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Convention Culture and gamescom

Crowd of visitors at the Gamescom 2009 on August 22nd (Saturday)
Aaron Poole examines how consumerism has tainted the convention scene

When the discussion of conventions arise, the obvious one will nearly always be the San Diego International Comic Con (SDCC) that occurs once a year during the summer months. In March of last year, American news outlet the Inquisitr published an article highlighting the growth of this convention culture in the U.S, specifically referring to SDCC and how it has become “the most-attended comic convention in the world”. The article went on to highlight how that particular convention, then in its 44th year, had a staggering attendance figure of over 130,000 people – a figure which is very high for what some may call a niche audience.

However, today’s convention scene no longer comprises such a specific audience. High profile conventions, such as SDCC, now heavily dilute their raison d’etre by playing host to an assortment of extravagant displays by television networks, or by hosting conferences for big budget movies. The purist convention-goers have had their experiences tainted by what has essentially become an expensive marketing platform, sold to the general public with the promise of free marketing materials.

“Our attention is glued to relative news outlets for the span of a weekend”

For video games there are similarly attended conventions. There are certain events that might be labelled ‘unmissable’ for fans. Our attention is glued to relative news outlets for the span of a weekend at certain points throughout the year; Blizzcon, E3, gamescom, EGX, PAX, Paris Games Week, the Tokyo Game Show etc. Originally labelled as ‘trade shows’, these have fallen victim to a similar ailment, but what is worse is that we have yet to notice it.

E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, an event currently open for free to members of the games media. For a while the only one of its kind, it would be an annual source of news, shining a light on any new games franchises or sequels in development from both first and third party developers. Over the course of the last decade, with the internet fast becoming a primary means of news consumption, it is possible to ignore the news as it teeters out of different outlets. Instead enabling the viewing of conferences as they happen. This eventually led to festering greed, creating public outcry for the same hands-on privileges as the press, leading to the death of the trade show and the beginning of the public convention.

“What was once a pastime of many gamers into the same marketing platform that has engulfed the traditional convention, albeit with longer queues and less consumable air”

These ‘gaming’ conventions have since become some of the biggest conventions in the world. While the SDCC may have garnered an attendance statistic of over 130,000, it is nothing compared to the massive figure of almost 500,000 present at the gamescom convention in Cologne only a few weeks ago.

However, an attendance figure so huge doesn’t come without a massive deficit; unfathomable overcrowding and never-ending queues. This also makes it hard for members of the press to do what was once exclusively open to them and report on these titles, now battling for a time slot with the very people for whom they are producing content. Games journalist Steven Burns, formerly of videogamer.com, describes his experience working during gamescom in a light-hearted manner: “During the summer months it seems you’re either there, or thinking about being there. All through the planning of gamescom, where you chase equally terrified people for appointments.”

“It beggars belief that such a mass of people would turn out to simply avail of early access to certain titles”

It is also interesting to note that there was a complete lack of traditional press conferences this year. The event was devoid of news to report on, apart from the release of a handful of game trailers. It beggars belief that such a mass of people would turn out to simply avail of early access to certain titles, yet they flock to the event like sheep at the notion of being a part of the spectacle, maybe even returning with free products.

The games convention has suffered the same fate as the traditional convention. The money brought in from the public has overshadowed the initial purpose of the event, destroyed it even, in this year’s case. The marketing opportunities for companies who sell game peripherals and accessories have turned what was once a pastime of many gamers into the same marketing platform that has engulfed the traditional convention, albeit with longer queues and less consumable air.

At the heart of it all, however, is the consumer. As long as we keep investing in this convention culture, we are going to be subjected to the warped definition of a convention as it exists today.