Special places are not only found in games – but also where games take place. For hundreds of thousands of gamers, Gamescom has been an absolute fixture on the calendar for years. The queues in front of the consoles should have been long again this week, but then came Covid-19. A digital event offered a replacement. But we were confronted with the question: Which moments in Cologne remained in our memories in all these years?
There are numerous anecdotes and abstrusities that have taken place in the Cologne exhibition halls over the past twelve years. Or during evening celebrations. I drink a lot during gamescom. But picking a single moment out of the long gamescom days is incredibly difficult for me. I can’t decide which of these special moments I remember most. Hmm. At gamescom almost four years ago, I suddenly had an appointment with the boss of a very well-known smartphone manufacturer. An employee at the booth had obviously mistaken me for someone else – and because I somehow missed the right moment to clear up the misunderstanding, I had to go through with it. We sat in his chic trade show office for nearly two hours. There was champagne and canapés. We talked about the latest models, the smartphone hold haptic, screen-aspect-ratio-thing sizes,… – I tried to cover up my complete unknowingness by repeating his previous words in amazement. Somehow it worked out and we said goodbye after almost two hours. During this farewell, the aforementioned company boss had the latest model wrapped in a bag as a gift.
Even small, meaningless moments have taken their place in my gamescom memories. Martin Kesici, who desperately searched for someone to change a 50 Euro bill for him before the entrance to the (somewhat too glorified) Sony party. Or once, when I had lunch next to Hideo Kojima (at that time still at the Konami booth in the Business Center), but then had to leave at some point because the constant requests for autographs from the press representatives (who literally stormed into the booth) disturbed me during lunch. Or the many “fresh air breaks” where familiar PR people groused about the behavior of their developers (“off record”). Or the evil kick off inventor Dino Dini, who could only avert his impending defeat against me (4:0 at half time) in his arcade soccer remake because he had to set “something in the source code” correctly at half time. 4:5 after final whistle.
If I had to name a moment that was special to me in all these years, it would be the great conversation with German adventure game developer Martin Ganteföhr. Scheduled as a 15-minute interview, we conducted the conversation over an hour during a “fresh air break”. His leaps of thought, which always picked up the thread at the end and dealt with topics such as transhumanism, wage equality and developer reality, still resonate today. We both simply skipped our follow-up appointments. I miss gamescom this year.
I’ve never been to the Gamescom, but I did visit its predecessor in Leipzig, the Games Convention, several times. In the mid-2000s, the registration of media representatives was handled… a little bit differently. It was a time right before every moron had its own gaming website (today it would be a YouTube channel), so they were more generous with issuing press passes. And in some shady ways I was getting full press access for several years and felt like a king when I walked through the wide and empty corridors of the press area, while deep below me and trough enormous windows, I saw the masses squeezing and jostling towards the entrance. In truth, I was just some nerdy dude whose access to the press area could not be justified in any way. Empty halls, short queues, exclusive hands-on stations at the publisher’s booths – it was wonderful. I especially remember a team of young Polish developers who had an inconspicuous booth in the middle of the PC area. A few friends and myself stumbled upon it by chance. When they saw our press passes, they asked if we were interested in a presentation of their debut title. I was moderately interested and didn’t want to waste the team’s precious time on someone who was anything but a multiplier, but because the team was so likeable and euphoric and I didn’t want to reveal my imposture, we got into conversation. They were so enthusiastic about showing their game in Germany at such an important and large convention and were so passionate about their project that I agreed with a somewhat guilty conscience. They were actually members of the development team and not just the marketing department. We were led into a kind of cave, which was elaborately decorated, and were given a dedicated, roughly 90-minute long presentation of the title that was so important to these young people from Poland. And the game actually did look really interesting and promising. Afterwards, we got some pretty valuable goodies like a leather mouse pad, which I still own today, and said goodbye to these very nice people. I found them to be naive and hoped that the brutal gaming industry would not grind them up and that they had not overreached themselves with the booth. And I hoped that there would be some real journalists who would visit them and then maybe actually would write a few lines about this ambitious title. I felt guilty because I certainly had raised false hopes after the team had spent so much time on a group of nerds without getting any kind of return on their investment. I never forgot that incident, but my guilty conscience has subsided a little since CD Project Red made a humble profit with the The Witcher franchise.
I can’t remember whether it was at gamescom 2009 or 2010, when I – at that time still working for a certain predecessor of WALLJUMP – was invited to a press appointment with the legendary game designer Peter Molyneux. In any case, it was an oppressive summer’s day and we squeezed ourselves into one of those typical, far too cramped meeting rooms in the so-called Business Center of the Cologne Trade Fair. There was supposed to be a background discussion on the upcoming release of Fable 3, whose two predecessors I had absolutely adored and about whose release I probably would have loved to talk to Mr Molyneux even in times of Corona, even at 40 degrees in a poorly air-conditioned broom closet. The prospects for a reasonable degree of journalistic distance could have been much better that day, but they weren’t to get any better in the next few minutes. We entered the room, I took a seat on Molyneux’s left and the maestro took turns in asking who of the journalists present was familiar with the Fable franchise and to what extent. The moderately enthusiastic answers trickled in counterclockwise. “I played a little bit of the first one…”, “a quest or two in the second one…”, “don’t even have an Xbox…” – The strain on Molyneux’s face was hard to overlook, given the number of art philistines who were obviously just here to waste his time. When it was finally my turn, his martyrdom would come to an abrupt end. “Played through both of them”, I replied, much to the relief of the Fable creator, who insisted on telling the group: “See? This is what a real game journalist looks like.“ I can’t remember the subsequent roundtable interview today. The memory of a supposed knightly accolade is too predominant, possibly accompanied by a sarcastic undertone, which my subconscious successfully keeps under lock and key to this day. In any case, the assessments of the designer legend were no longer unchallenged even then. Peter Molyneux had made too many empty promises regarding his latest game projects. In the end, Fable 3 could in no way follow on from its great predecessors, and the “real game journalist” today writes only occasionally about the most beautiful trivial thing in the world. Since then he never again succumbed to the hype for a new Molyneux game, but he was still happy about the announcement of a new Fable.
The Gamescom is a fixed date in my calendar. I have been working in the German games industry for almost 20 years now, 18 of which I was allowed to go to Leipzig or Cologne to present games and take appointments. For me, Gamescom actually always starts in February: that’s how early in the year the budgets and topics are determined, booth builders are selected and booth concepts are developed. The five days in Cologne are then more or less the ultimate culmination. No matter how early you plan and how big the team is: you only manage to complete your work in the last second. And when everything is ready, long days of meetings follow. Many of my colleagues in the industry look at Gamescom with a rather skeptical attitude: Too big! Too expensive! Too crowded! In the business center, they prefer to enjoy the catering and outdo themselves in their desire to leave as early as possible. How is the consumer stand received? You can guess by looking at a screen in a corner, which streams a live image from the showfloor. I, on the other hand, always stayed at the trade show as long as possible. Saturday is my day: all my colleagues are gone, I move with the flow through the halls and, it’s some kind of tradition, play a game of Pro Evolution Soccer against WALL JUMP publisher Joshua. And actually, it’s exactly these moments that have an educational effect on me: While I develop campaigns all year round based on target group analyses and market studies to create the ideal image of a customer who wants to spend as many euros as possible on as many games as possible, here I see the fans who indulge their hobby.
Well, this year everything is different. And as professionally as the Opening Night Live was staged in the livestream, it’s slowly becoming clear to everyone: between the trailers and the Red Bull commercials, the gamers went missing in a digital-only production. I hope the next Gamescom will be in Cologne again. After all, I have to defend my PES title from 2019…
It’s difficult to pick a special moment as the whole fair always blended in one opulent, but delicious mix of presentations and interviews. But there was this presentation in 2014, which was overwhelming in a way, that I can still recall my noticeable excitment. I was curious before, because I liked the young team around Sean Murray. Some years ago they booked a small booth own their own. They packed a van, road tripped from UK to Cologne – just to show their little gem Joe Danger to the public audience on Gamescom. But this year Hello Games had something huge to reveal. And when Sean started, you could hear how nervous he was. Their new project was an idea they had in mind for a long time. They needed Joe Danger as it earned some money and attention to financing the new game. It was an idea about creating a better and brighter vision of our future. Sean grew up in a generation where the public opinion was that humanity is doomed. The team hated this distopian view for the future. It just wasn’t true in their opinion. The team wanted the player to give this exceptional feeling of discovering something that no one else in the world has seen before – unknown, planets, whole new worlds with unique animals and plants. Giving you an experience of being truly adventurous and explorative. They probably didn’t want to exaggerate in this presentation, because they didn’t compared it to the feeling of being on the moon for the first time. They wanted to expand the boundaries with this game by offering so many planets that some of them will be undiscovered forever. No Mans Sky wanted to be a prospect of the future you really longing for. It sounded awesome. And they really succeded in delivering this experience. Sadly, someone wasn’t sure if this was enough to sell a game and decided to promise more than the small team could deliver in such a short time. But if people were really angry about not getting the full package for launch, they obvouisly weren’t able to appreciate, the precious gift No Man’s Sky had to offer.
Bizarre. This is how I would describe one of my special gamescom moments in retrospect. I had an appointment with the developer Free Live Games, who wanted to present their first game to press representatives: Broforce. My first impression after a short YouTube research was quite positive and yet my expectations were rather subdued, after all it was the first video game of a small indie developer. Probably an entertaining, but not very captivating run-and-gun platformer. With a positive basic mood, but in the quiet expectation of a press appointment in the usual way, I went to the booth of publisher Devolver Digital. What I was offered there in the following half hour, however, exceeded all expectations. It wasn’t explained in typical PR manner why Broforce is a good game – here you were nearly beaten green and blue to be convinced that Broforce is a fantastic masterpiece! At the beginning, the two developers demanded a spectacular high-five and then explained to me that everything in the game was completely destructible, “except the American flag and the ground on which it stands”. Oh, and I should please “kill everyone”.
Anyone who has played Broforce himself knows that the wild shooting and fast gameplay is enough to get the adrenaline pumping. But at this press event, the two developers celebrated me for every single action disproportionately, wildly and loudly (the other people arround were jealous of my private Broforce party) – including passionately celebrated high-fives every ten seconds. Why I enjoyed the fact that the two developers also constantly shouted “KILL, KILL, KILL!” into both of my ears, I can’t answer satisfactorily in the end. But I have never felt more comfortable at any other gamescom appointment…
This post is also available in: German