In a new, irregular series of features, TheGameJar goes and visits gaming events and lets you know whether or not they’re any good, how much of your wallet you’ll have left and if you’ll enjoy them.
It’s true that the forced move from the well known and relatively easy to get to Earls Court to Birmingham was a bit of a sticking point for Londoners (myself practically falling in to that catchment area). When I say easy to get to, that’s a geographical and logistical misnomer. Because Birmingham and the N.E.C. in particular is the most connected place in the country outside of London. In fact its location makes travel and attendance easier for everyone across the country.
What it doesn’t do however is help justify the cost of travel. I booked my ticket in advance on Monday for the Thursday (I could only afford to attend for the one day). This cost me £22 but it was a timed return, so I left my home town at 7:05 and had to get the 20:05 train back. Any other choice would have thrown me up to £75 for a single ticket and £158 for an open return. There are of course cheaper ways to do it with more advanced booking, group tickets, driving yourself and even using the 10% discount code EGX put on for Virgin Trains. But compared to my incredibly open £25 London travel card from last year which allowed me to go in to central London, see sights, eat slightly less overpriced food, and enjoy a beverage by the Thames, it is an extortionate cost. One that sadly is completely out of the control of the organisers and, it seems, anyone that doesn’t own a train company.
It doesn’t help that there is practically nothing else to do. It’s like that Tom Hanks movie “The Airport” where the guy can’t leave. The N.E.C. is Birmingham only because it isn’t close to any other major city. It’s barely in Birmingham and there is literally nothing to do. I’ve added this paragraph after reading a Midnight Resistance piece on the same event which says that the loss of the community focused events, like podcast/website community meet ups, are the real casualty here as no one can meet anymore. There’s no where to have little meet-up events and the lack of those fun, semi-industry meet ups and drinks is a real shame. As someone who runs and owns a site in the same vein, I heartily agree, and there’s never going to be any convenience for sites like us to arrange a meet-up, and we’ll never have the finances to independently arrange it. Obviously you can’t blame Gamer Network for this, this is their event for their brands. But that’s another conversation for another time.
Before I go on to the more positive sides, I do have some very practical niggles about the venue itself. The N.E.C. is a veritable maze of oversized airport-esque craziness. That’s not a problem as long as you adequately signpost where the heck you are going from the station. There was one sign that said which halls it was in, about the size of an A3 poster once you’ve traversed the long concourse from the station. Then there were occasional people pointing you in the right direction. Other events were nicely signposted with cardboard cut outs of Police Officers for the emergency services show pointing you the right way. It was like the event was a dirty afterthought for the conference centre at times. So after getting my press pass, I went to the Wetherspoons pub in the centre to get a coffee and some breakfast (much needed after a two hour train journey). There was a few people at 9:30a.m. on this Thursday already drinking. Now, I’m not an old fuddy duddy but any alcohol before 10am is only allowed socially if you’re in an airport before going on holiday. This was a family event for video games and if you’re that desperate to have a pint with your mates, then you’re probably not going to have a good time.
Ok, the event itself was… Alright. I had a few appointments for interviews which basically gave me no chance of playing any game. The EA both is very typically busy at all times but as the event opened, the queue for Star Wars Battlefront was over an hour long. After I finished an interview, it was three hours long. This is the same for pretty much everything with a few exceptions for what is essentially ten minutes of gameplay. This is normal for events of this type but I found myself mostly watching games by looking over the shoulders of those playing. If I had a family and was paying for this, I’d need to meticulously plan this otherwise it would be utterly frustrating. I saw a tweet this morning where someone had listened to the VideoGamer podcast whilst waiting in the queues. It’s a bit silly really.
It’s mostly silly because we’d all hoped the move to a bigger venue would mean that the expo would be… Well, bigger. But most of it only felt bigger in the aisles and walkways. The idea, we all thought, was to allow for more gaming, more fun and ultimately more of an experience. But to be honest, it didn’t really feel like that was the case. Playstation had a rather large and cramped area with two loud presenter type people more obsessed with spinning a prize wheel and garnering attention away from the Xbox stand, who were also shouting rather loudly about their game footage and drawing a crowd in a slightly larger area under the promise of free things. And they weren’t alone with YouTube Gaming doing the same although their streams and content was actually quite good, including the Gamer Network owned teams, along with Cam and Sebby, showing off games with developers and watching footage of games like Total War: Warhammer and people playing Destiny.
The problem is with these events is that the games that are supposed to take centre stage get hidden behind personalities, available space and consumer demand limitations, and the apparently more beneficial longevity of the swag generation. Stick around for this whole presentation and at the end we’ll throw T-Shirts at you. In the case of the YouTube stand, people just appeared at the right time like a sixth sense. If you’ve ever been on a boat or in a harbour where you lean over the edge with some food and suddenly lots of tiny sprats appear like a swarm of locusts in a field… That’s what this is. Maybe I am sounding old here but it’s an atrocious sight to see human beings baying for branded garments for no other reason than them just being there.
The Indie area on the other hand is cramped, busy and interesting. Pretty much like it always is, and if you are more interested in this then EGX Rezzed at Tobacco Docks in London is probably better for you. But it’s fun as long as you can get around it and look at the interesting games there, although having been to many events this year, I’ve seen a lot of the same games over and over again by now. But there are good things to be seen here.
Then there’s the awesome community around games that really love just going there to see friends and have a good time. Cosplay had a smaller stage this year but it was great to see so many people being involved and enjoying it. The Rock Band 4 stage, compared by our great friends at Xtreme Gaming, was a great interactive and fun experience to get involved with (even though the surrounding people were probably sick of hearing Tribute by Tenacious D so many times). The retro gaming area is always fun and incredibly easy to get on to the old consoles and have some fun as well.
The thing is with this event is that it’s a little too big for what they’re attempting to do. Sure you can go and and have a little shop around as there’s lots to buy, you can even go and get some food and a coffee at a price not too far removed from the previous venue. You can go there and have fun if you’re patient and organised. You can even play the games that aren’t out yet if you want to wait in queues for long enough, or go and discover a gem. But with the game release silly season coming up, the cost of getting and staying in Birmingham (if you are doing multiple days) may not be worth what you get from it. If we can get better deals on travel and accommodation, then this would be a much better proposition than it currently is.
Images taken from Eurogamer and Indigo Pearl’s Twitter Feeds