Leipzig's CEO Wolfgang Marzin on the rise of the German trade show, the global expansion of the brand, and the issue of Cologne...
Trade shows, in the West at least, seem to be tricky creatures at best. In the UK various shows have come and gone, while E3's downsizing has completely changed the picture in North America. Yet at the same time Games Convention in Leipzig has grown to 185,000 visitors last year, and now incorporates a developer conference (GCDC) and much more besides.
However, earlier this year, German publisher association BIU announced that the industry was leaving Leipzig after 2008 to set up a rival event in Cologne, called GamesCom. GamesIndustry.biz spent some time with the Wolfgang Marzin, CEO of the trade show's organiser - Leipziger Messe - to look back at the past and mull over the future.
Q: Games Convention has become the key event in Europe in recent years, while other shows have changed significantly or disappeared altogether - you must be pleased that Leipzig has become the focus?
Wolfgang Marzin: Well, the key point was that we had a vision together with the German offices of the videogames companies, because they didn't have a show in Germany - the closest was CeBIT - and there was a joint vision together with us as a trade show company.
We were lucky enough that they chose us, probably because we had the best location and good presentation, and so on. In Germany, the industry has problems with being accepted by the public, so the German branches of the publishers decided to have a trade show with a big press attendance to put transparency as a whole on all the games they publish.
It started out that way - 90,000 visitors for the first show, 166 exhibitors, and it was a German show, period. As time went by, I would say that the USP was that we had the business sector and the public sector - it had great benefits to the companies, because orders were placed at the same time that the gamers were really able to try the games, and give feedback to the company.
But we had to add new things every year, such as GC Family and GCDC, to extend the value of the whole market from the trade's perspective. We improved it every year, and it always was - and always will be - adjusted to the needs of the industry.
Obviously for some reason in the largest European market - the UK - the trade show disappeared, which was of course a benefit for GC, even though we really doubt that any show in Germany could ever cover the whole of the UK market…in fact it's part of the GC vision to look at what might happen there.
Now, we have this brand which is in all aspects an international show - it has 185,000 visitors, 12,000 trade visitors with half of them coming from abroad. We push the show for the sake of the industry, because we don't have any stakeholders in the Stock Exchange for example, so we can try new things.
Last year we went for the first time to Singapore, to cater for the Asia-Pacific region, and we will continue - because we think we know the market pretty well, and we will always reflect what is going on, before and during GC in 2008 and then we'll look at what activities will best serve the industry in the future.
I know we're at a point with 185,000 visitors that we have some bottlenecks, to put it nicely, regarding hotel capacity and flight connections - but I think we've improved the whole situation considerably this year. No one had to sleep in a tent who didn't want to last year, and there are a few hotels being added at this point in time, as well as new direct charter flights to destinations including London, Helsinki, and others.
We are the fastest-growing trade show company, starting from nothing 18 years ago. We have a very bright future regarding flights as well, because the airport in South Berlin will be expanded to the third-largest airport in Germany, and will be connected by a 55-minute train journey to Leipzig.
So things are improving, and I think this year will be an excellent show - we have a great collaboration with BIU, and a great partnership with the press, and we'll be launching around 200 titles this year. And if everybody is happy, we'll continue to be ready in the future.
Q: What's your impression of how E3 has changed in the past couple of years? In 2006 it was the biggest focal point for the industry, but last year it changed completely.
Wolfgang Marzin: It was sad. We have one goal, as trade shows, which is to serve the industry - and if there's no trade shows in the US that really serve the industry, it's not good news for us because other meeting and distribution channels will be invented which might not be trade shows.
So that's why I wasn't happy when I heard about it, because GC in Leipzig can never serve the US industry properly - okay, we get a few guys over, obviously the CEOs and some trade, but really it's a different market.
Q: What's the buy-in from publishers been like for this year's event?
Wolfgang Marzin: Well, decisions are taken very quickly in this industry - we get good news all the time, some publishers are expanding their spaces at the show this year, but one company - Nintendo - pulled out from any general appearances at videogames trade shows. Headquarters decided to use different channels, and the decision was taken just 3 months before the show.
We serve them with two other shows - an automobile show, and they've also taken part twice already in one of the largest book shows in mainland Europe, so that's the way they work, and we have to respect that. And we'll be ready if they decide to jump on the train again next year.
Plus with the third parties there will be a lot of Nintendo platform titles anyway - DS titles for example.
Q: You mentioned Games Convention Asia - last year was a successful first step in Singapore, it was well attended, and there were some interesting subjects up for discussion. What's it been like working with the Singapore government, how open were they to the concept of a videogames show?
Wolfgang Marzin: Well, there was a pitch two years ago between the E3 organisers and us, because the Singapore government has the vision after other construction and machinery shows are finished, the clusters of IT, videogames, renewable energy and environmental protection are their big topics.
So they were looking around the market, and we won the pitch - so the government is very keen and supportive if there's somebody there who can contribute to the main visions and goals that the government has.
They want to become the hub of South East Asia for videogames - and what can they contribute? Intellectual property protection, wonderful venues, support for incoming organisers in terms of allowing Singaporean companies to take part, having ministers open the event - all the support you would need.
I was in Singapore in the eighties, with trade shows that were important to serve as a hub for the Asian states to build the country up - but that job is pretty much done now.
I'm sure it will be a tough call, because it's a different market, and nobody can tell exactly what will happen - Korea for example has a huge online market.
But in the next years we believe that we can contribute, and reflect well on our show on Germany - this year we're seeing a couple of exhibitors in Leipzig as a result that we've never seen there before, so there are mutual benefits.
And for the developer conference there are some specific issues that we can reflect, and again those are interesting discussions we can represent and include in our Leipzig event.
Q: The Memorandum of Understanding was signed at GCA last year by all of the local associations, and it felt like a unifying force was needed to bring people together - do you think that GCA is the right place for that to happen?
Wolfgang Marzin: It looks like it. GCA, for that treaty to be signed, was a neutral place for that to happen. All these games associations might have had a hard time to sign it somewhere not impartial - but Singapore, at this show, it was neutral.
Q: The picture you paint regarding Leipzig as a venue makes it seem very positive, yet earlier this year it was announced that the rival GamesCom event would take place in Cologne - what's your view on that?
Wolfgang Marzin: Well I followed the announcement made earlier in the year, and we can't understand it, because it came from nobody we spoke to - but we have to respect it.
However, if you look at the facts - that there is a show that has worked for seven years while others are struggling all over the place - if you try to move a show in this industry, it's happened all ready that things evaporate in no time.
It's not up to us to judge what might be on the plan there, but we're very confident that we're able to serve the industry in the future at this location - but not necessarily only that, but also with a spread. We'll always be ready for the industry - we have the competence.
Q: There's some confusion over the number of publishers to actually support GamesCom - BIU believes that all of its members wanted the move to Cologne, but you don't agree?
Wolfgang Marzin: No - first of all I have to respect that it's the decision of a few very important customers that we've served for seven years already. However, this decision would have never existed in other countries - we're in the Federal Republic of Germany, sixteen states and sixteen trade show locations.
Each of the cities desperately wanted to have this fast-growing trade show, and everybody was throwing their hat into the ring - including some locations who said they were ready to host Games Convention, which would have been a much nicer idea - but that wasn't accepted for some reason by the fellows at Cologne, and I believe that's an unacceptable decision.
But we'll have to see what 2009 brings. We'll be ready, and I personally see that when everything has to be started from scratch…the concept doesn't move, the brand doesn't move - the people won't move either.
Wolfgang Marzin is the CEO of Leipziger Messe. Interview by Phil Elliott.