It’s been a few days since the team returned home after a successful and thoroughly enjoyable week in Cologne, Germany attending Gamescom. This was our first major event since announcing Firestoke to the world in January, and with four games to show (three for the very first time), it was always going to be a significant event.
Large in-person events such as Gamescom, GDC, Chinajoy and the Tokyo Game Show have been missing from our calendars for the past couple of years as the Covid pandemic shut countries, cancelled events and took us all online in our attempts to stay connected and keep business moving.
I’ve always been amazed at how adept our industry is at adapting to changing circumstances and adopting new business innovations and technologies. Compared to many other sectors, game companies seem to flourish in the face of adversity. Therefore it was no surprise not only to see the size of our audience and market grow through the pandemic but to observe game studios and publishers move quickly to establish online solutions to replace the physical restrictions imposed upon us. Now those restrictions have been largely removed, do physical events still have an important role to play? Based upon our recent Gamescom experience, I think they do!
As an example, here are five key areas where we benefited from having a significant physical presence at this event and which are difficult to emulate successfully online:
Although many platforms exist for remote game-play testing, nothing beats actually being in the same room as your players and observing them as they play your game. Developers often make the mistake of leaving play testing until late into the development cycle. At this point, they’ve already shaped the game to fit their own preferences and play style and not those of their target audience. Sometimes it’s too late to make significant changes which leads to poorer reviews and sales.
Getting the game into the hands of hundreds, or even thousands, of players over the course of a five-day period, provides valuable early insight into not only whether the game proposition is appealing but also how accessible and rewarding the early gameplay is shaping up to be. Sure, you aren’t going to get detailed and in-depth feedback through this approach, but it’s hard to beat a live event for capturing early impressions across a wide spectrum of your target players.
Understanding your Audience
When we were in the process of founding Firestoke, we wanted to approach our portfolio strategy differently. Rather than signing games just because they are fun (aren’t all games meant to be fun anyway?) or games we personally liked, we wanted to create a clear identity around our brand and publish games for certain player types. We believe this focus will bring us greater success than a shotgun approach. Understanding our audience intimately should (in theory) allow us to provide them with the games we know they already want, thus enabling us to act as a simple bridge between developer and audience demand.
The big question is, of course, who is our audience? To answer that, we had to make a whole bunch of assumptions and until Gamescom those assumptions were largely untested. It was therefore, incredibly encouraging to see many players gravitate to our stand to play one game and then work their way along playing all the others. Being able to speak in person to many of these players further helped establish a greater understanding of who they are, their gaming habits and why our games attracted them. We have a very long way to go in establishing and understanding an audience for our games, but this was an early sign we are on the right track.
I was also struck by the huge crowds and buzz in the indie areas, easily rivalling the attention given to the AAA games. The audience for small, innovative, well-crafted games is growing at pace, and it’s exciting to be a part of this community at such a key point in history.
Extending Networks and Building Relationships
As we had established Firestoke during the pandemic and decided early on to work on an entirely remote basis, we have a number of partners and suppliers that we have never met before. Having established initial contact online via the business equivalents of Tinder (Meet2Match, LinkedIn etc) we negotiated work and signed deals without ever having a face-to-face meeting. This would simply have been unthinkable prior to Covid, where the need to establish trust and alignment with potential partners required numerous in-person meetings and extended negotiations.
Each of the four games we have signed to date have been scouted, evaluated, negotiated and signed remotely without meeting the teams in person. It was therefore a huge pleasure to meet a couple of the team from RageCure, one of our development partners and have the chance to hang out with them, deepening the relationship and chatting over plans in an informal environment. In addition to scouting hundreds of new games and developers, we also met with porting, QA and localization partners, distribution platform account managers and technology suppliers. Whilst this could have been achieved online over many weeks, the opportunity afforded by a single, focused event means much more was achieved with less effort and time.
Trend Spotting and Ambition Setting
Sitting in your home office zooming from morning to night, it’s impossible to gain a decent understanding of the scope and scale of the games industry. Gamescom is now firmly established as the biggest games event in the world, with over a quarter of a million attendees and millions following online. Wandering around the many huge halls packed with games and hundreds of thousands of players, it’s much easier to get a sense of how huge gaming now is. The other thing that immediately jumps out is how diverse gamers are. Everyone games, even though not everyone identifies as a gamer. That’s ok with us! Games break down barriers and bring people together. It’s incredibly inspiring to be a part of something that generally has such a positive impact on people’s lives.
In one place, you have the full spectrum of games and gamers represented. What better environment to spot emerging trends and get a tangible sense of what is possible in this great industry of ours?
Great People, Great Times
Reconnecting with industry friends, business partners and old colleagues you haven’t seen for a long time is one of the real joys of this kind of event. For all of the negative publicity the industry has received in recent years, the vast majority of people working in games are awesome, and I can’t imagine hanging out, eating, drinking and riding eScooters (at insane speeds) with a better bunch!
It’s going to be very interesting to observe how real-life events slot back into our game industry calendars over the coming months. There is no doubt that online events have been very effective in keeping us connected in difficult times and reducing the environmental impact of international travel, but can they really compete long-term with IRL events? Let us know what you think!