When the Tokyo Game Show starts this week, it will be the talk of the town. Last year, the event drew 194,288 attendees over the course of four days for business and public visitors.
But in Singapore last week, Games Convention Asia drew 102,500 attendees during four days of business and public exhibition. That total number might not be as large: but consider if you will, the population of greater Tokyo is 12.7 million people while the entire population of island-nation Singapore is 4.7 million people.
Singapore seems to have an events culture where something is always going on. Inside the massive Suntec Centre you might find a food fair on one floor, shoe sales, and a games convention that posts highers number than Seattle's annual Penny Arcade Expo.
There's a crowd at the top of the escalators, and the first thing you hear is the whir of cameras as attendees snap photos of cosplayers. Stormtroopers are posing for photos, too, and inside you're handed an ice-cold bottle of Coke Zero as you browse the exhibits.
It's almost like a home and garden show, where you can buy games and merchandise in addition to previewing an upcoming game like Borderlands. Admission is free, and organizers say they learned to adapt the idea of Asian gameplay, because the local audience expected something to buy. Not just the experience, but also a game they can take home.
Electronic Arts has a booth, which sells The Beatles: Rock Band and the latest FIFA game, and Nintendo is represented by their local distributor. Sony exhibited in a previous year, but this year Sony and Nintendo are only participating in the business side of the show where developers and publishers have private meetings.
"Next year, we expect a little more, once the economy is picking up," says Jorg Zeissig, from Leipziger Messe International. LMI, incidentally, is the same company behind the popular Games Convention event from Leipzig. While that show is now overshadowed by Cologne's Gamescom, they have found some traction in Singapore
Christopher Thompson, general manager for Electronic Arts in Asia, says this has been a unique year for shows. Tokyo Game Show is about platforms, and Asia needs a neutral show. His point is proved by the variety of both platforms and business models represented on the show floor. According to Thompson, Singapore has "a good gaming culture," and is also a highly profitable market.
"It's not easy to compare them, because it's a totally different concept," Zeissig says, when asked compare Games Convention Asia and the Tokyo Game Show.
Tokyo is great in terms of media announcements from the Japanese publishers, and it's good to attract visitors from all over Japan, but basically the show is made for the Japanese market, believes Zeissig.
According to Zeissig, the goal of the show is to bring international business and trade visitors to Singapore, which is set up for opportunities between creative minds, developers, and publishers. Next year, he plans for more exhibitors and more content to be showcased and more announcements to be made on the show floor.
Games Convention Asia features an international developer conference, and partnered with the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences to host the first DICE Summit Asia, which drew inspirational speakers like Demigod designer Chris Taylor, and PaRappa the Rapper creator Masaya Matsuura.
"You do see diversity on the show floor, in the conference as well, that you don't see anywhere else at this point in the entire region," Zeissig notes. Not only is there Singaporean content, and participation from nearby Malaysia and Indonesia, but China, Korea, and Australia, as well.
Nabi Studios, a Singapore-based developer was showcasing Toribash, which will be released by Nintendo in the fourth-quarter of 2009. The game, subtitled "Violence Perfected," is a turn-based fighting game that has ragdoll robots trying to decapitate each other using rock-paper-scissors moves. Toribash started as a free-to-play PC, and expects further success on the WiiWare platform this Christmas.
Besides demos, local visitors get to participate in regional tournaments - this year saw the launch of the One Asia Cup. Sponsored by a powerful local publisher and operator, IAH Games, the tourney featured $100,000 in cash and prizes for players of EA Sports' FIFA Online 2 and drew teams from across Southeast Asia.
And it seems that, locally, cosplay is an important part of playing games - as one resident noted, there isn't much to do in Singapore, and this fosters creativity, offering an outlet to those who make their own costumes.
While the on-stage contest at the close of Games Convention Asia offered the winner a trip to Australia to compete in the grand finals of the Asia Pacific Cosplay Championship 2009, the high-energy emcee took the opportunity to evangelize his audience, urging mommy and daddy to support their children's interest in developing costumes.
The audience remained exceptionally well-behaved and polite, even with the raucous emcee singing the theme from Ghostbusters to a pair of shy female contests representing characters from the recent Atari game.
But the emotions surfaced when the audience started singing along to the Village People's YMCA, as sung by a cosplayer representing Major Armstrong from Square Enix's Fullmetal Alchemist adaptations.
If there's a lesson to be learned from Games Convention Asia, it's simply that gamers want to gather each year for an event that celebrates interactive entertainment. They don't need major announcements about hardware pricing, nor do they need to preview every title from next year's slate.
The game industry looks to E3 and TGS for big news. They look to PAX because it's highly anticipated by the fans. There's something significant at these shows.
And yet, Games Convention Asia suggests that, in the future, hundreds of thousands of gamers in the major cities of the world will be satisfied with an annual festival to celebrate games - even without significant announcements and revelations and celebrities. GCA showcases games as just a normal part of life
And the spreading normalization of games culture might be the most significant thing to come out of this Singapore show.