We came a long way from overcrowded shows, to finding a new home in virtual space by experimenting with various applications. From being allergic to “let’s jump on a call” to slowly interacting in-person again. It would be very easy to say, “Nothing has changed, everything looks the same,” but you would be wrong. And saying we came full circle, is a bit premature, but we will get there.
Some of you may have plans booked for next year already, and some are still thinking about where to go and which event to focus on. As I type this, there are 54 events scheduled for 2022 in the Game Conference Guide database. There is a lot to choose from, still, some of the landmark events are missing in action. Today, I want to talk about where games industry events are and make a few predictions about what kind of future is waiting for them in 2022.
But before I continue, think about this for a second:
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Now, lets continue.
Where are we now?
We have seen first truly in-person events in the Q3, which marked the start of the transition period. This trend will continue in 2022 with the increase of in-person events.
With a lot of trial and error, the processes are polished up with shortened production lead-times. Many groups have learned how to host events completely remotely, and running them from multiple locations at once, while moderators, guests, and hosts are connecting remotely to a studio switching back and forth between the apps and communication software.
With the lead time shortened, events are choosing to be physical or online first. This gives them enough room to breathe (or for errors) and be more flexible if a series of unfortunate events occurs. The safer option is you guessed it right online first. The audience barely can tell the difference if you are going live or broadcasting a recording.
Stronger focus on regional and smaller markets, either with the possibility to host a physical event (that was very attractive this year), or less exposed regions were attractive for hungrier scouts, sales teams and business developers.
We are deciding at the last minute. And even if we are blocking the slots in the calendar, it is still hard to tell, if the event is not going to be postponed or will change the format (more about this later).
Big events are still a no-no. At least those that we are super familiar with. ChinaJoy, Pax West and EGX happened to a certain extent. Record breaking numbers of attendees are long gone and every event no matter the size will have to restart (=lower) the expectations.
We have learned to live with virtual events. They are here to stay, no matter how you look at them, or what your opinion is on tools used. They are a good alternative and, in some cases, the only option, how to interact, communicate and participate.
Social anxiety kicked in – from meetings with new people or hanging out in a separate spaces but participating at in-person event.
Where are we heading?
Before I dive in, a small disclaimer:
I do not own a crystal ball; I do not control how events will look like. I do know a lot of organizers and I talk to them regularly, plus I am involved in events professionally and I have data to look at. Last year my predictions were spot on, but I have to say, everything you will read here, is a subject to change.
Now, let’s break down how the events in 2022 will look like, how shiny the future is, what organizers will have to face and what attendees can expect.
Even with a higher number of in-person events scheduled so far (87% out of 54 events), I do believe we will see changes in the format here and there.
GDC will again define how the whole season will look like. Almost everyone I talked to is considering visiting San Francisco or being in the area. What GDC and DICE (scheduled to happen in Las Vegas a month before) might represent, is the lift on internal travel bans, and loosening up restrictions for international visits inside big companies. This of course will be heavily influenced by the restrictions of your travel destination.
On the other note GDC won’t attract as high numbers of attendees as anyone is expecting, and will strike a conversation about (not) following the rules and respecting the personal space.
Every physical event in 2022 will have significantly less attendees (by estimates 40%) than during the peak in 2019. This goes hand in hand with events returning to physical space and attracting international travellers. We all are looking at the current situation through the optics of a country where we currently live. Here in Europe, we can travel, but in Australia or Japan the situation is different. As mentioned above, we have seen an increased number of regional on-site events in the UK, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, even Russia and Ukraine, same as in the US. The situation can change very quickly as with Africa Games Week which was postponed from December to February 2022 due to the Omicron strain and WePlay in China which was postponned as well.
And to give you another example. I have been involved in organizing Game Days in Slovakia for the past 8 years now. We have started to plan this year’s edition when the country was waking up from a very hard lockdown just for the summer. The positivity in the air was almost palpable. Game Days was planned as an online-first event, and we were thinking about hosting guest speakers and having a small audience on-site. A month before, we were generating a lot of buzz. Three weeks before the event we started to talk about booking flights and hotels, two weeks before the region introduced harsher restrictions and the week before the event, we knew the whole country would enter a lockdown. In the end we were able to deliver a successful event, but the whole experience could have been elevated with on-site networking. It would be a disaster if we would have chosen physical-first approach.
Surprising were the reactions, and interest coming from professionals from abroad, which leads me to another point. Stronger regional focus, important for discoverability and attractive proposition for scouts and business developers flocking into uncharted events and less-travelled countries. This will grow in 2022 even more with the return of physical local events.
The reason to travel and participate as in-person must be reasonable. More activities online = not a lot of incentives to be on-site. And this leads to higher price points and restricting the programming for those tuning in virtually. With production costs going up, online streams will be curated, or limited for non-paying customers. These will still be used as user acquisition and boosting the FOMO, anything extra (any activity or content) will be put behind a paywall. We might see a small acceptance fee for pitching, showcases and other indie related activities.
Events are not going to be cheaper either. Physical will be pricey to attend, exhibit and participate in general. Not counting the prices for flights / travelling or accommodation.
Pressure on organizers is to differentiate from each other and offer something worth traveling for or participating in. Be it location, unlocked uncharted region, talent on-site or Steam showcase, generating leads takes a lot of time especially considering how many options are out there.
On the calendar side, the increased number of opportunities you can interact also leads toward not respecting dates of other events. There will be more cross-over dates alienating the same audience.
In 2022 we will see an increase of in-person events in Q2 and Q3. These will be organized as physical-first. The number of events is again slightly increased, with an increased number of webinars and half-day events that Game Conference Guide is not tracking, they are covering all aspects of the games industry or its needs. Virtual events are here to stay, and they will populate the whole 2022 calendar, some might bleed into physical meet-ups / networking events to spice up things.
Social anxiety is still prevalent, either from others not respecting personal space, or not following the rules. It also influences general attendance numbers.
Huge consumer events are slowly returning, Gamescom is happening as an open-air festival.
Lastly, graphical representation of the events now enhanced with the “metaverse” and NTFs. These will be social spaces with a conference component to showcase its works. They might look good, but the practicality will be a huge question.
I will return to these predictions closer to the end of 2022 to see how wrong / right I was. And I am also interested in hearing what your opinion is, feel free to reach out or share it in the comments.
Christmas holidays at Game Conference Guide
As part of the annual maintenance, all 2021 events from the database will be archived and moved to a separate subpage by the end of this year. A new subpage “2021” will be created and accompanied by graphical representation of the data with donut graphs. From that point, Game Conference Guide will feature only events scheduled for 2022 and beyond. Graphs will be focusing on the new year as well. Everything will be done behind the scenes, so the shift won’t affect the functionality or your experience with the website. There are no expected down-times on the server site.
January is usually one of the busiest months, so expect a lot of traffic + new events added to the database. I will be looking at newly announced events, but I am planning to take things very slowly this holiday and stay away from the keyboard as much as possible.
Another big thing I am looking into, is the complete overhaul of the website as per planned transition towards version 2.0. What I can say is that it will be snappier, faster, and much more pleasant to look at. There will be time to talk about the new version in the future issues of this newsletter.
PARTNER OF THE MONTH
Back to real life! It’s traditional to start each year with a Pocket Gamer Connects conference in London, so let’s meet there again in 2022. The first conference for the mobile games industry in January will also be the first live Pocket Gamer Connects since COVID-19 locked everybody down. After a year of successful digital events, the time is right to return in person to where it all began…
Pocket Gamer Connects London 2022 will see a return to the popular Brewery venue in central London and marks the start of a year of live conferences that will tour the world from Seattle to Helsinki and beyond. At Pocket Gamer Connects London 2022 you can expect to meet over 800 companies from over 40 countries. Across four track rooms you’ll see over 220 speakers talk on hot topics like Revenue Roadmap, Mastering Multiplayer, The New NFT Economies, Live Ops and more – plus, new for 2022 we’ll be introducing ASO Insights, covering everything you need to know about App Store Optimisation. Speakers include top representatives from the likes of Voodoo, The National Film and Television School, Stillfront Group, Tencent, Roblox, Netflix, King, Square Enix and loads more.
There’ll be all the usual fringe activities taking place at the venue too, including Investor Connector meetings and The Big Indie Pitch competition, plus you’ll be invited to attend the much-loved Global Connects Party where everybody can let their hair down.
Of course, COVID-19 still dominates the news, so the team will be taking every precaution to keep people safe. Pocket Gamer Connects London will follow government guidelines and help people keep their distance inside the venue, as well as provide hand sanitiser stations, and share essential advice, to ensure that business, learning, fun and safety all coexist.
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Pavol Buday, curator of GCG
[Game Conference Guide is tracking games industry & game developers’ events, trade shows, festivals, conferences and events around the world.]