The Great Game Convention SchismS

Things in Germany got nasty this week as the annual Games Convention, once the largest video game convention in the world, suffered a life-threatening schism.

Despite bringing in more than 200,000 visitors to its Leipzig conference center last summer, game publishers decided to break away from the city to move things to the larger venues of Cologne.

Earlier this week Leipzig seemingly gave up, saying that they would focus on mobile and online gaming only, leaving Cologne's similarly named GamesCom to soak in a broader spectrum of gamers.

The break highlights an issue that the U.S. has been struggling with for the past few years: Is there such a thing as too many game conventions? And are they even necessary anymore?

I spoke with Rich Taylor, senior vice president of communications and research for the Entertainment Software Association, today about the big show they put on every year in the U.S.

E3 has gone through some ups and downs over the past few years, moving out of and back into the Los Angeles Convention Center, but Taylor says this year's upcoming show will be both successful and necessary.

"I think E3 will always have a place, because it's a moment where all of the inspirations and investments are unveiled," he told me. "I think there will always be an appetite to see that."

In fact, nearly 5,500 people have already checked in with the organization to see about coming to this year's show, despite the fact that registration hasn't opened yet.

But why do a show at all? E3 was born out of the necessity to highlight a new and niche pastime, with video game sales exceeding $22 billion last year, it's fair to say it's not really niche anymore.

You don't see all an encompassing movie convention each year or one dedicated to television watching.

Taylor argues that the gaming experience is different from the television and movie watching one. Video game players are more engaged with the experience, he said. And that deeper engagement leads to a stronger thirst for meeting with the people behind the games people play.

Robert Khoo, director of business development of Penny Arcade, helps put on the annual Penny Arcade Expo each year. The show, which drew nearly 60,000 people to Seattle last year, is all about quenching that thirst.
Khoo agrees that the industry could one day see market saturation with an abundance of game conferences, but he doesn't think that will be happening anytime soon.

He points out the U.S.'s many gaming-themed conventions are designed to appeal to a number of different interests, each with its own top show.

"There's the Game Developers Conference for developers, there is E3 for the industry and PAX for consumers," he said.

And while this year's Penny Arcade Expo, set for Labor Day Weekend, will have to endure a tougher economy, he thinks that will just make PAX stronger, separate the wheat from the chaff.

Well Played is a weekly column about the big news of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.