It’s a bit complicated.
Update: Gamescom Asia got back to us; we’ve made some additions to the current piece to set some records straight.
Singapore has recently scored a win of sorts; it will host the first-ever Asian edition of Gamescom in 2020; the conference is from 15-16 October 2020, while the exhibition is from 16-18 of the same month.
In case you’ve been in hiding for a good amount of years, Gamescom a pretty big deal of a gaming festival that takes place in Cologne, Germany since 2009. Think of it as a consumer-friendly version of E3, except with more European games you can have a hands-on first from your CD Projekt blockbuster to the “RPG Eurojanks” courtesy of Pirahna Bytes.
And who will be advising the Gamescom team to pull this off? The GameStart Asia folks, or rather game event organizers/marketing firm Eliphant.
So what happens to GameStart Asia then? Well, Gamescom Asia will be replacing GameStart Asia, which means the latter’s 2019 self-titled event coming in mid-October will be the last-ever GameStart Asia.
Personally, this could be the jumpstart and new beginning the company needs, assuming it doesn’t somehow fudge it up along the way. But even if they sort their stuff out, this also brings up another question concerning these high-budgeted multi-publisher gaming events and expos, particular in Asia.
Are they even needed anymore, especially in a time when most of the highlights of these events can be streamed live and presented in a more cost-effective fashion?
Let’s answer one question at a time.
How Much Control Will GameStart Asia Have In Influencing Gamescom Asia?
One could argue that Gamescom organizers Koelnmesse defaulted to the only functional group in Singapore as consultants, slim pickings and all especially in light of the German group’s partnership with the Singapore Tourism Board. On the other hand, their events turn out mostly fine, so having them on-board would be sound.
If you were to ask me if the GameStart Asia crew from 2014-2016 can pull it off together with the Gamescom folks, then it’s a definite “yes”, at least while their proverbial anvil is still good enough to temper metaphoric steel of offline event gaming goodness. However, based on the outcome and tepid response of their last two events, there’s a slight cause for worry.
The 2014-2016 iterations was a time where you don’t feel like you’re missing shows like Tokyo Game Show and Penny Arcade Expo. GameStart Asia scratched that particular itch with its plethora of gaming hands-on experiences, community and cosplay showings, and relevant stage shows. You know deep down what niche it’s trying to fill and what it’s trying to do: entertain the casual and hardcore gamers who are keen on trying out new digital things that they can’t afford to fly out to.
But for the past few iterations, namely GameStart 2017 and GameStart 2018, its identity feels a bit all over the place. Was it catering just for fighting game fans with SEA Major? Was it catering for triple-A enthusiasts? Was it primarily for tabletop players thanks to the new analog gaming section and the then-current D&D craze? Its focus was stretched too thin and catered to current gaming fads at the time. Your event may have jumped the shark if it caved to hosting a makeshift tournament for PUBG.
The recent GameStart Asia saw the first time it received a number of negative reviews on its public page.
Part of the blame can be attributed to the lack of content most publishers are allowed to share in Asia. So as an events company it’ll be tough to secure some demos and notable draws for an October event, or even get certain permissions and clearances for demos done on time and without stepping on toes.
To which I say hat’s off to the team for at least getting that balance sorted. We should cut organizers and expo holders some slack when they have an off-year for at least one show out of the many good ones they’ve churned out.
On a consistency level, the South East Asia Major tournaments have found a place in GameStart Asia since 2016. In fact, that’s arguably the only reason most people visit the Singapore show for. The public perception seems to prove that the event is riding on the coattails of the Asian-focused fighting game event featuring high-level world warriors & veterans like Justin Wong and Tokido.
Which is why this Gamescom news comes at a serendipitous time when the team can rely on the brand name, and possibly a lot of manpower, to start anew.
A representative of Gamescom Asia got back to us regarding their choice on using Eliphant.
“Eliphant has been organizing a leading B2C gaming event for the Singapore market for the past 6 years, but GameStart will exit the market and make way for gamescom asia. Working with GameStart will give gamescom asia a headstart by building on an existing community, but gamescom asia will add to this with a true B2B event, gaming industry conference, international audience, and fresh content.”
At the end of the day, they’ve still proven themselves to be capable game event managers based in Singapore, at least where it counts.
Are Multi-Publisher Gaming Events Relevant?
I’m not going to count tech expos like CES and Computex here because they cover all facets of technology and hardware to justify their extravagant costs. Gaming expos are their own special breed, from your be-all-end-alls like Tokyo Game Show that morphed to a more mobile-savvy exhibition to your community-savvy ones like The Philippines’ ESGS.
Other than a proverbial circlejerk for the parties involved, what need is there for an Asian version of an offshoot gaming expo from Europe?
If folks like PlayStation can choose to forgo E3 and host their own PlayStation Experience event(s) where their new games and tech can debut, what’s to stop other bigwigs? Or even host their own videos like Nintendo’s many Nintendo Direct announcements? Are event brand names like E3 and Gamescom still strong enough to carry weight?
This is a really tricky question to answer. On the surface, it’s easy for first-party folks to just sort out the logistics for their own branded event; they just need to figure out a great date and a reliable logistics crew to work it out.
But behind the scenes, most publishers have established long-term ties with event folks and game organizations like the ESA. To just throw all that away is foolhardy, so naturally, there’s a need to keep supporting these events in some way or form even if it may arguably be costly. Hell, without saying much, that’s how most game industry folks run things these days; through mutual friendships and partnerships.
Half the time, this gets abused to the point where publishers get goaded to fork over extravagant amounts of money just for public branding’s sake, and they can’t do anything about it because of co-working obligations and fear of burning bridges. And if you noticed, there were more publishers like Microsoft, Blizzard, and 2K Games willing to host a booth in GameStart Asia’s early heydays before they stopped doing so in recent years.
And let’s not forget about the not-so-big game developers and publishers who want an umbrella of an expo to showcase their upcoming indie and smaller titles. Digital marketing and online showcases aren’t enough; having a physical space and showing a physical presence is still as important as ever in a world ruled by easy internet access and insane smartphone usage.
At the very least, this is what Gamescom Asia has to say in regards to European and overseas vendors showing up:
“European publishers who are serious about Asia will make use of Gamescom Asia to explore and understand this market, as well as to develop their business, connect to the industry here, and localise their content.
There is a lot of untapped potential in Southeast Asia – currently the fastest growing market in the world – and the local audience is hungry for new content. We are expecting a healthy mix of Western and Asian participation at the event, with publishers from Europe, but of course also from China, Japan, etc. Besides, there are many leading games companies and developers who hold offices in Singapore as well.”
In the end, it’s really up to what the public wants. If they want an Asian iteration of an existing public event brand, they’ll happily attend it regardless of which country it’s in. As long as it features the games the mass market in Asia wants, more mobile F2P offerings rather than console triple-A experiences, then perhaps they’ll get the traffic they want.
Is Singapore The Best Place For Gamescom’s Asia Debut?
Having it in Singapore means it has to rely a lot on overseas folks visiting because the country operates on a different level and mindset when it comes to public shows. Outside of fealty to the GameStart and Gamescom brand, perhaps in unhealthy levels, your average gaming Singaporean may not want to go out of his/her way for this unless there’s a sale going on or if the internet is down.
It also boils down to how willing nearby Southeast Asian participants and gamers are in booking a flight ticket for the inaugural event.
As a debut event and a one-time flight-and-room commitment, it’s not unreasonable. But as a yearly event, it’s a huge commitment given that there are other alternative gaming events in less expensive countries.
The Gamescom brand sure can bring in the right amount of overseas publishers for new hands-on titles, at least for the first show. If we’re talking return visits and booths, that will be a tricky prospect. Like I mentioned before, bigger publishers did make their mark in GameStart Asia a while back but stopped due to little to no return of investment.
Still, Gamescom Asia is confident in its approach, according to their reply to us:
“Singapore – with its thriving gaming ecosystem, excellent infrastructure, accessibility, and positioned as an established business hub for the region – is the perfect location for this. Singapore fulfils many characteristics of a metropolitan city and will serve to bring the region together with gamescom asia as an international destination.
Currently, neighbouring events seek to serve a more domestic market and local audience. We believe that the region lacks a global Tier 1 gaming event that expands on both B2B and B2C components despite the populace difference and this should entice and encourage neighbouring markets and gaming communities alike to invest in Singapore.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad this is happening. Folks who cannot make their way to Germany can now look forward to Gamescom 2020 where it will hopefully showcase a lot of digital game-related previews and hands-on for the crowd while also maintaining the business-slash-public functions of its brand.
Much like the earlier GameStart Asia events during its heyday, or even other SEA expos like ESGS, you need an event that brings in gaming communities and gaming businesses together, to celebrate the hobby we all love.
However, other factors come into play here and are justifiable concerns. How capable will Eliphant be as consultants to Koelnmesse? Should Gamescom organizers Koelnmesse hedge their bets on an apathetic Singapore market? Will the rest of Southeast Asia be able and ready to book a flight ticket in 2020 for this premium event when there are other cheaper and community-savvy Asian events involved?
The prestige of the Gamescom name is one thing, but if there aren’t that many people willing to fly down to one of this generation’s most expensive countries even for a few days, what’s the point, really?
These are obviously hypotheticals, but they need to be asked and hopefully answered closer to the 2020 dates since a lot is riding on this Asian event. I do hope the trifecta that is the Singapore Tourism Board, Koelnmesse, and the GameStart Asia folks can pull it off not just once, but at least a few more of these with consistent quality, for their sake and ours.