Eurogamer Expo’s time has come, says Patrick Garratt, thanks to a combination of factors capped off by BioWare’s The Old Republic announcement yesterday.
In August 2005, I went to Leipzig in Germany’s former East on a fact-finding trip, to scout a video games show called Games Convention. I’d been one of very few Britons in attendance the previous year, but had been excited by the immense enthusiasm the German public had shown for the games on display.
I’d never seen anything like it. To me, and the rest of the journalist community in the West, a “games show” was a trade affair like GDC or E3, an event where the public was kept at bay. Games Convention was all about people playing games, and publishers used it to sell upcoming releases into the hands of the guy on the street. As Eurogamer’s business development manager the opportunity was obvious; after the show I took a trip to Nuremberg for a meeting that sowed the seeds of a deal that would launch Eurogamer in Germany in 2006.
While the German games market was attracting the interest of the general international media, however, Games Convention itself was not. Despite the fact that Games Convention was in its fourth year in 2005, when inquiring as to press opportunities with the UK arms of games publishers the answer was always the same: “It’s a German show, and the German office handles it; we don’t go.”
Non-German games journalists were just as slow on the uptake. They had “seen it all at E3,” held at that time in LA in May, and simply didn’t bother to show up. In hindsight, that’s incredible: Leipzig is an hour’s flight from London.
The apathy ended in 2005, however, with Microsoft’s Games Convention press conference, which confirmed Xbox 360’s global pricing structure before the machine released that autumn. Microsoft made the event an essential part of the global trade show circuit for the games news community and assured that all major media publishers would be forced to attend from then on.
The significance was immediate: Games Convention was on the map. In 2006, the show was flooded with American and British press, we were an official media partner and Heaven save any European journalist that didn’t attend. Games Convention was the start of what became gamescom in Cologne: it’s now the biggest games show on earth.
That one announcement changed everything for Games Convention: we saw something similar happen in London last week at Eurogamer Expo.
May the Force, etc.
EA RPG studio BioWare chose to announce a date and pricing plan for Star Wars: The Old Republic at the event, which is now in its fourth year. No, this isn’t on a par with launch terms for a main piece of hardware, but it is final confirmation of release plans for what is almost certainly the most expensive game ever made – it’s rumoured to have cost in excess of $100 million.
The Expo, which follows the gamescom and Tokyo Game Show model of focusing on allowing the public to play unreleased games, was partly chosen for the announcement due to its timing. The MMO will launch on December 20 in the US and December 22 in Europe, meaning EG Expo, as the last stop in the games trade show calendar for the year, provided an ideal platform for BioWare to come clean on release plans.
We will see more companies make products announcements at EG Expo next year as a result.
The games trade needs an event very late on in the year for a variety of reasons. As a clear sales strategy, OnLive chose the Expo to launch itself in the UK, giving away hundreds of pieces of hardware and seeing its stand mobbed at the event, but Eurogamer Expo comes at a time where publishers are already looking beyond the holiday season and seek to not only to show off games to punters before they buy them for Christmas, but also to drum up excitement for launches in the following year.
Eurogamer Expo saw this happening for the first time last week. NCsoft was a case in point, using the show as a platform to heavily push Guild Wars 2, another MMO; the game will release sometime in the coming year, and has no date.
While the main thrust of Eurogamer Expo 2011 was still on games on the verge of ship – Battlefield 3, Skyrim, FIFA 12, Modern Warfare 3, and all the rest were in glaring attendance – this was the year the show became more than “buy this for Christmas”.
Timing and homogenised release schedules are not the driving factors behind games publishers apparently sudden approval of Eurogamer Expo, however: reputation, stability and a trust of quality will always precede necessity for these companies.
Eurogamer MD Rupert Loman has refused to simply sell as many tickets as possible for the event, saying constantly the numbers must be controlled to allow paying customers easy access to the games they want to play.
As a result, the show has a friendly atmosphere and is full of developer sessions where fans always get to the content they paid for. Publishers respond well to this, and are keen to avoid the worrying scenes we saw at gamescom this year, where organisers were forced to close the doors due to overcrowding. Over 30,000 people visited Eurogamer Expo’s four days this year, compared to the 275,000 that went through gamescom’s doors.
That Eurogamer Expo has “arrived” as Britain’s major games event isn’t in question. UK retailer GAME held GAMEfest just before the Eurogamer show this year, with an apparent focus on pushing pre-orders in its stores. It was well-attended, with some 30,000 turning up, but achieved nothing of Eurogamer Expo’s buzz and providing none of the periphery sessions seen in London last week. GAMEfest didn’t provide any news: it went largely unnoticed by the core journalist community.
Eurogamer Expo’s success is based on a combination of factors, but the Star Wars announcement is a tipping point. When the biggest games publisher in the world announces plans for the most expensive game ever made at your show, you’d better be prepared for the hordes the following year.
Disclosure: VG247 is a media partner of Eurogamer Expo, and is partially owned by Eurogamer Network.