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The fan-and-business trade show was the world’s biggest game event — with 370,000 people attending the physical event in 2019 — but it had to switch to online-only in 2020 due to the pandemic. The event organizers will try to restore some of that in-person excitement this year with a hybrid event, said Felix Falk, managing director of Game (the group that puts on the show) in an interview with GamesBeat.
He said that improving pandemic conditions, the vaccination schedules, and better methods for safe in-person events could enable the physical part of the event to return, albeit in a reduced capacity.
“The crucial thing is what is possible in late August onside in Germany,” Falk said. “We are focusing on super-fans and hands-on gaming experience as well as a business area. So it will not be the Gamescom everybody knows from 2019 with 370,000 people. It has to be a focused version of Gamescom.”
While the online show was a success in 2020, Falk said that both the exhibitors as well as fans agree that, in addition to the digital aspects, the possibility of trying out the latest games onsite and diving into the gaming world is a key part of Gamescom. In a survey of 10,000 past attendees, Gamescom found that 92% can “hardly wait to experience Gamescom onsite again.” About 88% said they would “feel safe at a Gamescom in Cologne if good protective and hygiene measures are implemented,” and 76% said “the best way of trying out new games is onsite.”
The plan for Gamescom 2021 is to stage it as a hybrid event. Of course, the plan depends on what German authorities will permit in late August, Falk said.
“What made us confident to go for a hybrid Gamescom is that the community is really waiting for Gamescom again, and if there’s any possibility to make that happen, we want to give it a go,” Falk said. “With a very good safety concept, we think there’s a high likelihood that we are able to do a hybrid concept.”
If it turns out that the federal and regional governments decide it can’t be done safely as a hybrid event, then the show will revert to its digital form, Falk said. Such large events are not currently permitted.
Falk said the Association of the German Games Industry and Koelnmesse (the exhibition hall entity) plan to hold the main part of the show starting August 25 to August 29.
Wait times will be shorter thanks to digital queuing, where smaller numbers of fans can secure times for their showings in advance. Booths will have distance between player stations. And they will not focus on having stages with shows.
“The physical queuing line will be combined with digital and queuing systems,” Falk said. “That makes it much much easier for exhibitors to do what they do. The decision that companies have to make right now is how they want to participate.”
At the same time, the show will feature an improved Gamescom Now digital hub, for both consumer and business purposes. Businesses will be free to cancel their participation all the way up to the end of May. It will be possible to have a reduced number of people onsite — the exact number will be revealed later — for both the consumer and business parts of the event, Falk said.
Opening Night Live, which Geoff Keighley produces, will still take place, but it hasn’t been decided yet if that will take place online only or as an in-person event. The plan is to include an event arena for activities such as esports competitions and cosplay shows. Devcom will take place for developers on August 23 and August 24, but it will also have a large online component.
By tested, the organizers mean that they have experimented with a dry run of how a crowd could be managed in one of the big expo buildings with safety measures in place with booths that are designed for gameplay only, and not stage announcements or shows. It’s not clear what would happen with big stage events for the press, but the booths can have big screens.
Due to the safety concept and reduced size, not all of the former exhibitors will be allowed to participate. Ticket sales for fans are expected to start in May.
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