Comment: ELSPA's trade show gamble comes up trumps
Like many in the industry, we were confused and somewhat dismayed by ELSPA's decision to launch a rival set of London games shows directly opposite the long-running ECTS event at the start of September. Only a few months ago, we questioned the wisdom of splitting the industry across two venues, and wondered aloud if all of this confusion might not simply serve as a boost for the excellent Leipzig Game Convention, which goes from strength to strength every year, and threatens to rob the UK of its position as host to Europe's premier games events.
While the dust has by no means settled on EGN, Game Stars Live and ECTS yet, it's looking increasingly clear that ELSPA actually made the right decision. EGN and Game Stars Live are the strongest game events that the UK has seen in many years, and the ExCeL venue has proved itself admirably as an ideal location for these shows. The cross-London split of the industry is also less damaging than many had feared, since the bulk of firms have voted with their feet and opted for a presence at EGN - although it's still by no means an ideal situation, especially since many developers have plumped for the well-respected GDCE event which runs alongside ECTS rather than the ultimately unproven EDF conference at ExCeL.
The inclusion of a consumer show as part of the ELSPA event programme is, perhaps, the master-stroke here. Game Stars Live appears to have successfully attracted a large consumer audience, even on its first couple of days, and the weekend should hopefully see an even stronger showing. The loud, brash stands in the Game Stars Live section give publishers an opportunity to really show off their games, while the quieter EGN area, in which companies have been forbidden from building large stands, serves as a perfect venue for meetings, interviews and all the other things that trade shows are meant to be about, but which tend to get somewhat lost in the midst of the noise and spectacle at events such as E3 in Los Angeles.
In general, the response on ground to the shows has been hugely positive. Exhibitors and attendees alike are happy with the split format, happy to see the consumers flooding into the Game Stars Live halls and most of all, happy to see the industry's biggest companies finally getting behind a major games event in the UK after many years of frankly drab trade shows which were gradually turning into a forum for distribution and services firms rather than bringing in the key publishers and platform holders.
The EGN events aren't without their flaws, of course, but these can largely be dismissed as teething troubles for a new event. The Game Stars Live hall, in particular, lacks the atmosphere you'd expect from a major consumer show - better lighting and a little more work on appearance would potentially make for a much stronger event. The conference programme at EGN, meanwhile, seems to have been a disappointment, with attendance at many panels reported to be low and a definite feeling that the programme is being stretched thin to extend over the three days. This is the first time that the EGN team has put together an event such as this, however, and given how much has gone right, they can be forgiven for many mistakes which would be unacceptable from a more established event. Next year will undoubtedly be better - especially if the ludicrous cross-London split can be rectified, as we are confident that it will be.
Ultimately, it's simply been good to see the buzz back into London's autumn game shows. For members of the UK industry, and the European industry as a whole, it's almost a relief to have a strong event which attracts overseas visitors from North America, the Far East and elsewhere, and doesn't leave them wondering why they bothered. The question mark over ELSPA's intentions in launching a trade show to rival ECTS has been comprehensively removed, in our view - they did what needed to be done for the best interests of the industry in Europe, and it has worked extremely well indeed.
Rob Fahey is GamesIndustry.biz' editor, and can be reached at [firstname.lastname@example.org].
This editorial originally appeared in the GamesIndustry.biz News Digest, a free email news bulletin which is distributed to subscribers every day of the week and features a round-up of the key headlines of the day, the latest major share movements from industry companies, and the day's new job postings. Each Thursday afternoon, this digest is presented in a special omnibus form with the week's game charts and an editorial focus piece.
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