This past week I was incredibly fortunate to be able to attend one of the largest video game conventions in the world: Gamescom. Held in the beautiful Cologne, Germany, Gamescom is a weeklong meeting of the gaming industries biggest companies and most passionate fans. I attended as an employee of Blot Interactive thanks to the incredible Norma Rossler, CEO, CFO and WBENC member and one of the coolest folks I’ve ever met.
I had worked with Norma last summer at Red Meat Games where she and Keith Makse afforded me so many amazing opportunities such as this one. She reached out to me a few weeks before the show saying they had an extra room and could use me as a member of the team going to meetings during the business part of the convention. Needless to say, I was thrilled and accepted as soon as I found out if it was logistically possible. And then I was off!
Down to Business
Gamescom is held at the Koelnmesse, a massive, sprawling convention centre in the heart of Cologne (“Köln” in German). The centre is divided in half, the one
exclusively about business and not open to fans who buy tickets to the show. This is where we held meetings with other companies. There were businesses from all over, a lot of countries set up booths devoted to promoting the game scene in their country. We were based out of Canada’s booth as Canada was a partner at this year’s show.
From Canada’s booth, we met with publishers, localisation teams, platform representatives and various government employees. While I didn’t attend every meeting Norma arranged, I got the chance to sit with her through several meetings with companies big and small, from Bandai Namco to companies I’d never heard of who translate games for European markets. These meetings were fascinating, I got to see how the sausage (a German delicacy) is made in the game industry and indie scene especially.
I was even allowed to pitch some of Blot’s games to different publishers, gaining invaluable experience with one of the most important parts of indie game development: selling your game. Designers need to know how to pitch their project if they want any chance at being something other than another one of the hundreds of games released on Steam or the Google Play store any given week. And I got that chance thanks to Norma.
Blot Interactive lead designer Emily van Lingen was also with us. She would often talk about her games while I played them, as doing both at the same time can be quite difficult. Then sometimes I would pitch our games, especially some we have in much earlier states where a demo doesn’t exist yet.
Learning about the business side of the indie game scene, or “bizdev” as Norma taught me, was so awesome and I learned so much from this experience I will be able to take forward in my career as a game designer.
Back to Play
The other half of the convention centre was, of course, games. Games from the biggest studios like Ubisoft, EA, Blizzard, Xbox and PlayStation along with games from the smallest indies and one person teams no one has ever heard of before. I tend to gravitate towards the indies more than anything else as that’s where the interesting and exciting work is being done. I just don’t see the point in standing in line for hours to play FIFA 18, when you’ve played one FIFA game you’ve played them all. But waiting a couple minutes to check out a brand new indie game that’s had so much passion and love poured into it is what excites me. So that’s what I did!
The indies were congregated in a booth called in the Indie Arena, where dozens and dozens of monitors were squeezed next to each other while developers were shoulder to shoulder with the players talking to them about their game, getting feedback and getting to see first-hand the joy their creation is bringing to players.
I came back to the Indie Arena several times, playing so many different games from a post-apocalypse city management game to a goofy and fun downhill biking game. I talked to the developers as I was playing and asked them about their process, their release plan the challenges and success they’ve encountered. I’m going to write up a full list of my favourite games from the show so stay tuned for that!
Meets and Greets!
One of the best parts of any of these shows is the people I meet. When the most passionate creators and fans get together it’s impossible not to run into people I’ve followed on Twitter, admired and meet new people I can’t wait to learn more about. Gamescom was no exception, I met people I’ve followed on online for years as well as new designers who after a short conversation have me excited about their upcoming project.
One evening after the show we went out for dinner along the Rhine river which runs through the heart of the city. Near the end of our meal while we were just talking a group of guys sat at the table across from us. Looking over I noticed Andrew Goldfarb, editor at IGN and someone I’ve followed online for years. Right next to him was Brian Altano, host at IGN and all around hilarious guy. I was immediately nervous. These were two guys who I looked up to for years, followed on Twitter, listened to on podcasts every week and now they were sitting 10 feet away from me. What do I do?!
After some prompting from Norma, I got up and introduced myself and they were incredibly nice, saying thank you for watching and following. They asked me about the show and how I was doing, then sort of just casually slipped into talking about games. It was awesome, like being on one of the many podcasts where I’ve heard them do just what we were doing. I asked for a picture and said goodnight, walking away my knees were still shaking.
The next day as I was browsing Twiter I saw designer Victor Agren was at Gamescom. I interviewed Victor (aka “DeadToast Entertainment”) earlier this year about his experience in the industry and his upcoming game My Friend Pedro: Blood, Bullets and Bananas. I got a chance to meet him at the Swedish Games booth, where he actually recognized me and told me he’s seen me like his posts on Twitter. I was so stoked.
Victor leaned in and asked “Would you like to play an early build of the game?” to which I replied “ABSOLUTELY!” He pulled out a small USB stick and popped it into a nearby laptop, booted it up and passed it to me. I played through the first several levels of the game, experiencing for the first time what I’ve only been able to see in gif form for months and months. It was awesome, so awesome I’ll be posting a preview of the game later. Metting Victor was fantastic and absolutely a highlight of the show.
We took a rather indirect route to Cologne. With a layover in Iceland (which it turns out was not the best place to wear shorts and sandals) we landed in Amsterdam where Norma rented a cute European car to get us to Germany. After buying a GPS with European maps we were on our way, flying down roads with 120 km/h speed limits, although some people sharing the road with us were going at least 150km/h.
Whereas Norma stayed at a lovely 4-star hotel, Emily and I shared an equally lovely Airbnb with Matt from Clever Plays, a Quebec based indie studio working on their second game. We took to the streets of Cologne several times over the week, exploring the historic city. The road culture in Europe is much more accommodating for pedestrians and cyclists, bike lanes were everywhere with their own traffic lights. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize these lanes were bike lanes as I was almost hit several times by cyclists zooming past this ignorant tourist.
The city is designed for pedestrians, with squares and alleys everywhere for people to sit out on the patio having dinner and gather for smokes and drinks. The city was constantly bustling with a vibrant night life, with people eating dinner as late as 11 and even midnight. It was a completely different culture than I’m used to in Brantford, Ontario.
On the last day, we drove back to Amsterdam and decided to venture into the heart of the old city where we had quite a difficult time navigating the various tight roads in Norma’s tiny car. Canals separate every block in Amsterdam as water transport was the main way the city operated for centuries. Cyclists and pedestrians showed complete indifference for cars. They travelled down the middle of the street, seeming annoyed when a car approached trying to get by. Cyclists and mopeds zipped between cars causing us to jump several times. The city was as alive and bustling at midnight as it was that afternoon.
What an Experience ❤
I had an absolute blast on this trip. I’m incredibly thankful to Norma and Emily for letting me tag along. I saw so much, experienced new foods and met new people, learned a great deal about life outside of Canada, video games and what a small part of everything I really am. I hope to go back to Gamescom again someday, maybe as an indie developer with my own game. Or at the very least as a fan itching to find the coolest games the industry has to offer. Regardless, Europe and Gamescom haven’t seen the last of me.