How Gamescom hit its goals without having too much impact

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By post-pandemic measures, Gamescom is back.

In the past, getting as many people as possible to attend Gamescom was the big goal for the gaming trade show in Cologne, Germany. But this time, as the pandemic was fading, the solution was more like a Goldilocks problem: Balancing attendance with other factors like climate change and online access.

While the attendance of 265,000 people was 29% lower than the peak of 373,000 in 2019, the Gamescom organizers believe that was a success, said Felix Falk, CEO of Game, the trade group that puts on the gaming expo, in an interview with GamesBeat.

That physical result has to be counter-balanced against the 200 million online views of the various sessions, including 12 million views of the Opening Night Live event hosted by Geoff Keighley. That show trended No. 1 on Twitter worldwide.

Going hybrid

Felix Falk is managing director of Game, the German Game Industry Association.
Felix Falk is managing director of Game, the German Game Industry Association.

One of the big bets of the planners was to make the show a physical and online hybrid.

The attendees came from more than 100 countries to the show, which was held for the first time in a physical setting again since the last 2019 in-person show. In 2020 and 2021, the shows were held online.

About 1,100 exhibitors from 53 countries showed up at the Koelnmesse location. About 75% of the exhibitors came from outside of Germany. That was higher than usual. The trade visitors — who are part of the game industry and get to attend the show a day early — numbered about 25,000, half from abroad.

More than 100,000 people attended the concerts on the stages at Rudolfplatz and Hohenzollernring. And concerts such as the Metal Hellsinger game’s heavy metal concert were widely shared on social media.

“The joy of Gamescom was to see that everyone was happy to see each other,” Falk said. “They were coming back together and enjoying games. And the safety was good too.”

Falk said the team tried to design a 360-degree festival, with things that appealed to executives, developers, and fans. And a balance of online and physical events, including small dinners as well as big concerts.

“We saw a boost in the past two years for digital numbers, but we saw that the beauty of a hybrid event was that onsite and digital both profit from each other,” Falk said.

The attendance grew internationally for viewers in North America, Brazil, and China.

“This makes Gamescom a global event,” Falk said.

While big companies may have reduced their presence, in the end those companies had booths at the show. Those included Microsoft, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, Sega, and Sony.

“The activations that they had were focused on community,” Falk said. “Like concerts or esports events. Ubisoft used Gamescom for a meetup between developers and communities.”

A green show

The crowd at Opening Night Live at Gamescom.
The crowd at Opening Night Live at Gamescom.

Ahead of the show, Game took efforts to make the show more green. That was visible at places like Opening Night Live, where the show seats were a lot smaller than the actual size of the hall. It could have been a bigger opening night, but the audience was contained.

“We started with Gamescom goes green, our sustainability project,” Falk said. “We’re one of the first events to have a comprehensive concept and we made the core event 100% climate neutral. So, this was part of the discussions also because of our partner Playing for the Planet, the United Nations initiative.”

More than 270 politicians showed up to hear a perspective on games and their impact on society. Those politicians also met with executives in the game industry. Even though the game industry is expected to have a down year in 2022, Falk said a feeling of economic doom did not hang over the show.

“There’s a feeling that next year we’ll be coming back stronger,” he said. “This year was always going to be a struggle because the previous years of the pandemic were so strong. People did not expect us to have 265,000 people, and to get it was a good surprise.”

Stephan Reichart is managing director of Devcom.
Stephan Reichart is managing director of Devcom.

Meanwhile, Devcom, the game developer event ahead of the big show, saw record in-person attendance. Devcom had more than 2,500 people show up in person, and a total of 3,500 with online attendance, said Stephan Reichart, managing director of Devcom, in an interview with GamesBeat.

“It was quite a blast to see how the things worked out in the end,” Reichart said. “As you are also an event organizer, you know what kind of struggles the team behind these events had for the last two years. So it was also very rewarding to see everything onsite again. And what I like the most is seeing all the people having a good time.”

Falk said that Gamescom deliberately held back on the number of attendee tickets that it sold for the 2022 show. That was because plans had to be put in place about six months before the show was held during the week of August 22. Exhibits and walking lanes were also spaced out more widely than before. No one wanted the event to be a superspreader, given the ebb and flow of the coronavirus over the past couple of years.

It turned out that coronavirus numbers in Germany were at relatively low levels in August, compared to a peak on April 1 earlier this year. Falk said the atmosphere was exciting as people really wanted to get back in person to see friends, colleagues, and games.

The opening crowd at Devcom 2022.
The opening crowd at Devcom 2022.

Another measure of the success was to make Gamescom into a greener event, with more attention paid to reducing its environmental footprint to ease climate change, Falk said. That was why the growth in online views was welcome.

The younger audiences were the ones who made a difference at Devcom.

“It was a good decision to do it in person,” Reichart said. “But one of the things that helped was the decision to do online content every week ahead of the event. We also set up a Discord server where our community could meet. We viewed our attendees no longer as conference attendees, but as a community. This paid out in the end.”

The opening dinner for Devcom was held in an elegant venue in a park and it featured vegetarian dinner options aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of the event.

“People who were not even thinking about coming to the event were more open minded about coming to Cologne early,” Reichart said. “Conference management is now about community management. We can no longer organize events the way we did before COVID-19 happened.”

Reichart noted that more than 80% of attendees are planning to come back to Cologne next year — an unheard of percentage compared to the past. That speaks to the health of the European game industry, but Reichart noted that many other gaming events are coming back in many of the cities across Europe.

“One of the biggest issues or topics that we have to solve in the future here in Europe is the ecological aspect of traveling so far,” Reichart said. “How long will people are people willing to get into an airplane to travel throughout the world to do business and to learn stuff? So if the climate change is going to continue, and brings more and more individual experiences to all the people, I guess, in the future, the way we travel will change drastically. We need to find a solution for online content. Or is there a way to reduce environmental impact, beyond just offsetting it?”

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