When we knew we would be moving to Germany, going to Gamescom was one of the first things to go on our list of things to try and do while living here. Gamescom is the world’s largest video game convention (they call it a festival). That isn’t hard, there aren’t too many really going on. E3 is the world’s most important, but it’s only open to “professionals” (I put professionals in quotations as I’ve been four or five times, and I’m not exactly a professional). Gamescom, on the other hand, is open to the public. There are a few halls for trade visitors only, but they’re tiny compared to the majority of the show.
The Koelnmesse is a pretty large convention center (but only the 3rd largest in Germany), and the show fills most of it’s 10 halls. Compared to E3 though, this show seemed much, much smaller. Since we knew it would be a pretty crowded show, we decided to buy a discounted evening ticket on Friday to scope the show out before we came for the full day on Saturday.
Unfortunately, it became pretty apparent that we probably wouldn’t be playing much while we were there. Or seeing a whole lot either. Despite being an international show, there was a lot more German than we expected (though every staff member we did speak to did speak perfect English, or course), so we could watch presentations but not fully follow them.
There were really only 3 different types of booths throughout the whole show.
1) Wait in line to watch/play one thing
Most of the booths were of this nature, and were the least accessible due to crowds. The booth would have one large, usually enclosed space where, after waiting in long, frighteningly slow lines, you would go inside and watch a presentation of the game, or get to play it with a group for some amount of time. The most popular booths were all of this variety. The Blizzard booth had a large, completely enclosed space for people to play Diablo 3, and another viewable space for people to play Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft (why people would, I don’t know, the games are already out and weren’t previewing anything special). The line for Diablo 3, which was probably Chris’ most anticipated title (because who knows when it’ll ever come out) had a 4 hour line. I’m sure it could have been longer, but once it was full they would close it. Meaning there were people hanging around in a kind of line…line.
Battlefield 3 was what I wanted to see most, but the line for that stretched well over 6 hours (and probably longer) and they would close it early in the day as, well, the line can’t really last longer than the operating hours. There were two options for that game. You could play the new Co-op mode on PS3, or play on the 64-player multiplayer map on PC for 18 minutes. I would’ve killed to do the multiplayer demo, but I wasn’t about to devote a day to doing it.
There were plenty of other things we would have gladly waited a understandable amount of time for (Prototype 2, Modern Warfare 3, Batman Arkham City, Uncharted 3, PSP Vita, Borderlands 2, Zelda Skyward Sword, Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex, etc.), but they all had a minimum of 2 hour lines. And boy did they move slowly. Lots of people brought their own chairs and entertainment, if that should be any indication. Part of this could be because, for most of the titles, there were no time limits. People could just play as long as they wanted, which means people are going to play as long as they damn well please. If these had been limited to, say, 5 to 10 minutes bursts, lines would have moved much faster and more people would have had a chance.
The one thing we did wait for was Dark Souls on the PS3, the sequel to Demon Souls. The line was short and only took 30 minutes. But, like its predecessor, it is maniacally hard. Nobody playing could get more than 1 or 2 minutes in before dying. It’s designed to be brutal, but it wound up more frustrating as we had waited in line so long just to be frustrated. We did also wait in a Kinect demonstration line, as it was only 5 minutes long or so and we had never tried Kinect. I was hoping to try the new Disneyland game (the titles were assigned randomly), but we got Fruit Ninja 3D. It was certainly fun, but had slow response times.
2) Big stage with endless presentations
Many of the booths consisted solely of big stages where people would periodically come out, whip the crowd into a nice lather, and throw out free schwag.
Germans, apparently, go nuts for this sort of thing. We happened to watch one such presentation at the 2K booth as we were under the assumption they would be showing some Borderlands 2 footage (if we knew more German, we would’ve know that was happening elsewhere, despite what the signs said). Some guys would yell some things, the Germans would yell, pretty girls would walk around the stage, and so on. But, man, when the free t-shirts went out, people would go absolutely ape-shit for them. It was strange. The Razer booth (they make gaming peripherals) was also quite popular because of this. But maybe because they practically had strippers out on stage most of the day.
Still, it’s still vaguely unsettling to hear so many Germans yelling and waving their arms around in unison like that.
We did go to the stage at the Blizzard booth as they had advertised a “Diablo 3 demo” for noon. Unfortunately, something must have been lost in translation as, instead, it was just four or five people in big costumes walking slowly around the stage for 20 minutes. Chris was pissed, as he should be. I sat it out, so I didn’t even know what was happening really.
3) Open areas with game demos strewn about
The big three all had booths like this, with some aspects of the above thrown in. The Sony booth was a large open area split up into subjects (dance games, fitness games, sports games, etc.) with people to try. They had two enclosed areas for people to try Uncharted 3 and the PSP Vita. We had considered waiting for the Vita, but the line had no indication of how long it was and seemed to move very, very, very slowly. We did try a Phineas & Ferb game on the Move, but it was nothing special. Microsoft had no enclosed areas, just lots of places to look at stuff.
Nintendo probably had the most accessible booth of them all. There was a line to play Zelda: Skyward Sword, which was understandable. But otherwise there were just a bunch of available games to try without one big line. As a result we go to try Kid Icarus on the 3DS. It was alright, but the controls are not left-hander friendly.
These are the kind of booths I’m used to, as they’re most similar to E3. Sure, some of the biggest titles need dedicated lines, but otherwise everything is just around to try out at your leisure. And people respect unspoken time limits as a result of other people watching over their shoulder. It’s just more pleasant.
On the second day the show was crushingly crowded. To the point that, when we left in he early afternoon, they had shut the doors because the place had hit capacity. Something like 62,000 people were inside at that point. The hallways and show floors were absolutely packed. There were several times where we got stuck in a sea of people and it took a long time to just move forward. This, coupled with the fact that most Germans are assholes when it comes to this kind of thing, made it infuriating.
The food was also, of course, very expensive. We didn’t buy any of it because of how we timed our visits, but it really was ridiculous. The “vending” hall was also a disappointment as there was a grand total of two booths selling things. Lame. And, because Germany doesn’t believe in free water, there were no drinking fountains or anything of the sort to be found, meaning you could become dehydrated pretty easily. Bottles of water were 3.50 for 250ml. Insanity.
So, while we did enjoy it in a way, it also felt like a bust. So much of the show happens behind closed doors it seems. You have to dedicate your time to one or two things a day, otherwise you only get to walk around and just look at stuff from afar. Or scream and home for a coveted free t-shirt. Even if they had just made some large screens available to watch the people who were playing, that would be better. The NCSoft booth was a good example of this as you could watch people play Guild Wars 2 and such without having to wait forever to do so. The Batman Arkham City booth was the most annoying in this respect as they purposefully put the people in the open, but the screens were aimed so nobody else could possibly see what they were playing.
We wouldn’t go back next year, that’s for sure (and hopefully we won’t be here to do so either). But it made me really want to take Chris to E3 to see what it’s supposed to be like. Hell, it makes me want to go to PAX even more now, as that looks far more civilized and fun than this could ever hope to be. Whatever, lesson learned.