This is the yearly look at what is the most important game event in Europe, and the coverage it has generated around its latest edition. Read more
There are more and more events every year dedicated to video games. Navigating through the annual schedule is getting increasingly complex, and we have many discussions with our different partners about the merits of the different events for them to attend, depending on the profile of their games, the current state of development of the projects, and the company’s long term goals.
I spend a fair amount of time at these events for our own reasons, and I have been toying with the idea of a guide for anyone feeling a bit lost on the topic. This blog post is the first attempt at such a guide. The idea is not to tell you which events to attend, mostly because there is not one size fits all answer to this question, but to breakdown what roles these events play in the life of a game, and of a studio.
The other important component is the idea of an event id card (I sometimes call them events stats blocks, because of reasons) – a single-image summary of what an event is about (a two- or three- images summary for those events that have fundamentally different components to them), and what it is good for, hopefully helping you decide which are the ones you should definitely attend.
The blog post is very much structured as a guide to understand these event id cards, explaining the different parts and helping you decide what matters the most to you, your project and business when attending an event, along with a first batch of cards for the main industry events.
Events ID cards explained
The event id cards are broken into the following components:
- Name of the event.
- Usual time of the year it happens (the month).
- Location (city, country).
- Type of audience. Whether this is a professional event (B2B – Business to Business), or a public event (B2C – Business to Consumer). Events with both components will get an id card for each of them. More details below.
- Nature of the event. What the event is. I will go in more details about each category you can find here. I will also go into detail on each possible option later on.
- Event Size. General information about the duration of the event and its size.
- Goals. What is the usual motivation to attend the event. I will also go into detail on each factor.
- Description. Don’t expect any lengthy text here. It is mostly to provide context.
- Cost to attend. These are bare minimum costs and don’t go take into consideration travel and lodging. I think this is important to have, but take this with a massive grain of salt and DO NOT use it for budgeting purposes. Always build your budget using actual pricing information from the organizers.
Types of audience
The most basic categorisation of events is based on what type of audience it is intended for. This quite simple, as there are two possibilities:
- Public events are intended to be for anyone who cares to attend. They are not necessarily free, but there is an understanding that anyone can go there and the content is aimed at the general public. These are also referred to as B2C events (Business to Consumers) and they can be conventions, exhibitions, or even conferences. Most often these have a showfloor where you can exhibit your game to the general public.
- Professional events are intended for professionals (or would-be professionals) of the game industry. They are also referred to as B2B (Business to Business events), and there is a huge variety of them.
Of course, some events have both public and professional components – gamescom for instance has an area dedicated to professionals and closed to the public, while most of the space is taken up by booths showcasing games for the public.
In those cases, I will make an event id card for each side of the event.
Nature of the events
This is what will tell you what actually happens at the event. Many events have different types of activities and related content, so expect to see multiple categories to match a single event.
- Conference. You have speakers, and maybe round tables, sometimes you sit down in the audience and listen, and other times you contribute to the discussions.
But mostly, you have someone telling you things, you listen to them, and you learn something.
- Show Floor. You have a space, more or less a large one, where exhibitors have set up booths to present their products. Show floors for Public Events will more likely be about showcasing games that are not out yet, and for the public to discover them ahead of their friends. Show Floors for Professional events can be a mix of showcasing games, presenting new technologies, trying to sell developers the latest ad-technology to maximize users acquisition. Here you will also sometimes find recruitment booths. Certain events have huge dedicated spaces for recruiting activities.
- Networking. The event is set up so that it is easy for meetings to take place. There might be meeting tables, meeting points, and the event may offer a matchmaking service to make it easier for you to find the type of person you want to meet.
- Awards. The event includes an award ceremony. Some are more sophisticated than others. These range from taking over a conference room when the time comes to announce the winners, to a full-on dinner party with a host and entertainment around the awards announcements themselves.
- Competition. These are esports events – competitions organised around a number of video games. Generally, they will be Public Events.
Most of the events I will cover are mainly of the first three types – the vast majority of events relevant to professionals of the game industry would have at least on those component at the heart of what they offer.
Why do you attend events?
What is it you want to achieve by attending?
These might seem obvious questions, but there are many studios and developers that are attending events, spending significant amounts of money and time, just because they feel that’s what is expected of them, and attending this event or another is what they should do, without going through the process of mapping out what they want out of attending them.
Here are the most common discussed motivations to attend events when working with games studios and publishers:
- Media Appointments
- Business Networking
- Meet your Peers
- Show your Game to the public
- Meet your Community
- Building Brand Awareness
- Market Intelligence
Most commonly seen at conferences, where sharing knowledge is a formalised component of the event, learning can also be expected at any event where you have the opportunity to speak with your peers about specific aspects of your projects, and learn from others’ projects. This is a very straightforward reason for attending, albeit one not easy to evaluate the ROI on.
You might expect a specific event to be rife with sharing of like-minded individuals, but there is usually no formal process to make that happen; you might attend a conference where the key topics for discussion are on matters that you, or your studio, have already mastered.
It is important to consider the importance of what you want to get from an event in that regard, to double check the speakers’ backgrounds and their previous speaking engagements. To that effect, you can search for their names on YouTube, or you can have a read through their Twitter timeline, to build a better picture in regards to what to expect.
Events that rely heavily on conferences and content are very careful about their reputation, and usually spend a significant amount of energy securing good speakers and curating their program. Checking for an event’s reputation ahead of time, asking previous attendees about their experiences there, is another good idea, and particularly important if your main objective is learning.
You should also consider whether the event is recording its content and distributing it afterwards (some will will have their content behind a paywall while others will share it for free). You might not get the extra warm feeling that you have when you breathe in the same air of a respected expert of your field, but you will likely save a lot of money.
You have a great game, and you want to put it in the hands of journalists, getting them excited about it and, hopefully, to write about it.
For certain events, the media attendance can be one of the main motivation for studios to go. This is certainly true for gamescom in Europe, for instance, where the calendar of the event has even a dedicated day for press (even though at gamescom media appointments will happen throughout the event, as well as in the halls dedicated to the public side).
The trick is here is not to expect that showing up is all you have to do. At any event, if your goal is to present your game to the press, you need to work ahead of the event to invite them to drop by your booth. Many events will provide you with a list of the attending media, as long as you are yourself a paying attendee, most often with a booth. But these media lists can be deceptive. They will include everyone who has registered to get a press accreditation and received it. It means multiple things:
- Some will be very small. Possibly so small that it can be difficult to appreciate how much of your time is worth investing with them.
- Some will be attending with a specific agenda in mind. Whether or not you fit that agenda can be hard to appreciate ahead of time.
- Some outlets won’t have many people on site. If you know a major website is attending, don’t rejoice until you know how many journalists are coming. If they send a single person to a large event, they will likely prioritize larger games, and getting their attention will be hard.
- Some will have registered “just in case”. They are on the list, but they might not be coming at all. They just ensured they had a badge ahead of time, before even deciding if they’d attend.
- Some will not attend the whole event. They might be in there for a day, an afternoon, or even just a couple of hours. Do not assume that everyone is on site for the full event’s worth of time. It is also common for media to skip the weekend days, most often the B2C period, to stick to week days, and many journalists will go home on Friday evening.
You will have some foot traffic, the odd media person whose meeting was canceled and they’re wandering around, trying to find a hidden gem in the giant haystack that conventions can be, but it will more likely be a smaller media representative who was not significant enough to secure appointments with bigger projects, and has more time on their hands than their larger counterparts. And if you have free time of your own, small streams can make big rivers, but keep an eye on the objective and your priorities at all time.
Another point to keep in mind in regards to taking media appointments, be aware of the media that are important to your specific niche. The big generalist outlets are great, but so are niche websites that represent a perfect fit with your project. The return you can get from those highly specialised journalists can prove more beneficial than a small paragraph produced quickly for a larger publication.
Lastly, make sure you double check an event’s media presence. You might assume that some festivals are bursting with journalists left and right, only to realize they are rather poorly attended by media and you made your assumption because your own media bubble has a particular affinity with those events. Time is at a premium for video games editors and journalists, and they only attend events they know will provide them opportunities for content that makes up for the time spent away from their desks.
Whether you want to present a game to a publisher, you want to find some contract work to help your cashflow, or you want to meet with a service provider, your goal is business oriented and you want to spend time to discuss your project with potential partners.
Some events are designed to facilitate these types of discussions. Ahead of the first day, they will invite you to list your company and your project on a matchmaking system, and you will have the ability to consult all the attending companies and their projects, and contact them through said matchmaking system. This is where a couple important disclaimers need to be made:
- Not all matchmaking solutions are of equal quality. The worst one I had to use was probably at Gstar, the biggest game event in Korea, in November every year in Busan. Gstar is great, but their matchmaking is horrendous! Or it was last time I attended, a couple of years ago, but I haven’t heard anything hinting at it having improved. Be prepared to suffer, though, as they still provide very valuable information on who is attending.
- Not all matchmaking solutions are actually used. And this can be related to the point above – bad systems are avoided by most attendees – but it can also be because of the profile of the event and habits that attendees have built prior to a matchmaking system being added. Don’t necessarily assume that everyone is using the matchmaking, and always pursue other channels to get in touch with the person you want to meet.
In the absence of a matchmaking solution, you have other ways to find out who is attending an event. At conferences, the list of speakers is the first resource to leverage. They will be busy when they are having their own talks, but most of them are likely attending to network as well. Then, you can check the exhibitors lists, and the sponsors list. These companies are spending money to let the world know they are attending – they will likely be open to meet you. Then, many people in the industry announce their attendance to events through social media – a quick search for the name of the event on Twitter can give you ideas on who to reach out to for your meetings.
Of course, you can also just reach out to people you would like to meet and ask them whether they are attending or not. Even if they are not, that’s an opportunity to find out which events they are headed to, or to arrange a follow up to present your project through a Skype call, or equivalent, when they are not too busy.
When your goal is to organise business meetings, it is likely you have a very specific idea of what you want to get out of your attendance, and whether the event was fruitful should be easy to determine. How many publishers have you met? How many of them showed interest and asked for a follow up after the show? Have you identified potential partners looking for help and who are interested in contracting you? Just keep in mind that while events are great to network and create business leads, the hard work happens after those meetings (and sometimes before, as you have to make sure you show the best you can do during at those discussions), and any positive business discussion you had will take time to bear fruits, and many of them won’t.
I also find it is important to keep an eye on the long-term benefits of those encounters. While you might be disappointed that the publisher you wanted to work with told you they have a full portfolio and they are not looking for more new games at the moment, that encounter can be beneficial further down the road as they now know you, and they will be more likely to meet you again in the future for other projects. You will also have a better understanding of what they like, and how to pitch to them.
Meeting Your Peers
Making a game can be a very exhausting process. Many studios end up working on their game for several years, with the same team of people involved every day. And even if you can share your thoughts and listen to others going through the same process online, there are proven benefits in going out into the world, taking a break from development, and meet with likeminded people at an event.
For some, this is a way to get inspired by their peers’ stories; others are driven by the positive feedback they can get by sharing the details of their project; or they can be recharging their batteries by making sure that they are not alone and that there is a whole industry, comprised of many peers, helping them and validating what they are doing.
This is obviously a motivation where the ROI is much harder to define, and very personal. I have met developers who hate attending events as it takes them away from “the real work”, while others say they regularly need to connect with other game makers.
Certain events are more suitable than others for this. First, you should consider what are the other motivations that will attract other industry folks there. It is harder to connect and casually discuss at a large B2C event where everyone also has to man a booth, while it would be much easier at a conference, where the schedules are more flexible, and often have breaks to allow attendees to connect. Then, you need to consider the type of person that you are likely to get along with, and whether they are likely to attend the event in significant numbers. An indie developer is likely to have a hard time finding like-minded individuals at a free-to-play mobile event, for example.
Twitter is again a good source to determine whether or not an event would be suitable for you. You are likely following said like-minded persons, and whether or not some of them are going to attend (or would consider attending, as you can ask them), is an excellent indicator.
Ultra-niche events tend to be good for this purpose. Attending AdventureX in London if you are making a point-and-click adventure game is probably a good idea if you want to meet your peers. And of course, meeting game people will also help you fulfil other motivations (business networking; learning), but I think purely meeting your peers is a valid and often not mentioned motivation.
Show Your Game to the Public
You have been working on your game for a number of months, and even though it is not done, you are itching to show it to the world, and to put controllers into the hands of strangers, seeing the project with fresh eyes.
You can arrange this in very different environments – as long as you have space where you can get someone to play, you are good. This could be at a B2C expo, on the show floor, where you have taken a booth specifically for that purpose; it can be in the exhibitors area of a B2B event; or it can even on your laptop, in the corridors of a conference where you persuade friends of friends to give your baby a spin.
There is value in getting your game into the wild, but I think it also comes with some caveats, and this is from talking to many developers but also UX specialists, about the benefits of such endeavours:
- Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it can be the equivalent of a focus group. Players at an event are not experiencing your game in a good environment to provide structured feedback. They have their friends looking over their shoulder, they know the parents of the baby, so to speak, are looking at their every move, the environment is loud, maybe hot, with many distractions. They are not very likely to tell you your baby is ugly after playing for 10 minutes – they will see the eagerness in your eyes and they will tell you, “Absolutely, I had a blast, good job mate!”
- Games are not equal in how they are fit for being played at an event. Your couch multiplayer battle game with short sessions will garner a lot more interest than a turn-based 4X game. When planning to attend an event, if you want to put your game in the hands of others, think about how long you want them to play for, and what you want them to take away from playing the game. There could be a whole blog post on how to structure a game demo for an event, just think it through.
I think it is important for you to decide what you want to take away from the exercise. There are various options I can think of:
- Get a sense of the appeal of the game. So, it won’t be a focus group testing, but you can see if people are playing through the whole demo or not, and if they come back to try again. They might be drawn in by the visuals, or maybe they pass by your booth without a second look at it. Are other people intrigued by what is happening on the screen when someone is already playing?
- Recruit players. You want to get potential buyers of the game to learn about it and create interest for them. That’s a valid outcome to want from getting event attendees to play your game, but make sure you present a strong call to action to maximize the opportunity. If they play the game and then leave, how will they know the game is out months later? Give them flyers (not a big fan personally, even of the ones that are business cards size, they tend to end up in the nearest bin), get them to register to a mailing list (have a laptop at your station/booth, dedicated to this) or to follow you on your social networks. If you can think of a nice way to reward them for tagging you on Twitter, do it. If they enjoyed the game, they will want to make sure they can keep track of it – so give them the tools to do so.
While discussing this blog post with developers, one studio mentioned that to have the public play their game was an important part of their creative process. Being a small team, with no publisher, they found this was the best way for them to motivate themselves to meet milestones, and ensure the game was progressing constantly, with hard deadlines they had to meet.
This was very interesting, something I had not considered, and an excellent example of understanding the true motivation for you attending an event, and how you attend it.
Meet Your Community
Events represent an opportunity for you to meet your players. And I am not talking about your prospective players, the ones that might one day join your community, but actual, engaged fans that love what you do.
Connecting with those players in the flesh can be very interesting for developers. You can put a face to a name on forums, and they learn about the actual humans being behind the game. It is an opportunity to understand more directly what they are like, and what they like about your game. Not all games lend themselves to a highly engaged community over time, though, and it is not a goal that you will necessarily have for your own project. Moreover, meeting the creative team is usually more of an excuse for them to meet together than the actual end game. Creating a catalyst for your community to meet together and exchange is a positive aspect of this as well. It can be pretty casual, and you can meet them through a booth on the public showfloor you have at an event, or you can leverage the fact the event is happening to put together a dedicated, after-hours meet-up to make more out of your players gathering in the same place.
Evaluating the value of such endeavours is also complicated, but if you are unsure you can limit this to when other goals justify your attendance, and that way you can organise a meet-up for relatively low costs.
Events that are suitable for meeting your community will be ones that are open to consumers (for obvious reasons), and events that have a strong synergy or theme related to your own product. If your game is competitive, esports events are good for a meet-up, for instance.
While this is rarely the main goal, this is also something that is often forgotten or ignored as an option when considering the attendance of an event. Of course, there are events that actually prohibit you from selling anything on your booth, or force you to sell your product through dedicated shops (which might be perfectly fine options). Historically, video games events have been focused on games that are not yet available, making the selling of them a non-starter. However, it is now not so rare to see games exhibited at events after they have been launched, when they are readily available on various digital stores. Printing and selling Steam keys is not incredibly complex (make sure you do the proper accounting for them), and if visitors really enjoy your game, and they have the opportunity to purchase it there and then, they will. This is the strongest call to action you can have for a game. I worked the booth for a game a few years ago where we sold Steam keys, and we made enough money just from those sales to cover the cost of the booth and our travel expenses. It was a nice feeling to see at the end of the show that at the very least we had broken even, and we had also fulfilled all sorts of other objectives along the way.
If you happen to have t-shirts, badges, or other merchandise, they can nicely complement your games sales, or even serve as a valuable and profitable substitute, for them if the game itself is not available for sale.
It does take some extra effort, but even considering games sales, or related merchandising, is already more than what most companies I talk to usually manage.
Public events are the obvious fit for this (if you are selling B2B solutions, I would have to rethink the way I am presenting this blog post). Check whether the organisers allow selling at all, and if there are any event-specific restrictions or fees to acknowledge; what kind of audience is expected, and whether or not they would be likely to enjoy your game enough to buy it straight away, on site.
Having fun. It might be celebrating a milestone of your project, or even its release. Or it might be celebrating the joy of making games. Basically, the idea is that you are attending the event to have fun with your peers, maybe taking time off, away from the coal mine, to enjoy a bit of fresh air away from what you are toiling on.
I think it is important to recognize this motivation for what it is, and be very honest when it is driving your decision to attend. I think it is very easy to hide behind the other goals listed here, but it might not do you any good if you don’t recognize the true reason driving your decision. Otherwise, how can you make sure you accomplish what you had set your mind to? Here: did you have fun? Was the fun you had worth the time and expenses?
Not all events will offer the same type of opportunities, and how these opportunities are taken advantage of will vastly differ from one person to another. What matters is to understand what you are looking for, and whether or not the event is suitable for it. If you like late-night parties, with alcohol, then larger events, where companies are trying to woo the rest of the industry into liking them, are more likely to have multitude of such soirees. If your idea of celebrating is meeting players and the community, then check events with a good set-up for managing those kind of logistics. If you enjoy more quiet get togethers, where you can easily talk with other attendees, maybe look into what kind of official afterdark plans are organised at the event (that don’t involve a DJ, not enough seats for attendee bottoms, and copious free shots)
Building Brand Awareness
This is more likely to resonate with larger projects, the ones that you would consider the highlights of public events. As your marketing budget expands, attending an event in order to push the image that the project matters, and the world should pay attention to it, becomes a bigger priority. I think a project that illustrates this nicely is World of Tanks. While massively successful in its early days, it was often discarded as a Russian exception at best, and a mafia-money-laundering-front at worst. Once Wargaming put together a strategy to have the game present at all public events, usually with a massive booth and a real tank parked nearby, the perception shifted. It is one thing to hear about a game’s success on a website, but quite another to witness, in the flesh, hundreds of fans squeezed into a gigantic booth.
Brand awareness is also one of the motivations for most of the large booths at gamescom, whether you think of Farming Simulator or PlayStation. I guess it could be expanded to a general marketing goal, but really, I believe awareness is at the core here.
With this type of focus in mind, the one criteria for attendance at an event is going to be the scale of the event (how many people will attend) and how much of that audience you haven’t reached yet (for instance, it doesn’t matter if an event is smaller if it happens to be in a country where you haven’t showed the game yet). Of course, this is mostly considered for B2C events, with exceptions like E3 coming to mind. Media appeal should also be part of your consideration, as a strong media attendance can significantly multiply the visibility of your project.
Last in my list, and if you do have other goals let me know, is getting a sense of the industry trends. I guess all events will offer a window onto those in some ways, but I would say, to get a prospective look at them, conferences are usually the best. While there is content that is about looking backwards, a lot of the program managers try to get ahead of the trends and invite lecturers with an eye on what’s on the horizon. You will still learn a lot from walking the halls of a professional convention, though – there will be games you had not heard of, or that you forgot about. Also, there will be creative ways to present a game you had not thought about, and genres you didn’t know were popular, with hordes of fans queueing to get their hands on some of its swag.
It should be relatively easy for you to estimate if you met that goal after an event. Do you feel you have a better sense of the trends? Can you list them? Were you surprised by any of them? If you can answer those questions, you are in a good place to understand whether or not it was worth attending, when it comes to this motivation.
The idea is for the id cards to be as easy to read as possible. I want the description to be as short and to the point as possible, and mostly just have it provide some context for the event.
I will try to avoid to editorialize them too much, but each will be based on my inevitably, and naturally biased understanding of the event.
When I was discussing the idea of the id cards with peers, the information about the cost to attend came up very frequently. But do bear in mind that such figures can be difficult to estimate and subsequently communicate properly. The cost list will always be illustrative of the bare minimum to attend or exhibit at the event itself, representing a ballpark figure to help compare different events with each other.
Equally, you can benefit from an event without attending its main component, and save a significant amount of money.
And as I mentioned earlier, I won’t take into account travel and other expenses, such as hotel and food. There are just too many variations, and you should be able to run your own estimates for these.
On Reducing Costs
There are many ways to reduce the costs of your attendance, and I thought I would mention a few here, even though this could be a topic in itself:
- Be a speaker. That will only work for conferences, but many events have a conference component. Be aware, however, that it is uncommon for the organizers to cover more than the ticket to attend, and it is even rarer to be paid to be a speaker.
- Work with a “booth aggregator”. Is there another word for the likes of the Indie Megabooth or the Indie Arena? Anyhow. These folks. Working with them to be an exhibitor might not always save you money directly, but it will save you a lot of hassle and lot of energy ahead of the event, and that equates to time you can spend on other things, and is as good as money.
- Keep an eye on the free opportunities. Some events save space to invite projects that are different from their regular, mainline programming, or that don’t have the budget to normally attend. Jump on those opportunities. A good example is the Leftfield Selection at EGX.
- Talk to your local trade body. Many of them arrange combined booths, or export missions, and they can be subsidized partly or in their entirety. ICO’s presence at gamescom every year is made so much better because we do it with UKIE.
- Double check you are not entitled to some discounts. Students often receive discounts for conference tickets, having an IGDA membership can lead to some discounts at game events, and discounted Early Bird pricing is the norm for a lot of events.
The first set of cards
And to conclude, please find my first set event of events cards. They are all hosted on Imgur, you can save the url of the album for future reference, and I will tweet new cards on my account as well as ICO Partners’ as I make them.
If there is a specific event for which you would like a card made, let me know. This is just the beginning, and I plan on adding to this regularly.
Where to find more events?
I use two websites to keep track of industry events:
- Game Confs. Very simple list of events, with filters per country or per continent.
- Events for Gamers. A bigger website, with many events listed. They also have a Google calendar. It’s just one click to add it.
Many of these lists are difficult to maintain, so don’t rely solely on them. My next best source for industry events is Twitter, which I keep an eye on for events announcements.
This is the week after gamescom, and as is tradition, I have some numbers to share about the event. I will reference data from previous years (some slightly adjusted), as this exercise has been done now for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
As for the last 3 years in a row, the dates have changed, with gamescom roughly a week later than the previous year. Moreover, it now starts on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, and ends on the Saturday rather than the Sunday. For professionals (at least the ones coming from Europe), it has the advantage of covering the work week, you can easily be back home on Friday.
Microsoft kind-of had a press event? It was more similar to the Nintendo Direct format, with no onsite event, just a live video event being streamed. For reference, the last time Sony had a press event at gamescom was in 2014; while Microsoft skipped last year.
The Microsoft event seemed very weak to me. They only announced one new game for Xbox, Jurassic World Evolution, and it is not a very strong fit for a console genre-wise. They actually held their best game announcement for the following day, revealing a new Age of Empires is coming. The limited Scorpio edition also got decent coverage, but it seems to me it is more a sign of how light the event was in content.
I went and pulled the attendance numbers from the previous years, to see how gamescom is doing in that regard. You can find the 2017 numbers here.
gamescom is not growing much. It seems to have reach its critical mass a few years ago now. I was wondering if the change of dates, especially not having the Sunday anymore, would impact the attendance numbers negatively, but it seemingly had no effect, or it might have even helped that slight growth in attendance.
Trade visitors is also very stable, even if lower than the peak seen in 2015. 30,000 professionals attending is quite impressive, it has to be said.
The number of exhibitors though is ever increasing. The multiplication of smaller companies (indie studios; micro publishers; other vendors) is probably at play here.
There are also the odd exhibitors, whose presence is always a bit confusing:
gamescom in the media
This year’s edition of gamescom was relatively underwhelming when it comes to strong media beats (new games; high profile announcements; trailers on high expectation games) – and the media coverage would reflect this.
gamescom 2017 has seen the worse performance where media coverage is concerned since I started tracking it in 2014. Arguably, the numbers stay in the same range as the ones of 2014 and 2016, but it seems like on one hand Microsoft didn’t put any real show with its media event; while on the other hand no one picked up on the opportunity that gamescom represents.
Looking at the volume of media coverage per languages, it is interesting to see the past trend of increased visibility of the event with English media continues. The drop of German coverage (both in volume of articles and number of media) is intriguing and might be the results of a shift in the German media landscape.
With Xbox having an extra dedicated event, it should not be surprising that it secured more coverage during the week of gamescom, regardless of how weak the announcements there were. Xbox One X is getting a lot of attention as the newest hardware to be available, and the games supporting it got their fair bit of coverage.
Despite 2017 being weak overall, it is the best gamescom for Xbox since I started tracking media exposure. I find it very interesting that at the Cologne Messe, in the public area, the Xbox booth was actually quite small again. Microsoft seems to be careful with their spending there, at least for the second year in a row. Both Nintendo and Sony had vastly larger spaces, but even major publishers, or game studios had more space. It seemed to me that the Farming Simulator’s booth was only a third of Xbox’. And the Wargaming booth, also in the same hall, was probably twice as big.
Despite this being a good year, I can’t help and wonder how much it could have been for Microsoft with a stronger line-up of reveals considering their performance with their half-hearted presence.
Rather than compare the media performance of the Switch to the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, I found it much more interesting to present it compared to the Wii and Wii U coverage of previous years. Like at E3, Nintendo is really ramping compared to during the Wii era. This weeks Showcase was also very interesting on the indie front, and should contribute to Nintendo media coverage growth.
Games in orange were the ones first announced during this gamescom (arguably, Biomutant leaked a few days earlier).
Like last year, these were the top 30 games based on their media coverage. Here are a few thoughts:
- Final Fantasy XV had multiple announcements that week, taking it to the lead in coverage. Interestingly, it was also a top game last year.
- Overwatch is still very strong in the media. Blizzard is quite careful about always having announcements to make during gamescom, and it is paying off.
- Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds took a while to build its media presence. The Xbox One port is certainly helping, but the general strong interest in the title is putting it firmly on the list of media darlings, in a similar way to Rocket League.
- Biomutant’s strong media presence is proving that gamescom is an excellent opportunity for publishers with less muscle than the publishing powerhouses using E3 as their main media event of the year.
- Jurassic World Evolution and Age of Empires IV, the two new titles announced by Microsoft, secured a significant amount of coverage, but nothing actually crazy. Most of Microsoft media coverage was around the titles supporting the new Xbox One X, rather new games.
Next year, gamescom’s dates are for once not changing. They keep the Tuesday to Saturday formula, at the end of August. It will be interesting to see if more companies decide to use it as a springboard to announce new titles, following the steps of THQ Nordic’s Biomutant.
Post-Scriptum – If you have been following us for a while, you might have recognized Martin Rabl, an ICO alumni, on the coverage of Angela Merkel’s visit of gamescom:
This just happened! My pulse is slowly getting back to normal. 🙂 #farmingsimulator #gamescom #Merkel pic.twitter.com/5yOdZJIOEe
— Martin Rabl | Amboss (@martin_rabl) August 22, 2017
I haven’t recovered (yet) from this year’s gamescom, but I would rather do the customary media coverage analysis blog post while it is still fresh.
If you are so inclined you can read the 2014 and 2015 posts, but I will be comparing previous years to make it easier. The methodology is the same (data is from Sunday to Sunday, across all the media we track).
Let’s review the specifics of this year edition.
The dates changed again, getting closer to the middle of the month compared to last year’s. This year the dates were more “normal” as far as gamescom is concerned, starting on the 17th and closing on the 21st of August.
No press conference from either Sony or Microsoft
Last year Sony did not put together a press conference, leaving the field free for Microsoft. This year Sony again skipped the once traditional Press event at gamescom, and Microsoft has followed their example. While I can see the logic behind Sony’s move, after all they have many other events in lieu of the gamescom for their communication if they follow last year’s pattern, Microsoft hasn’t structured its communication that way in the past, and they haven’t announced anything to make up for the lack of a press event in Cologne.
Last year Sony used the Paris Games Week as its European press event, but there hasn’t been any announcement so far in that regard for 2016. They do have a new event called the PlayStation Meeting in early September, which I will keep an eye on for sure.
Here are the gamescom 2016 numbers, as released by the organisers:
- 345,000 visitors (same as 2015)
- 30,500 trade visitors (-2,700 from 2015; -1,000 from 2014)
- 877 exhibitors (+71 from 2015)
The space was the same surface area as last year.
gamescom has reached an interesting size issue, where they can’t welcome more people. The tickets are sold out and there isn’t much more space in the Messe to expand too. There is also the issue that even if they want to have more space, there might not be much interest from exhibitors to expand further than what they currently have, and the companies not exhibiting probably have good reasons not to. I will talk about it at the end of the post, there are some changes coming that might help.
So. What about the media coverage?
gamescom in the media
So, I should preface this year’s analysis by a disclaimer that I don’t pretend to understand all the forces at a play where those numbers are concerned. Most of what you will find are educated guesses and I try to corroborate the theories with the data, but it doesn’t always work.
Here, we see a decline in the total coverage of the gamescom’s brand from last year. But while there was a significant drop, which was expected with the lack of major press conferences, it stayed at the same level as 2014, where there were two press conferences. So I would say that gamescom has reached a point where its relevance to the media (and the publishers and studios planning their communication strategy) has gone beyond the consoles’ press events, and it stands on its own.
As expected, a lot of the articles are coming from German media (this is where I plug our report on the media landscapes – you can download it for free and it can give you a sense of the size of the media in the different languages). Nothing surprising yet there.
Looking at the number of unique websites mentioning gamescom, we find a different result though… There were more English websites than German websites covering the event (keep in mind that most of our database is very much games websites, there are plenty of General Interest media that we don’t track properly).
So, looking at the past 3 years, we can see that in every language, there were more articles last year than in the 2016 edition. It all makes sense. The year-on-year drop can be more or less drastic depending on the language. In French and German, it goes below the 2014 level for instance. But looking at the number of unique websites covering gamescom in English, there is a significant growth over the past 3 years, to the point that they are actually more websites in English covering gamescom, than German ones (again, in our sample).
English media were probably a bit behind the other ones in taking into account gamescom as a major industry event. It seems that this year, they have caught up, and they have increased their coverage of the event considerably. That’s impressive considering that it happened without the support of any major press conference.
Looking at the articles mentioning the platforms during the week of gamescom, the slight drop in articles on the Xbox One was to be expected with no press conference this year. The VR platforms all saw more coverage, with the PlayStation VR taking the spotlight this year.
What is really fascinating, is the significant uptake that the PlayStation 4 had. To put it in context, this is the coverage that the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One had over the past three gamescoms:
This year was the best for the PS4 presence in the media since we started tracking the data. After looking more in depth, I don’t have one single explanation for this though, but I can offer the ones I have and some that were suggested to me:
- PlayStation VR. We know that PSVR had a very significant effect, but in the best case, it can only account to half of the extra coverage.
- Lack of Press Conferences. The absence of an Xbox press event meant that the attention bounced back to PlayStation from last year coverage. This is a good theory, especially when you consider the dominant position of PlayStation, even if the drop of the Xbox coverage, all things considered, is not that significant.
- Natural growth of gamescom coverage. We saw the significant bump in the English media covering gamescom, there might be a side effect here where that benefited PlayStation in some ways. As we are looking at two different data sets, there might be a growth of the PlayStation coverage from the additional visibility that doesn’t necessarily mention gamescom.
- Specific games. There are few games that seem to emerge supporting this theory. There is a little bit of extra coverage thanks to No Man’s Sky, and there is also some coverage specifically discussing Titanfall 2 coming to PlayStation 4 after the exclusivity of the first iteration on Xbox One. But in both cases, this seems very limited in volume.
For the sake of completion, here are a few things we know are not related to the increase:
- PlayStation 4 Slim edition. The rumours only started to show up online in a significant way on the last day of gamescom, a Sunday, and the volume is quite low.
- PlayStation Now coming to PC. The announcements (and its coverage) only started the following week.
If you have another theory, please let me know on Twitter, I am quite keen to hear your ideas as I might have missed something obvious here. For the moment, I think this is a combination of those factors that took PlayStation to its excellent media coverage this year.
Comparing E3 and gamescom
This year’s E3 saw very strong media coverage across the different platforms. In the case of the PlayStation 4, the growth in the media coverage at gamescom (+36% from last year) is triple the one it had at E3 (+12% from last year). For the Xbox One, we see a slight drop at gamescom (-8% from last year) against a significant growth at E3 (+21% from last year). It has to be noted that Microsoft presence at this year’s gamescom was quite timid. Its booth was significantly smaller than the previous year from what I could tell (couldn’t find a proper floor plan of the consumer halls), especially compared to Sony’s (it was probably 6 to 8 times bigger).
It seems to me that Microsoft backed out of gamescom more strongly than Sony, and the discrepancy in the media coverage is showing it.
On the other platforms, I want to specifically mention the Oculus Rift. Year-on-Year, its E3 media coverage increased +18% against a +95% increase for its gamescom coverage. In both cases, the device is now available compared to the previous year, but Oculus seems to have managed to come across to the media at gamescom much more efficiently than the previous year, with media coverage at the same level as its E3 coverage.
Again, I picked the top 30 games in terms of coverage during the week of gamescom.
A few things that stood out for me:
- Pokemon Go and No Man’s Sky both are here despite having no specific announcement at gamescom. They just happen to be the hype-of-the-month, and it is as such a scale that they both take the top spots.
- Final Fantasy 15 is the third most mentioned game, but only partly because of its gamescom presence. The announcement of the delay early in the week is a significant part of the coverage of the game (and by far the biggest beat the game received).
- Overwatch had the double effect of announcing (and showing) a new map at gamescom AND the release of one of animated short movie (and an excellent one)
- Call of Duty PR machine is losing hard to its Battlefield nemesis this year. Also, very interesting to see that Titanfall 2 is also doing very well media wise.
- Little Nightmares was incredibly well covered for a game of that profile.
I find the results of this year’s analysis are fascinating. I was going into it expecting to see some decline due to the lack of the big press events to support the media attention. And while there has been a decline in the total coverage mentioning gamescom, it was not drastic, and as far as the media attention on key game platforms, it certainly was a good week.
It seems that the event has grown to the point of developing an autonomy from the big press-only conferences, and has enough interest on site to stay relevant without them. Of course, all the key industry actors were there, and still supporting it, but until we see an exodus of such companies, gamescom seems to be now well and strongly positioned to be the most relevant game event in Europe when it comes to media, and is probably only second to E3 in the world.
Take notes for next year, and remember that the dates have changed again. It will at the same time of the year, but happening from Tuesday to Saturday instead of the traditional Wednesday to Sunday it has been at for years.
Going back as promised on this year’s game events and their media coverage, today I am looking into the early results of the Paris Games Week held from 28th of October to the 1st of November.
This year’s event was particularly interesting as it was chosen to host the Sony media conference instead of the one usually held during gamescom.
Last time around I used a formula looking at the key 20 days of different events, so the numbers I am showing today are a bit short for the Paris Games Week (PGW). I had to make a choice about getting the same numbers but publishing in a few weeks (I am away in Korea to attend Gstar and have meetings with clients) and publishing this week with a partial outlook. Considering the partial numbers are already very telling, it seems like a better idea to make this post while the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Scale of PGW 2015
Using the same numbers for all the recent events as the last time, the results are very interesting:
The PGW 2015 edition has seen a massive growth in its media coverage – it has grown over 500% compared to last year alone. There is no doubt the Sony press conference played a key role (more on that later), and its takes the event close to the size of the main GDC event.
However, it is still a way from the media coverage we can see out of gamescom or even the Tokyo Game Show (which has still about a 1/3 more coverage than the PGW) despite the fact that the event happens on the other side of the world and the media that we track are Western media. But for its first edition, backed by a major media event, this is an outstanding performance.
With the Paris Games Week behind us now, we have a great opportunity to look into the effect the event had on Sony’s game console media presence in comparison to its other recent media events.
To focus on the media dedicating time to the Sony conference, I limited the sample to 3 days – the day of the conference and the following 2 days. Longer period give more weight to the media initiatives on the show floor, or other unrelated announcements. Also bear in mind that articles only related to the console, but not the specifically about the event, are also counted.
The result was surprising to me. While Paris Game Week was the event this year that had the least coverage, it came surprisingly close to the Tokyo Game Show, but even more surprising, it had more media coverage than its direct European predecessor, the Sony media conference at gamescom last year.
Sony obviously did a great job in its media outreach around the event as well as efficiently managing the invites to the event itself. There is probably a positive effect from the company being on its own at the event, with no particular major announcement from its console competitors at the same time. An effect that Microsoft benefited from this year at gamescom as we saw earlier.
In many ways, this validates Sony’s decision to feature its media conference during the Paris Games Week. As each event is unique in many ways, the value of certain announcements not being equal, it is impossible to say if the number would have been better at gamescom, but the fact that they look so good, even compared to the closer Tokyo Game Show, is a feat in itself. It looks like a small repeat of last year’s brilliant Playstation Experience.
Talking of which, it will be the next milestone in this series on the impact of events on the media coverage.
The PGW’s paradox
Running concurrently with Paris Games Week is Game Connection – a special networking event where industry professionals can make appointments to meet. Last week, I also attended the Game Connection side of the event, and on multiple occasions I discussed with the people I was meeting the overall presence of the media (including a few journalists) at PGW.
There was a clear lack of international journalists at the Paris Games Week itself. It appears that many media flew over for the Sony conference and left right after it. In a few discussions, it seemed like they were not aware of the fact that they could attend PGW as well, nor that they could easily get newsworthy content from the exhibitors. And to be honest, they were not totally wrong. In many ways, the event is not structured to include media. The Game Connection, which is the only B2B space at the location, isn’t historically structured to host journalists. They have made specific efforts to be more inclusive of media, but we are far from the gamescom equivalent of the B2B area which hosts business meetings as well as media meetings in a dedicated environment.
But even the showfloor, which at gamescom is used for many media meetings and hands-on experiences, wasn’t set-up with media in mind. The space was almost always totally open, with very few meetings rooms there, and from what I could see, no booth had an identified location to find staff for a professional enquiry. Add to this the fact (reported to me, being fluent in French, it didn’t come to mind to actually check on this the couple of times I went to the showfloor) that the hosting staff were not selected with their capacity to communicate in English in mind. As a result you have a very consumer driven event, not very welcoming for the few international media that were present.
Local media were there though, and with a strong presence, but that doesn’t answer my questions in regards to what I call the PGW’s Paradox:
The PGW has stated its international ambitions many times. This is taken from their October press release:
The first Paris Games Week was held 5 years ago. This event tailored for all gamers has quickly and firmly established itself in the world’s top 5 video gaming fairs. Today, Paris Games Week is one of the world’s essential gaming industry events, for gamers as much as for professionals. The 2015 edition will host international speakers and exclusive releases, brand new to Paris Games Week. Members of SELL, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, are delighted to see the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre become home to everyone involved in video gaming, a place where the industry comes together to discover the new products that will be the stars of the end-of-year season.
While the Game Connection is very international, the PGW showfloor wasn’t. And its management of media lacked significantly in providing a strong basis for coverage outside of France.
This is by no means an easy fit. You would need a number of publishers and studios to play along, to provide multiple key beats during the event to attract international media, and the date of the event doesn’t make this very easy as October/November is usually more about the seasonal blockbusters and AAA-titles than new, upcoming announcements. But, if there was a perfect opportunity to do this, it was this year, and if there was one organisation in France able to coordinate this, it would the SELL, the PGW’s organizer, a trade body representing the videogame publishers.
There is a missed opportunity there, and depending on what Sony does next year in regards to its European media conference, this might have been a unique chance. With gamescom later in August, Sony might move back the conference there and depending on how happy they are of the Paris conference and how they want to situate the important announcements compared the competition. It is interesting to note that nothing prevents Microsoft to look into making its own announcements during PGW next year. However, I doubt the two companies will share their thoughts on what they will do…
Note – you can find out more on the methodology on the dedicated blog post.
While I had some requests to look into the Tokyo Game Show the way we looked into gamescom or E3, I thought that with the event being at a different scale (on this side of the world, the tool doesn’t track very well coverage from Asian media and they are just excluded from the data on these posts) it could be the opportunity to look at the coverage of different game events instead of an in-depth look at just TGS.
The usual disclaimers from the articles on the media monitor apply, but on top of this, I need to remind everyone that we can’t currently properly track E3 specifically in the media coverage (hence the slightly different methodology applied in the E3 coverage article).
Methodology for events – the Key 20 days
When looking at the way events are covered in the media, there was an interesting pattern on the timing of the coverage. There is some media attention as the event is getting closer and the hype is ramping up. You have rumours of the reveals you can expect, announcements about what to expect on site, this sort of things. Events also happen with very different timing in terms of the week of the day they happen. Business events will take place during the work week, consumer events will usually continue during the weekend. Then, you have such a density of information being thrown at the audience that you also see a good amount of coverage happening the week following the events when some interviews that couldn’t be put formatted properly during the event itself, or some change encounter that could only probably followed up on afterwards, can finally be published.
To cover all those aspects, and looking at patterns of media coverage across different events, I decided on a formula that seemed to apply fairly for all events. Taking on the first day of the event, I take the media coverage of the 9 days preceding the event, and the 11 days from the day the event start. I called them the Key 20 days, for lack of a better terminology.
As you will see, I also consider the media coverage on a daily basis, but this formula gives me a component to compare the events with each other.
Tokyo Game Show
This year’s Tokyo Game Show had a Sony press conference ahead of the show. And comparing the media coverage of this year with the coverage of last year, there is a very interesting effect that immediately noticeable.
The total amount of media coverage is not massively different from last year. But a lot of the media coverage shifted to a few days earlier, coinciding with the Sony conference.
It seems that the Sony conference had no effect but to displace when the media coverage happened. To be fair, over the key 20 days, there has been a marginal growth year-on-year, but nothing incredibly significant.
There are two possibilities:
- The Sony conference has just shifted when the media coverage is happening and there wasn’t an impact on the volume of coverage.
- The general coverage of the event decreased, and the Sony conference is hiding that decrease of media coverage.
I would tend to align with the second option, if only because the Sony Conference happened at a much more convenient time (during the work week). Of course, it shifted a lot of the Sony specific media coverage earlier, but I would have expected to see a more significant growth due to the more friendly timing. This hidden decrease could possibly be related to a weaker lineup of titles at the show this year compared to 2014.
This is just a theory though – at the end of the day TGS this year still had more media presence and any growth is a good sign for them.
Video Game Events scales
Events around video games seems to be multiplying every year, be they business events or consumer events. More and more local events are organised, conferences multiply as the industry diversifies.
In a marketing budget, events can represent very significant investments And not just because of the actual cash cost, but also in terms of the human resources that need to be allocated for it, and the disruption they can have on the development of games in order to have playable builds for them.
Getting a sense of the ROI for events is incredibly difficult – and while media coverage is one element to look at, it is definitely not the only measure to take into account. Still, this is the tool I have at my disposal, and one that can provide some interesting frame for references.
To clarify this graph, both PAXes in there are the PAX Prime event in Seattle, the largest of the PAX event. PGW is the Paris Games week and I didn’t put the 2015 numbers because the event hasn’t happened yet (it’s at the end of October). I will post the 2015 numbers on Twitter and might do a follow up of this article on it.
The reason the PGW was included, despite being a pretty “small” event from a media coverage point of view is because Sony will do an international press conference ahead of the event. It was presented as the replacement for its gamescom conference that didn’t happen this year (leaving Microsoft alone to take the lead on the event media coverage).
What is very revealing with this graph, is the difference in the magnitude of each event for media coverage. Keeping in mind that the tools we use don’t properly cover Asian media, the TGS is a significantly smaller event compared to gamescom, and it makes sense in that regard. What is more impressive is the difference in scale between those 2 events and PAX Prime.
PAX Prime is a consumer first event, but it saw more and more announcements being made there the years. Cliff Bleszinsky’s upcoming LawBreakers used that event for its first reveal for instance (and to great effect IMHO). There is an impressive discrepancy in the media impact between the premiere shows, with established brands (and strong support from the largest actors) and the rest. While I expected a big difference, this is bigger than I would have expected.
If E3 was in the graph, it would dwarf gamescom, and everything else would look even more ridiculously smaller. If anything, I feel this shows there is probably too much concentration at the moment in terms of the media coverage of events. It will be incredibly interesting to see if the PGW can show the impact of the Sony conference move for the event coverage – it could prove that spreading the communication across more events is a worthy strategy, the way they brilliantly orchestrated the Playstation Experience last year.
Summer 2015 events
With gamescom, PAX and TGS within 2 months of the summer, I thought I could show how they get covered in that period.
It is important to remember that gamescom was unusually early this year. It will be back to the 2nd of August next year, and closer to PAX Prime again.
In the graph, the fact that PAX Prime runs over a weekend is quite apparent. Where gamescom and TGS both peak around the large conferences and the first days, PAX main day is on the Monday (and the last day of the event).
I also went and looked at the media languages of those 3 events:
The first graph is looking at the total number if articles in each languages. The second graph at the number of unique websites in each languages.
For all languages, both in volume of articles and number of unique media, the gamescom is the largest event. It is a lot larger for Germany though, unsurprisingly as the event is hosted there, and a lot more local media is likely to pick up on related news.
It is interesting to note though, that there are more English media covering PAX Prime and the TGS (again, PAX being in the US, they benefit from the locality), but more articles are written in English about TGS. It shows they are just more news announced there (which is also logical considering the events profiles). However, the fact that about the same number of German media are covering PAX as TGS is more unexpected. I suspect the stronger PC profile of German media makes a larger proportion of outlets interested in PAX news, than say French media (about half of the number of websites covering TGS covered PAX). Looking at number of articles in French for the TGS compared to PAX Prime also shows a strong interest in the Japanese event compared to the other languages (and France love history with the Japanese culture could be at play here).
A few more thoughts
Large events are very unique beasts, they concentrate a lot of the communication happening in the game industry. But looking at the data for the smaller events, it is clear they are growing in terms of their media coverage too. They can play a very interesting role for companies that cannot compete with the large budgets the big shows are commanding. I will keep a close eye on those data and likely do a follow up, with a focus on events outside of the “blockbusters” of each continent (E3, gamescom, TGS).