Online gaming expos: digitally drained

The annual gaming expos are some of my favourite events of the year, so I’m sad that many have been cancelled for 2020. The horrible threat of COVID-19 means it’s safer not to attend large public gatherings in indoor spaces right now and instead play video games at home.

Some organisers aren’t letting it beat them though. Instead of hosting physical events, they’re turning their expos digital and going online. The Summer Game Fest will keep us going through this month and all the way to the end of August; The Escapist Indie Showcase took place for four days last week; and both the PC Gaming Show and Guerilla Collective kicked off on 13 June 2020. No doubt we’ll hear news of even more events taking place throughout July as organisers follow the online trend.

LudoNarraCon, panel, stream, Peter Ewing, Cassandra Kwan, Strix

The first digital expo I ever attended myself was LudoNarraCon when it started in 2019, and I really enjoyed it. A talk about Night Call by its developer had me instantly intrigued about the game. I had the pleasure of trying several demos for upcoming titles I’d had my eye on for a while, including NeoCab and In Other Waters. And the online panels were interesting to watch, especially one where the discussion focused on how interactivity makes video games a special medium which can pass on emotions to another person like no other.

As I concluded in my round-up post: “It’s always going to be difficult to capture that ‘buzz’ experienced at real-world expos in an all-digital convention, because there’s something about being among a crowd of people with the same interests and who are just as excited as you. But LudoNarraCon did an awesome job; as well as allowing ‘quieter’ narrative games take centre stage, it’s the perfect way of making conventions accessible to everybody. Hopefully it will return next year and we’ll get to do it all over again.”

And it did return this year – along with a whole host of other online events thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown. I’m already aware of seven digital expos taking place this month alone and there are probably more I don’t even know about. Am I excited about attending them though? Not really. Perhaps it’s an indication of what my state of mind is like after spending almost 80 days at home (at the time of writing), but right now I just can’t face yet another thing that takes place online.

I get that it’s a necessity in the world we’re living in today. Here in the UK, mass gatherings have been banned since March and there’s no news yet on when they’re going to be allowed to start up again. Gaming expos therefore have no choice but to move to the digital land if they want to take place this summer. Let’s face it: heading to an event with thousands of other people is a sure way to catch coronavirus, whereas socialising from in front of your laptop screen is much less germy. At least for some of us anyway.

LudoNarraCon, In Other Waters

Online events are a positive thing for indie developers too. They enable them to exhibit their projects and reach a wide group of potential players without having to arrange and fund travel and accommodation, which can be expensive and make real-world expos inaccessible for some smaller teams. Organisers no longer have to find and book venues big enough for the number of attendees, make sure there suitable catering outlets and enough of them (I’m looking at you, EGX Rezzed) and do a mass clean-up afterwards.

And as for players, we get to attend a gaming event from the comfort of our own home. This is a real benefit for anyone who enjoys narrative games like I do. As I wrote after EGX Rezzed back in 2018, expos and conventions aren’t always the ideal place to showcase such titles as the constant noise and crowds can make it difficult to concentrate on the world the developer is trying to make. For example, I first tried In Other Waters there a few years ago; but it wasn’t until I played the demo at home during LudoNarraCon that I really understood it.

So why am I not looking forward to any of the events coming up over the next month? It’s all down to online fatigue. I’m tired of having to live all aspects of my life – work, family, socialising and entertainment – in front of a screen and I miss the real world. This is why I’m finding a lot of enjoyment in hobbies such as bread-making and cross-stitching right now, and why I’m highly likely to break down when my employer schedules yet another conference call with a ‘fun’ theme. (Note to my boss: they really aren’t fun.)

Although I understand that digital expos have a lot of benefits for organisers, developers and players, I’ve missed this year’s annual gaming events. Nothing can capture that feeling of being in a huge hall surrounded by so many video games you’re eager to try, along with thousands of other likeminded gamers who are all feeling the same excitement. I’ve missed catching up with the indie teams and finding out how their projects are going, sneaking other bloggers into developer sessions, and coming home with at least one title added to my wishlist.

It makes me wonder what’s going to happen next year. And I’m not talking about COVID-19 here; I’m referring to whether organisers will take the decision to move their events completely online going forward. Maybe I’m being far too cynical but being able to wrap up cost-savings in a reason of being more accessible and environmentally-friendly sounds like a great business opportunity. Many professional gaming websites have jumped on the bandwagon by hosting ‘digital showcases of the most exciting games’, too.

Although it makes sense, I’ll be sad if this is the case. The annual gaming expos are some of the highlights of my calendar and I’ve missed their buzz this summer. For me, nothing will be able to replace them – not even another themed conference call.

17 thoughts on “Online gaming expos: digitally drained

  1. Yeah I feel it. Finally plucking up the courage or motivation to attend my first events last year, was all ready to attend this year and nope, rugged pulled up from beneath my feet.

    The digital events have been a fun way to continue however not to go all ‘capitalist’ the volume of lost sales from merchandise, autographs etc will be huge. You. can replicate some of this in charging for login keys and such but I’d be dubious if the volume of sales for a virtual expo Pop Vinyl figure for instance is anywhere near real world volumes 🤷🏼‍♂️

    It’ll be back, he says 😞


    • You know what, I hadn’t actually considered the profit made through merch sales at events. There’s always queues at the stands and I be interested to find out just how much money is spent. I bet it’s an incredible figure… 🤔

      I’m hoping that EGX will go ahead in September (providing it’s safe to do so, obviously). I’d love to be able to get to at least one physical event this year.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You could mitigate some of the lost sales through online ‘events’ but certainly you’d imagine they’d be geared towards the larger companies or those able to showcase and ship easily. Money shouldn’t be the determining factor in life, but kinda makes things happen 🤷🏼‍♂️

        I hadn’t read or picked up whether the excel had been de-hospitalised? presumably it will be turned back into an expo centre at some point. The next one for me was dest Star Trek but the guests and details have been scaled down considerably so not holding out hope.


        • My other-half told me he’d heard that the Nightingale Hospital at ExCeL had been shut. I guess it’s going to take a lot of work to turn it back into an expo centre though, and I wonder if the idea of what it became during the lockdown will affect some people’s decision to go there. And will the developers even want to attend themselves?


  2. This year’s the first time without gamescom and devcom which I’ll miss despite all the stress and organization problems. Still, they’ll do digital versions (devcom already started with The GameDev Show today), but these won’t be the same. For me it wasn’t about the games or the goodies, but meeting people and talking to those who are still passionate about gaming, whatever genre or platform they’re doing. And this is what I’ll miss the most. You can watch trailers and play pre-builds/demos anytime, but these events were always the best way to socialize. Of course there will be a lot of money lost. If one thinks about how gamescom had more than one hall just for merch…


    • Digital events might be easier when it comes to being able to attend them, but nothing can replace that buzz of a physical event and talking to everyone there. I’ve missed catching up with the people I usually bump into at the UK expos this year – and being able to meet you at Gamescom, obviously! Hopefully that’s something we can put right in 2021.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t miss E3 that much this year as I’m at home watching the presentations online anway. What I have found though is that there isn’t much combined buzz about the events this year as they’re just ‘kinda happening’. During a normal E3 there would be information coming thick and fast over about four days and we’d be looking out for the good, bad and downright embarrassing. At the moment though I’m finding it pretty hard to keep track of who is doing what and when. Watching the PS5 reveal the other night gave some of that energy but it seems really fragmented right now.


    • Yeah, I get what you mean. It just seems as though new online events are just cropping up without much promotion or notice so it’s hard to stay on top of what’s happening and when. And after being stuck in conference calls while working at home all day, there are only so many presentations I can watch…


    • Dammit… with how many times I’ve written that word lately, you’d think that I’d finally stop putting in the ‘R’… 🤦

      Thanks for letting me know!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As someone who’d have to leave their country to actually attend a gaming convention I’ve really appreciated the move to digital events. I can actually participate without a) having to burn vacation time and b) incurring a bunch of travel expenses. That’s a HUGE boon from my end.

    Plus I really haven’t missed the absence of E3 or PAX. Both were events I only got to experience second hand, so it boiled down to reading a lot of opinion pieces on whatever the next hotness was and watching trailers. The Steam Summer Festival (currently on-going) has given me the ability to participate in a PAX style event without having to leave home. Getting to try out a ton of new games, some that I’ve never even heard of, has been an incredibly experience. I’m an active participant as opposed to a fly on the wall.

    I can understand the general fatigue of being locked down. However, as someone who hasn’t had an easy way to attend these kinds of events I selfishly hope they continue online for the foreseeable future.

    Hang in there, Kim. We’ll all get through this bloody lockdown eventually. 🙂


    • Yeah this was exactly my response, my country has only one large gaming event where regional offices of AAA publishers actually showcase stuff.
      There’s also minor cons elsewhere throughout the year for comics, cosplay and RP, but really only one larger trade show style con. The cost of flying overseas is prohibitive especially to countries like the States which have significantly stronger currencies making even the most basic meals far too expensive let alone hotels, transport and other logistics. So having an online component is hugely gratifying!

      I don’t think it can account for the same in person experience so hopefully it will go back to normal soon, but I do hope they keep the digital aspect as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Have you tried any demos which have been particularly good? 🙂

    I’ve been ‘attending’ the Steam Game Festival this week too, and can’t say that I haven’t had fun being able to play demos away from the noise of an exhibition hall. The narrative games I prefer just don’t do as well in those settings so it’s been great having some time ‘alone’ with them. But I’ve missed this year’s expos; it’s the atmosphere, getting to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while… and being able to do that in person rather than through a screen.

    I guess I’m experiencing lockdown fatigue ha ha! Time to put down the controller and get outside for a nice long walk today, I think. Hope you’re staying well over there. 😉


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  7. PAX Australia has been my regular “go to” event for the last few years since it first began so having it cancelled this year was a major disappointment. Had to be done though as we still haven’t got this social gathering x distancing thing worked out yet but keeping my fingers crossed we solve it for next year.


    • Things are slowly starting to open up here in the UK and many businesses have been given the greenlight for 04 July. That could potentially mean that the expos scheduled for September and October could end up going ahead but… I don’t know. Even if they’re open (and able to manage the social distancing thing), I wonder if people will feel comfortable being there and if the attendance might suffer as a result. 😦


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