The hall plan of the Gamescom games fair in Cologne this year tells a story of the big cancellations: Where Electronic Arts advertised its football blockbuster "Fifa 2020" on a huge stand in Hall 6 in 2019, this year is the "Event Arena", a event stage.
Where Sony was showing new games for its Playstation console in Hall 7, TikTok, an exhibitor from outside the industry, has moved in in 2022 and wants to reach young users.
Where in 2019 in Hall 8 Wargaming presented a smashing stage show featuring life-size tank and airplane models, in 2022 Ford, McDonalds, Samsung and Western Digital lined up – all companies that are courting young customers but are by no means traditional game manufacturers.
The hall plan shows how Gamescom has changed to blockbuster games after two Corona years without physical exhibition stands, without crowds of visitors in the Cologne exhibition halls, without queues lasting hours. Although Gamescom is still a computer games fair this year, it is increasingly becoming a youth festival with music shows, fan autograph sessions from YouTube influencers, a cosplay arena, competitions and all sorts of other stuff from car manufacturers, sporting goods companies or even the federal government.
What is missing are world premieres of big blockbuster game titles, thanks to which the fair was once a pilgrimage destination for computer game enthusiasts from all over Europe. "Like in old times. Only better" is the advertising slogan of the organizers for this year. But the line-up disappoints many fans, who also announce it on Twitter.
Gamescom, they say, has lost some of its fascination, its soul. And it has also become significantly more expensive, the ticket prices have increased by almost 50 percent compared to 2019.
The industry association “Game” has not revealed how many tickets the organizer has already sold after an initial water level report of 60,000 tickets in advance. Only the Saturday of the fair is already sold out.
The list of cancellations is long: Electronic Arts together with the crowd favorite "Fifa 23" turned their backs on Cologne this year, the Americans did not justify the cancellation. So far they have always been there, but this year there seems to be a lack of presentable game demos, many of the publisher's blockbuster titles have been postponed and are now only scheduled for 2023.
Sony Playstation also canceled without much justification, although the Japanese would have had potential for interesting trade fair luggage with the upcoming VR2 virtual reality glasses. Nintendo is also not there, so Microsoft is the only game console manufacturer to remain loyal to the Cologne-based company.
The Facebook parent company Meta, which is currently massively focusing on the conversion towards Metaverse, is not present in the Cologne exhibition halls as it was in 2019, although a lot could be shown around the topic of virtual reality.
Finally, Activision Blizzard is also missing in the Cologne halls, and here too there seems to be a lack of new blockbusters that are ready to play. This means that neither the upcoming "Diablo 4" nor the latest "Call of Duty" can be seen, and the developers don't seem to be finished here either. With the pirate title “Skull and Bones”, competitor Ubisoft is just bringing a ready-to-play mega game to Cologne.
Many big game titles that are eagerly awaited by fans have been massively delayed thanks to the global crises: On the one hand, the corona pandemic has ensured that many game studios were only able to develop and program much more slowly in 2020 and 2021 than planned. Big blockbuster titles eat up years of development time - so the delays of 2022 and 2023 are direct consequences of the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.
Game development is a highly collaborative activity that also requires high-performance hardware. The programmers could not simply be sent to the home office with the laptop.
Another reason for the delays in the game studios' schedule is Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine. Because both in the Ukraine as well as in Russia and Belarus, various game studios operate development centers in order to benefit from significantly lower wage levels for capable programmers.
For example, the former Russian developer Wargaming is currently making every effort to cut all bridges to Russia and Belarus, relocated the company headquarters and studios to Cyprus and Eastern Europe.
Developers from the EA subsidiary Dice had to flee to air raid shelters in Kiev, and many programmers from the large game developer scene in Kyiv and the surrounding area were drafted into military service as part of the general mobilization. The projects that have been started cannot simply be repotted, programmers need weeks to months to familiarize themselves with foreign programming code.
The empty exhibition halls in Cologne - among other things, Halls 1 and 3.1 will remain unused this year - are not least the result of real crises, behind which the virtual shooting games have to lag behind. Companies from outside the industry use the free space to woo young customers or to distribute information to target groups: Ford is there, as is Samsung, Western Digital, McDonalds and the Federal Office for Information Technology (BSI). And in Hall 10.2, the Bundeswehr is recruiting young people for very real conflicts.
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