Saturday, August 29, 2009

Convention Report - Gamescom

Ah, I suppose I should talk about Gamescom, before PAX arrives and swallows everything in my brain whole.

Gamescom was the first big European computer game convention of the season, set in scenic Cologne. Previous years were set up in Liepzig, and though the facility was reportedly nice, the surrounding support network (hotels, restaurants) could not handle the size of the convention.

And by size, I mean 245,000 attendees. Yeah, over a quarter of a million people, spread over four majors halls, each hall capable of swallowing GenCon whole and having room for Origins for desert. Add to that a "business hall" that was about two more GenCons in space, and you have a massive, massively multiperson convention.

And the booths were huge. The old TSR castle would be considered quaint and tidy in this atmosphere. Aeon had a three story backpiece displaying a poster with media quotes, and it was neither the largest nor the most expensive of the booths. Blizzard erected a pair of huge monoliths to corral its faithful, while Bethesda erected a shanty town for its upcoming Brink, to which they restricted attendance so effectively that most people did not even know they were there.

One challenge to conventions in Germany is the rating system, such that games that are non-E-for-Everybody cannot be shown to greater populace. Solutions tended to walled-off sections that created queues, which were great for showing that people were interested (Diablo III had ones supposedly lasting three hours), but hard for mobility elsewhere in the convention (both tying fans down with nothing to do while waiting and forming fandom clots in the otherwise broad halls). One PS3 provider managed to pull off both with a booth featuring inward-facing screens that could not be seen from outside, allowing people to publicly browse without worrying about showing the game outside the confines.

NCSoft's booth consisted of a stage, a lot of terminals running the game, a bunch of huge screens, and was a great success. The terminals were continually slammed throughout the convention, and we had out own fans promoting the game by playing it. Every hour or so we would do a presentation for Aion (and for Guild Wars, debuting the trailer to the world).

And it was packed. So much so we got a warning from the convention about clogging the halls. So packed we got a complaint from the Age of Conan folk about the noise. And mind you, they had a point here - the presentations were like soccer rallies, with call-and-respond cheers and a LOT of excitement.

And when we made our presentation we were, just briefly, rock stars. This is a weird position for writers, artists, marketers and business folk. We spoke about the game, answered a few questions, and threw out T-shirts to a ravenous crowd. We even had pretty young women shouting at us in the front row. Like I said, Rock Stars. It was a nice moment.

Cologne itself, a beautiful city dominated by its cathedral, was a great venue. While the hotel was dicey on the subject of elevators and connectivity, they did a great job hosting. In addition, our badges gave us a free pass on the rail system (Seattle please take note this for PAX). The food was excellent, though after three nights of excellent German food, we rebelled and ended up at an incredible asian/french fusion place in the shadow of the cathedral itself.

All in all, we did what we intended to do - unleashed news of GW2 on the world, talked to a lot of press, and waved the flag for ArenaNet. And even now, I am still badly time-shifted, but I have to call it all a success.

And next up - PAX.

More later,