Game shows: The heart of gaming culture

Posted on June 17, 2014

As I typed this my Facebook feed was filled with a bunch of my friends posting from Los Angeles in the middle of the madness that is E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. E3 is a massive event, the centrepiece of the global game development and publishing machine, and it’s a true experience for anyone who wants to experience the industry side of gaming. But it’s not the only show around.

E3 has a lot to recommend it: it draws crowds of up to 50,000 across four days (including press conferences). It’s especially designed for publishers keen to announce new games or hardware, and for global gaming media to catch the stories an inform their audiences. It used to be strictly a trade show, a place for developers to meet publishers and strike up deals for upcoming projects. There’s still some of this going on in back rooms, but it’s much more of a public event – technically still ‘industry only’, but this includes every underpaid worker behind the games counter at Target. The public face of E3 is all about the show floor, the lights, the sounds, the demos, and the events.

LA Convention Centre for E3, 2013

The Los Angeles Convention Centre for E3, 2013

I had a great time at the last two E3s, in 2013 and 2012, but E3 faces stiff competition from events closer to home. For a few years now EB Games has run its EB Games Expo (EBX): in 2011 this was my first game show ever, and it pretty much followed the E3 model while being openly available to the public, with hefty entrance prices. It’s like a Comic-Con or Supernova for games: the glitz and hype is all there, and it’s a great event to experience some of the spectacle of the industry.

Since then a new player has come into town: Penny Arcade has been running very successful expos across the US known at PAX, but in its first international incarnation it chose Australia. In September 2013 it landed in Melbourne, at the Royal Showgrounds, and it had an entirely different flavour to E3 or EBX. PAX is all about fan-service: it’s there for the fans, and although it had a show floor, even this was distinguished by a much stronger independent developer section than we are used to from other shows. The most exciting thing abut PAX Aus was that it had a large number of consoles, PCs, and even card and board games available for use. It was very exciting to see tables full of people playing Magic: The Gathering, or painting miniatures: this was a great showcase of gaming culture in action.

Most recently (September 2013) I attended Freeplay in Melbourne: a smaller event that attracts much less media attention, it is ostensibly the indie game festival of Australia. Due to the scale and engagement of indie developers in the industry, Freeplay was much more of a genuine conversation between players and developers, and the presences of academics and commentators as well as media types made it much more welcoming to the likes of me.

Experimedia Arcade at Freeplay 2013

The Experimedia Arcade at Freeplay: showcasing Australian game development

Finally, the most mind-blowing game show I’ve had the pleasure of attending was Tokyo Game Show: for those who thought E3 was busy, TGS doubles all of E3s numbers in a single public day. Japanese gaming culture is so different from its Western counterpart, and this made the experience humbling and amazing but also a little uncomfortable in a culture-shock kind of way. It was an experience not to forget, though.

Finally, and closest to home, we have AVCon: Adelaide’s own anime and gaming convention, which definitely punches above it weight in terms of numbers through the door for a city of this size. I must admit I’ve never been to AVCon (you never travel in your own backyard, huh?), but I’m very excited that Game Truck Australia will be an exhibitor at AVCon 2014. So if you’ve never been, grab a ticket and visit our booth! We’re looking forward to talking to lots of people about what Game Truck Australia is all about.

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