I start with a question, an appeal almost, to Gamer Network: why? Why did you allow yourselves to be acquired by ReedPOP/Reed Exhibitions, a company known for its terrible convention practices? I obviously understand that these kinds of decisions aren’t done on a whim, but did you honestly do no research beforehand? Or was it a matter of crossing your fingers, hoping that those problems wouldn’t happen to you and signing on the dotted line?
I do want to preface the rest of this article by stipulating something very clearly: none of this has anything to do with the move to the ExCel from Birmingham’s NEC. This was a move that could’ve been incredibly successful had it been handled correctly, and had the show actually been planned more than what felt like a few weeks in advance. The ExCel is an excellent venue and, as a visually impaired person, I find it vastly more accessible thanks to it all being in one building with the halls clearly marked either side of a central boulevard.
There was an understandable amount of backlash from the moment EGX 2019 was announced due to its move south, but the terrible firefighting never really stopped from that moment forward. As the opening date grew uncomfortably close and the announcements still weren’t coming people began to fear the worst and for the most part, their fears were correct.
Honestly, I thought that it couldn’t be much worse than Rezzed and its seemingly non-existent organisation, but I was mistaken. Credit where credit is due: the few press releases I did receive were mailed out in reasonably good time, rather than three days before the event as was the case for Rezzed (thus, I got a couple dozen out-of-office replies when I tried to book slots). However, like Rezzed there were still an inordinate number of releases missing, despite devs having submitted their materials in sufficient time.
It started with a simple enquiry: did they receive my press ticket application, because I hadn’t had a confirmation email (they’re simply not sent anymore, which isn’t at all helpful).
In previous years when I’ve contacted EGX or Rezzed for any reason I would get a direct response from the relevant person/department within a day. The drop-down list on the form allowing people to select their type of enquiry is what presumably enabled said enquiries to be routed into the correct inbox. In fact, their press contacts used to be outstanding: I would often get responses to emails within the space of an hour or two.
Instead, and just like Rezzed in April of 2019, when I did receive my response from their general customer service, it was from ‘EGX18’.
I’m not sure this needs to be pointed out, but I will anyway. If you can’t even be bothered to change something as miniscule as one single number, it gives an immediate indication of just how little care and attention is now being given to something so fundamental.
From that day forward I received exactly the same copy-paste response every single time, which was in summary, “Thanks for your email, I’ve forwarded it to the press team, let me know if there’s anything more I can do.” To date, and today is Sunday 27th October, I have yet to receive any contact from the ‘press team’. During Rezzed I didn’t get contacted by the promised ‘show team’ either, although at least the person with whom I did correspond did sort out my queries in the end.
I only learned my application had been received once my ticket arrived. At no point was any enquiry met with a real answer, neither were my complaints at being left hanging. Tim was only accepted shortly before the event itself, with some people never even hearing back in time.
Needless to say I was not excited at all for EGX once it rolled round. I didn’t book any appointments (beyond the slot already booked to watch the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation). I didn’t even sort out the shirts I was going to wear each day until Wednesday evening – this is normally something I’ve planned weeks in advance…because I’m a dork.
Despite arriving on day one at around 10am, we were told they had ‘run out’ of press badges (but not wristbands/lanyards) and when we asked about them again on Friday, that they wouldn’t be receiving any more. This left us with only the colour of our wristband to identify us to developers; we ended up having to reuse badges from previous years. (Judging by the number of silver EGX19 press badges visible on the show floor on Sat/Sun vs Thurs/Fri, this leads us both to believe we were lied to, at least about a new batch).
If that wasn’t aggravating enough, not only was the exact same lanyard available for purchase in the EGX merch store as well as a part of the free gift package given to Superpass holders, but it was also used for the orange ‘content creators’ badge round the necks of streamers (some of whom were sponsored to attend). This meant virtually anyone attending could be wearing it, rendering it useless as an identification tool.
By contrast, in 2017/18 the press lanyards issued had the word ‘PRESS’ printed onto them as well as being a different design to anything available as merchandise, meaning we were then instantly identifiable without anyone having to even look down to the badge.
Being lumped in with the general public’s entry queue was a problem we had to contend with at Rezzed this year too – previous years we’ve always been separated out – so I’ll address this firmly: a separate press/industry queue is a necessary accommodation. Devs/PR book appointments from 10am, so if we’re only allowed in once the show floor opens to the general public we’re automatically late. On the Saturday it took me six full minutes to make it inside, and I was fairly far forward in the crowd (because I can’t accurately call it a ‘queue’).
People are always going to be complaining about things that are unavoidable, such as the length of the queue for the most popular game of the show; a vendor running out of a particular piece of merchandise; the wifi being too slow. The most preposterous complaint I saw repeatedly throughout the run-up to the show was that there were no playable demos for games which have only just been announced and are still early in development. The point that I’m trying to make however, is that nothing I’ve been whinging about is unavoidable in the slightest, if only someone takes the time to demonstrate they care.
Going in, everyone knew that the show floor would be somewhat empty, aside from the Rezzed section – which was stellar, as per usual. OK, we weren’t totally bereft of AAA titles, but two of them were only presentations as opposed to playable demos. Microsoft were once again absent. Ubisoft were a conspicuous no-show (although given the recent announcement of their numerous delays, coupled with the disastrous release of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, perhaps this was for the best). Highly anticipated games shortly due for release, such as The Outer Worlds, weren’t present: I was really looking forward to trying before committing to buy.
Perhaps for me, one of the most glaring oversights was the total lack of a dedicated press/media lounge. The closest we could get would the ‘chillout zone’ but that’s not an area designed to be a workspace for people who want to sit and write, plan out content, or conduct interviews. It’s not as though the ExCel lacks the possibility.
All issues aside, we still had a great time! I think we both managed to tick off more games than we’ve ever managed to before, and still leave with a number we wanted to play. We caught ghost mice playing Cat out of the Casket; we hunted a killer in Murder at Malone Manor. We raced a humpback whale (a whale with a handbrake, no less) down a mountain in Tony Slopes, and attempted sick skate tricks as a budgie riding a tech deck in SkateBIRD.
If Tim had control over our highlights list, every single entry would simply state ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’, because that was his must-play game of the show and the first game we headed to, and where the queues were longest (we waited about two hours I think). However, the implementation of virtual queues – something which worked well for DOOM: Eternal at gamescom it seemed – was rendered ineffectual by the fact that there was still a regular line, meaning people turned up to their slot to discover there was no space even with a good thirty monitors (approx).
Hopefully, this is not a reflection of how EGX is going to be handled from now on, and this is simply just a case of teething problems stemming from the first year at a new venue. ReedPOP aren’t exactly a stranger to organising video game events, being the ones to run the PAX shows every year, so this is even more evidence of their total lack of care for this show.
Provided this article doesn’t get me put on some sort of ReedPOP blacklist, I’ll be at Rezzed in five months’ time. That’s more than enough time for everyone involved to pull their socks up and deliver not just what’s wanted, but what’s needed. I’ve never understood the counterproductive business model of cutting corners and lessening customer experience in the name of profit. Don’t get me wrong; there are viable ways to keep costs down whilst also providing high quality, but everything we experienced missed the mark by a mile.
I spoke to one indie dev who summed it up very nicely: he said it was great that members of the public got to come to events like EGX and play his game, road-test his demo and give him their feedback. However, it was the press/industry he deemed to be more important, and if the organiser alienates them by not bothering to cater to their needs sufficiently, then what hope do the tiny devs who rely on that media engagement have?
Time is ticking. Five months and counting. C’mon Reed, do your best to Make EGX Great Again!