So we just got back from our trip to EGX 2016 (and Alton Towers as a bonus) and we are exhausted. This year we went with two non-journalist friends joining the two of us and it was interesting to see the experience from a slightly different perspective. We didn’t get there until the main public opening at 11 and we stayed right up until the end.
Firstly, it’s hard to ignore the fact that EGX was not supported well by the major developers this year. Although some of their games were there, there was no significant presence from Microsoft, Nintendo or Ubisoft. EA had a couple of large stands dotted around but the show really did feel like it was worse for missing the key players. No charming Nintendo area with fun little side games and plenty of street passes, no bombastic EA with huge statues and light shows, No ultra-stylish Microsoft booths with stamps and giveaways. Instead the show was mostly dominated by Sony with a huge Playstation area, alongside surprisingly large sections for Syndicate, Yoggscast, and Twitch. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of the way Sony does these shows, it feels like they enjoy the long lines as a sign of how ‘wanted’ their games are, and they don’t give very much thought to the people in them. Not many consoles, not much was playable, and more focus on taking up space than actually showing off good games. For example, the PS4 Pro was there, but behind a glass case and switched off. PSVR was there, but you had to book (or be smart and go to the many indie booths showing it off), their biggest playable games were Gran Turismo and Infinite Warfare, but the queue for Infinite Warfare was getting up to about two hours and Gran Turismo only had a few pods with a fairly basic set up. No fancy HDR being shown off, no 4K, no looks at games that people are really excited about like The Last Guardian.
The other areas were pretty sparse, Mafia 3 had a spectacular facade but was only showing a 25 minute gameplay video – the Twitch area devoted a tonne of space to letting you play the Forza Horizon 3 demo we all got a while ago, despite the actual game coming out this weekend – the over 18 area had a grand total of 4 games, one of which only had two seats. It felt like a lot of the show floor was wasted without the blockbuster games to show off. There was no way of playing For Honor, Ghost Recon, Steep, Prey 2, or the new Zelda. Instead you just had plenty of giant booths to walk around.
Of course the best place to play games was (as always) the Rezzed and Leftfield collections. Indie developers really come out in force for this show and it’s a great chance to play plenty of games you’ve never seen before and actually chat to the people that made them. Shot lines, lots of amazing games and a nice atmosphere – it’s just a shame that the quality evident there couldn’t have been matched with the AAA titles.
In terms of the rest of the show, it really feels like Eurogamer still haven’t managed to get the vibe they want. There’s a poor food selection, which has no connection to games and never goes beyond being purely functional. This could be a chance to show off some interesting dishes to an audience who might not come across it otherwise, but instead you get burgers, chips and sandwiches. The merchandise stalls were everywhere, easily taking up a third of the overall space, but 80% of them all had the same knock-off stock with seemingly unlicensed merch aimed at ‘geek culture’ without really being part of it. Lots of cheap items being sold at a premium by people who had no interested in getting involved with ‘gamers’ – they just wanted to fleece you. Of course there were exceptions, there are always a couple of interesting stands or independent retailers that care about embracing the community, but these are increasingly pushed out by large mass-producers of vaguely gaming-related tat.
All of this sounds very negative, and it is, but despite it all we still had a good time. We played a few outstanding indie games and had a lot of fun with Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2 – but after visiting Gamescom in the last couple of years then coming here and seeing how much is missing, how much is boring, and how many people look tired and fed up from the moment the doors open, it’s hard not to think EGX is getting it wrong. Maybe they’ll find the magic formula next year, but we’re not so sure we’ll be there to find out.