Thanks to restrictions off the back of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, trade shows around the world have had to cancel their physical conferences. Some didn’t do anything in their place, while others went online, offering a digital alternative to the tentpole events in the games industry calendar.
One such event was Germany’s Gamescom, which had an exclusively online offering for 2020 and had designs of holding a hybrid digital and physical show this year. Sadly, these plans were dropped in favour of an all-online event, with organisers Koelnmesse and Germany’s games industry trade body Game saying that it wanted to provide a stable plan for the companies who would be attending to show off their upcoming releases.
Still, having done one all-digital event, Gamescom’s organisers are feeling a bit more confident in their ability to pull off such a show a second time around.
“[We’re] better prepared than last year,” Game’s head of Gamescom and events, Chris Baur, laughs.
“We are in the fortunate situation of having a very close bond with our partners, whether it´s major publishers, indie studios or platforms, on the one hand, and to our communities on the other. Throughout the past year, we were in constant exchange and prepared several plans. In the end, we pivoted from a hybrid concept to a 100 per cent digital one.”
In recent years, many in the industry have been questioning the importance or relevance of shows like Gamescom. Developers and publishers can communicate directly with their audience via social media platforms and services like YouTube and Twitch. Platform holder Nintendo has been doing just this for years via its Nintendo Direct broadcasts with great success.
This is something that Gamescom’s organisers are keenly aware of and something that was at the back of their minds when conceiving of last year’s digital event.
“With Gamescom 2020, we created a fully-fledged, digital global event that has brought the games industry together. Due to the cancellation of E3 there were lots of online events. But Gamescom was almost unique in the way, the entire global industry united and that resulted in unparalleled visibility and reach,” Baur says.
“We promised that we would be hard to miss during the four days – and we delivered. Despite the corona crisis, millions of fans worldwide were able to safely experience hundreds of games, long-awaited new products, entertaining shows and surprising promotions in the context of the first digital Gamescom. This involved challenging preparation for all participants, and many partners had to overcome great obstacles in game development in some cases. Nevertheless, we achieved many of our goals.”
Though it was the first time that Gamescom had produced an entirely online show, the event still pulled in huge numbers of people from around the world. Its organisers claim that it saw a digital footfall of over 50 million users from 180 countries; its videos were viewed more than 100 million times, too.
“One of the keys to our success last year was that we embraced the idea of an event in the digital world,” Baur explains. “Instead of requiring the communities to come to our venue, we made the strategic decision to bring the experience to where the gamers are naturally.
“No matter if it was on Facebook Gaming, Steam, Tiktok, Twitch, Twitter, YouTube and so on, Gamescom was everywhere that gamers were and we will repeat this in 2021.”
This is something that is being brought forward into this year’s show, along with a few more changes to the existing formula. This has included the event’s organisers relaunching the Gamescom Now content hub, which has been rebuilt from the ground up.
“It`s built on a state-of-the-art software-as-a-service tech stack,” Baur says. “This way, the content hub will provide Gamescom partners and users alike with an enhanced and lasting experience. According to our figures from last year, our multi-platform/multi-channel approach is paying off.”
Also returning for 2021 is the Opening Night Live, hosted by games media personality Geoff Kieghley, while IGN and Webedia are producing English and German language content respectively during the event.
This year, organisers Koelnmesse and Game are also introducing a new concept called Gamescom Epix. This is a social media-based “joint quest journey” that the community can take part in before and during the trade show; it’s something that the two organisations have big plans for in the future.
“Gamescom Epix will become an integral part of the Gamescom experience over the years to come,” Baur says.
“For this year and at this moment, I can only give you a sneak peak, because there is more to come, but Epix is 100 per cent community atmosphere. It is a new community action where fans can join forces and playfully interact with Gamescom 2021 content even before Gamescom and collect points on interactive quests to snag unique prizes. These will be guarded in the large Gamescom Vault, which will open its doors at the beginning of Gamescom.”
While a lot of the buzz around shows like Gamescom centres on the new games that are being announced and the projects that press and consumers alike have tried out on the show floor, these events are also for businesses. It’s where developers meet publishers, where companies go to strike deals and meet other firms that could help them out.
That kind of networking and shoulder rubbing is difficult to replicate online, but it is something that the show’s organisers are trying to integrate via Gamescom’s sibling event, Devcom.
“That will feature an extensive online program and provide the games industry with a central business and networking platform,” says Baur.
“Several full-day business matchmaking events, such as the popular ‘indies meet investors and publishers’ format Devcom Pitch It, or special matchmaking and pitching events with Devcom's international community stands, will be significantly expanded and complemented by networking events for people to mingle and socialize. Devcom will therefore offer business and networking options that will leave nothing to be desired.”
Yet despite its sizable investment in an online Gamescom, organisers Koelnmesse and Game are aware that digital shows can’t replace many aspects of physical events. They actually say that hybrid events – like the one they had planned for 2021 – are the way forward.
“Nothing can replace in person events,” Baur admits. “When you get in touch with your community, can speak to them one on one, have business meetings where you can shake real hands or play games together at a booth. This is what’s at the very heart of Gamescom: people who love games meet like-minded people. This can’t be fully replaced by any other format. Hybrid events combine the best of two worlds and will be the future.”
A Gamescom featuring a mix of physical and digital elements could be at least a year away; but for the time being, the show’s organisers are still pretty bullish about Gamescom 2021’s prospects.
“For this year, our focus is to provide even more games and reach as well as a heightened community atmosphere,” Baur says.
“Together with our numerous partners, we want to make Gamescom the world’s biggest gaming event again in 2021. And invite the world to celebrate games in all conceivable ways with us. But we do not stop there – Gamescom 2020 and 2021 allow us to accelerate our development of becoming a unique experience for the 21st century.”
He concludes: “We were always convinced of the opportunities the digital world has for an event like Gamescom and we are moving forward, trying out new things, reaching new markets and connecting more people than ever before.”
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