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.
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.
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.