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Gamescom 2009

This Gamescom 2009 report was written by Brent Allen Thale on August 30, 2009. Please do not use these pictures for any commercial purpose or post them on any web site without written consent from Brent Allen Thale, the copyright holder.

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The first-ever Gamescom video game show was held in Cologne, Germany from August 19 to August 23, 2009. Previously there was a similar show called the Leipzig Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany which this show replaces. I'm told Cologne's more central location and well-developed infrastructure was the reason for the move to Cologne.

The city of Cologne, which is an old Roman colony, is very picturesque with many old churches and statues, highlighted by the famous "Dom" cathedral which is right across the Rhine river from the Koelnmesse convention center where Gamescom is held. Cologne is very compact and tourist-friendly, in fact my hotel was just twenty minutes walk through a colorful area to the convention center, so I didn't even need a car. Most Germans in this area speak at least a little English, so it's easy to get around.

It was surprisingly difficult to find classic German food outside the tourist area, though, it seems that Cologne residents prefer global ethnic foods over their own, it's way easier to find Chinese, Indian and "Döner", cheap Middle-Eastern foods, than a real German meal with red cabbage. After some searching, I was able to find four different German restaurants and sampled everything from a pork knuckle, which is more like a Renaissance-festival turkey leg than a knuckle, to beer-marinated ham (the best!). Speaking of beer, Cologne falls far outside the German stereotype of huge steins filled with rich, dark beers served by women in low-cut blouses. In Cologne they exclusively prefer a rather horrible concoction called "Kölsch" served in small glasses, I'm told it tastes a lot like Budweiser. On the plus side Kölsch is usually the cheapest drink on the menu, even cheaper than Coke or water!

I went into Gamescom expecting the show to be something like E3 with more blonde women. Although Gamescom does have some similarities to E3, it's really a much different show that focuses more on celebrating the gaming lifestyle than on hyping specific games. The show tries to be all things to all people, they had beach volleyball matches, off-site concerts, case-modding competitions, motorcycle stunts, rope climbing, skateboarding (real, not virtual), cosplay, booth babes, hands-on gameplay, press conferences, swag, business-only areas… I would prefer a more focused event. As someone whose expectations have been set by the E3 show, I expect over-the-top hype from this type of event, a no-expenses-spared concentrated blast of excitement heard around the world, but that’s not really what Gamescom is, it’s more of a gaming lifestyle event, lower-key and less spectacular, which surprised me a bit considering the legacy of the Leipzig show.

Even so, all the major publishers were there showing their latest games. Electronic Arts had Dante's Inferno, The Saboteur, Dragon Age, many others, and a nice separate area for the big Star Wars MMO "The Old Republic", which drew nice crowds. Judging by the lines of fans and the mosh-pit-level personal space available in the EA area, it looks like EA Games did quite well.

I would say the strongest showing by a publisher was from Blizzard considering that they have three AAA titles coming out over the next year including the announcement of a brand-new expansion for their World of Warcraft megahit MMO game. The Blizzard booth was constantly packed with long lines snaking around to get hands-on time with Starcraft II and Diablo III.

Sony had a large presence at the show after announcing their price cut on the PS3 and their new "Slim" PS3 model. They have a neat thing called the "Eyepet" which works with a camera that can display a virtual pet overlaid onto the user's environment that seemed like a really neat idea.

Another thing that surprised me about the show was how German it was. Although I realize the convention is held in Germany and they speak German in Germany, German is not an international language. Having pretty much all communication in German makes it very hard for non-German speakers to know what is going on. At the very least there should be some content in an international language, like, say, English for example. Gamescom markets itself as a European convention, but it comes across more as a purely German convention.

One thing that Gamescom has that E3 does not is "cosplay", where people attending the show dress up as their favorite video game characters to have fun and get their picture taken. The costumes varied from pretty sad to really good, Lara Croft was definitely the single most popular costume, after that there were many Nintendo game characters, military types, monsters, and a few I just could not figure out. The best single costume I saw was the red devil girl, although getting her to smile and pose was like pulling teeth. In the press releases before the show, they said they were attempting to beat the world-record for the most cosplayers in one place at one time, and there was a big assembly of them at one point, but because of language barriers I have no idea if they broke the record or not.

One major disappointment at the show was how the booth staff was generally quite poorly trained. I frequently saw presenters sitting around and displaying negative body language. Of the few actual “booth babes” there were at the show, many had bad attitudes and made it clear they were annoyed by photo requests by either refusing them or by staring blankly at the camera. I have never seen so many "deer in the headlights" looks in my life, have they never seen cameras before? Compare that to the E3 show in Los Angeles where smiles abounded and photo requests were expected and encouraged.

And while I’m on the subject of booth babes, I was under the impression that Europeans have very tolerant mores regarding body display, so I was expecting to see some pretty skimpy costumes, that was not the case. I’ve seen more skin at a convent than at Gamescom. I suspect the convention organizers’ decision to allow children into the show required them to impose strict (meaning boring) costume requirements on the booth presenters.

Many of the booths were simply large rectangular dividers with game characters printed on them completely blocking the view of the action in the booth, requiring waiting in long lines just to see what is inside. I assume this is due to both this being a first-year event and the fact that children of all ages are allowed in all halls, so they are intentionally blocking line-of-sight and access to adult games. This looks cheap, is not pleasing aesthetically, and makes it very difficult to “surf” the convention without waiting in lines.

In the future, instead of having no age restrictions to enter the show but then having to limit access to games on a per-game basis based on bracelet colors, they should have the halls divided up into family-friendly and adult areas. This way the kids could see just the content aimed at them while the adults could enjoy a more tolerant atmosphere.

One final pet peeve I have with the show is tobacco use. Smoking should simply not be allowed anywhere on the convention grounds, indoors or outdoors, especially considering they allow young children at the show. I probably inhaled enough second-hand smoke at the show to shorten my life expectancy by five years. Here's a clue for our European friends that Americans discovered a few decades ago: SMOKING KILLS YOU!

Overall I enjoyed Gamescom 2009 but I probably would not go again, considering how expensive European travel is for Americans and the fact that we have the E3 show right down the road in Los Angeles which better meets my needs for photography. If I was a German-speaking teenager looking to get some hands-on time with the latest games I would probably give the show 8 out of 10. As an American photographer who has seen this type of show done better, I give it 6 out of 10, including a +1 consideration for their first attempt.

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