go with friends(or make some friends) and do what you enjoy, not what you feel pressured to do — especially if the thing pressuring you involves waiting in inordinately long lines. For me, the small scale stuff has been more worthwhile. I know that if I were there for a job, I wouldn’t have that luxury, though. Sorry, RPS.

  20. MadTinkerer says:

    E3 is not the Microsoft press conference. E3 is not the Sony press conference. E3 is not the Nintendo press conference. Press conferences do not happen at E3. Don’t be ridiculous.

    “E3 press conferences” take place far, far away from E3 up on a different floor and you’re not even allowed in there unless you are a member of the press specifically invited to that event or someone doing a presentation. So if you’re not an executive or one of the bigwig journalists, the “big announcements” might as well happen in a different country. The press coverage of E3 isn’t anything like E3 at all. That’s by design.

    So what is E3 actually like. What E3 is actually like is you standing in a line for some reason for a while. Then you realize one of the guys in front of you is a nerdcore hip hop artist and you have a fun conversation. Then you realize one of the guys behind you is the level designer for that awesome puzzle game that just came out last month. Then you recognize some guy’s hat because it’s the same hat he wore in that video and chat with that guy. Eventually you all get through the line but FUCK whatever you were waiting for because the main event is being right there, in line, with all the people who actually make video games happen.

    Later you get a few hours to hang out at the booth of this new game called Torchlight that you’ve never heard of because they’re announcing it’s existence at E3, and you get to talk the developers ears off and trade business cards and everything. Left 4 Dead 2 (Surprise! It’s Left 4 Dead 2, not Episode 3!) is quietly brought onto the floor, but all of the machines are consoles and you can’t play FPSs with mouselook. Lots of posters for Darksiders and Wet and other new franchises that certainly will stand the test of time because of how awesome they are trying to be.

    At some point you totally get to meet Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez failing to keep low profiles and they’re just as nerdy and cool as their characters in Chuck but without the clever scripts they actually sound like real people and not television characters.

    E3 is all about hanging out with real game developers (and a bunch of people who technically aren’t game developers but are also cool) and talking to them because you are also a game developer. There are press guys there, and they’ll talk to you, but they have a lot of stuff to cover and you might not have anything written about you if you’re not already successful, but that is 100% fine. Because E3 really has nothing to do with journalism whatsoever.

  21. ZPG Lazarus says:

    I used to go to Quakecon every year from 2009 to last year. If you’re unaware its a cross between a giant LAN party and a developer’s convention centered around iD and Bethesda.

    The atmosphere’s really changed since iD got bought out. The whole thing went from a free-of-charge brofest dominated by LAN gaming and PTP file swapping to a $200+ LAN party where you can’t LAN with 3/4’s of the convention hall. By the second day its a bunch of dudes doing the same thing they did at home–punching into Steam and Origin and playing their game of choice.

  22. lumenadducere says:

    GDC and PAX are really the only events that I really feel are worth going to, but for completely different reasons. GDC is fantastic because of the panels and the casual chats and networking. Talking shop with devs, getting to attend the panels where they talk about the unique and interesting things they’re doing, and just generally being in a space where you’re all working in and excited about this industry where things are growing and changing and you’re creating fantastic things is a great time. There’s so much to learn and so many people to meet and so many interesting stories to hear about the dev process for certain games that you always feel like there’s eight different places you want to be at once, simply because of how many things are happening and how much information and knowledge is being shared. And really, sometimes it’s nice to be able to be with people that have first-hand experience of some of the things you’ve gone through as well, because they’ve been there. A lot of people outside the industry don’t have comparable experiences, and when you try to explain they just kind of tilt their head. Just finding another person that can laugh with you about being in the office until 5:30 AM because prod didn’t schedule things correctly and then the fans blew up in anger at you anyways after all that work is nice.

    PAX is fantastic from a consumer and community standpoint. Yes, Krahulik has been an ass, but a) he’s actively attempting to grow and change, and b) PAX itself is surprisingly isolated from Penny Arcade. There’s an increasing number of attendees that have no idea what the comic strip is or who Tycho and Gabe are, and IMO that’s a good thing as it grows.

    But really, the good thing about PAX is the community. It’s getting to meet fans and enjoy the people behind the keyboard. And of course the community events! There are pre-and post-PAX events and parties (Harry Potter bar crawl where hundreds of people dressed as wizards roam Seattle’s bars, shouting spells), there are tons of gaming-related events set up (an actual pokemon league, for one, full with gym leaders, elite four, and champion. And they give badges as you win and everything!). If GDC is great to learn and grow as a professional, PAX is an odd equivalent for consumers. It’s a weekend of fun and gaming and getting to meet random people that will become your future co-op partners for years to come.

    The mistake a lot of people make is going to the show floor, where all the AAA games are displayed. But that’s really such a tremendous waste of your time at PAX it’s ridiculous. Spend an hour or more in line for a 10-minute demo of a game that’s coming out in a few months anyways. Bah, screw that. Far better to go to the indie megabooth and play and hang out with those devs, or enter the tabletop area and meet and play new games with a bunch of people, or go to any number of community-run events or meetups (like the pokemon league, smash bros. tournament, movie marathons). Or even attend the panels there, as even those can be informative as well, just about different things.

  23. bill says:

    After years of reading about such event I was really excited to get a chance to attend the Tokyo Games Show a few years back. To be honest, it was pretty crap.

    The cosplayers made me feel rather embarrassed. The booth babes made me feel rather uncomfortable. The otaku taking dodgy pics of the rictus-smiling booth babes made me feel most uncomfortable.
    As for the games, a games show turns out to be a crap place to play a game.

    Queue for 45 minutes to play Resident Evil 5. Spend 5 minutes trying to work out the controls and get your AI partner to climb a 4 foot ladder. Just about get the hang of it, then get kicked off. All the while surrounded by noise and distraction.
    Queue for 30 mins to play Fallout. Again, 5 minutes on a noisy show floor isn’t the best way to enjoy an RPG.
    5 minutes of New Prince of Persa was kinda fun.
    But, all in all, I’d rather have spent the money on a movie ticket.

  24. binkbenc says:

    Having just got back from my first GDC, I have to admit that I found it really disappointing. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that a) I was there for work, I was nervous, and I failed miserably at it, and b) I was badly jet-lagged and so didn’t make any evening parties. Some of the talks I went to were good – Brian Moriarty’s Loom look-back was a particular highlight, and the round-tables were really great, I’d like to see more of them at other conferences – but even from a passionate gamer point of view I didn’t find it that exciting. The games I saw (other than the experimental gameplay workshop ones) were all a bit me-too and uninspiring. I don’t know what I was expecting from it really. I was hoping to be inspired, to talk to passionate developers, and to come away rejuvenated. Instead, I returned home feeling tired and dispirited. It’s also one of the more expensive conferences to attend (especially from blighty), so I feel even worse about wasting it. Ho hum.

  25. El_Emmental says:

    Industry events seem completely disconnected from what’s make and made gaming so interesting to me and the few hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world, a few hundreds of which became game developers. That’s why I don’t see myself going to any of these events, let alone pay for the entrance.

    The GDC is probably some kind of exception, with its high price and focus on tech/design it’s driving away the marketing psycho (and the consumer crowd they drag along with them), while only bringing in the professionals and the enthusiasts.

    In the 90s I went to a few conventions/festival about “playing” that included toys, board games, physics games, robotics – everything that could be used to play. Despite being already into gaming, I was equally interested in all the other forms of play because there was very little aggressive marketing there: it was really about playing, not selling, so everything was actually interesting to check.

    There were a few playable stations with consoles and PCs, but hopefully it took like 10-15 minutes before getting a chance at trying a game: gaming was still a thing left to the asocial nerds, it wasn’t cool at all beyond the small gaming social circles (at school, nearby blocks). It’s something that is too often forgotten when trying to understand gaming.

    When the VG industry got big, budgets exploded and marketing took over, these conventions/festivals about “playing” disappeared – the budget usually put there to promote these toys and games was redirected toward advertisement (TV, radio, websites).

    Meanwhile, the only events featuring video games became organized by the new, modern and very aggressive marketing: loud stereo, big flashy signs, “Win a console! Video games!” lottery, and of course ads for the event in the local newspaper, radio, TV, bringing thousands of clueless teenagers (trying to figure out what’s so cool and trendy about that new thing) into these events. Rather than having 30 stations featuring various games and platforms, with no more than 60 people around it, there were 10 stations playing the exact same game pushed by the publisher, monitored by 1 salesman with a microphone, gathering a much larger crowd, going well beyond a hundred.

    It didn’t get better: events became bigger and bigger, completely handled by “modern” marketing people, costing much more money to organize, forcing these companies to make sure they were getting as much exposure and attention as they could possibly get for that price. So they brought in the booth babes, the “exclusive” crap (coupon codes, cosmetic DLCs), the plastic bag full of plastic ads and ads and more ads, the loud stereo blasting terrible and inadequate music. It became worse than stumbling into these extremely large industrial beach clubs exclusively made to handle the masses of drunk tourists too bored of sunbathing.

    The industry became so disrespectful of its own enthusiasts that I completely stopped paying attention to these events. That’s why I don’t wait for E3 or Gamescon, I’m not hyped up about the press announcements made there. I care less about what happen during these events than what the developers and publishers will say during the rest of the year, simply because every word they say is manufactured, tailored and completely artificial – they’re not being honest with me or anyone else in the audience. They’re here to sell, and I’m here to play.

    These events feel like a long betrayal that will never end, so I prefer to tune them out and pretend they did not happen. Sadly, to add insult to injury, these events are what’s being broadcasted to people outside of the gaming culture, what’s being shown to them: Look! The gaming culture is about the latest Call of Duty glorifying the military complex and the warmongers! Obesity-inducing junk food in the form of ‘energy’ drinks and snacks! Sexualized and humiliated female booth babes only paid to endure this awful ordeal! And it’s making miiiilliiiiooons so it’s totally trending!

    This is fucking sickening and extremely depressing, but that’s what “modern” marketing is all about: meaningless violence, pointless sexualization, sadistic frustration and humiliation. It doesn’t matter if they’re selling cars, toothbrushes, perfumes or an insurance plan, they’re all down wrestling in the vilest mud they can come up with, convincing themselves it’s the only way to reach a profitable point, trying to forget it’s just the easiest and mentally cheapest one. No matter how hard they’re trying to deny it, they’ve become tools of their own system.

    Then there’s the even sadder realization than no one working in that field will be suicidal enough to refuse that loudly: only a tiny minority refuse to participate in these demeaning circuses, and they do that quietly because they can’t take the risk of being actively blacklisted, becoming persona non grata in the whole industry. I said it was ‘even sadder’ because I sincerely can’t blame them: when even your heroes hide, this awful situation feels inescapable.

    Still, to cheer myself up I think of developers streaming from their meeting room or desk at home, interacting directly with their fans, sharing stories and thoughts on the development process. It’s in these little corners of the “industry” that I know gaming is still alive.