Imagine an exhibition centre the size of the RDS. Then multiply it by ten. Add in 600 exhibitors, with stands ranging in size from a single table to a large family home. Mix in lights, big screens, loud movie style music, the very latest in gaming technology and 275,000 people, predominantly male and under 30. Oh, and don't forget the money - lots and lots of it. Now, you're probably starting to get a sense of what Gamescom is like.
RTÉ's Will Goodbody reports from Gamescom
The annual event used to take place in Leipzig. But having outgrown its venue there, organisers took the decision to move it to Cologne where it now occupies the 11-hall Koelnmesse convention centre. It was a clever move, allowing it to continue to grow to such an extent that it has now overtaken the annual US-based E3 convention to become the largest gathering of game development companies, publishers, distributors, middleware designers and of course gamers in the world.
It is a fascinating, if a little daunting, place to visit. Finding one's way around is a challenge in itself. The crowds, particularly on days when it is open to the public are at times overwhelming. The venue is divided into two sections. The larger is the entertainment area, where all the consumer stands are, and where patient gamers queue to try out the very latest, often not yet released products. The other smaller (relatively speaking of course) area is the business section, where trade exhibitors meet, talk and close deals. The bigger trade stands, like those belonging to Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, EA, Activision etc are like gated communities, where you cannot even get in without an appointment or an invitation. The schedules of the executives inside are packed from morning through until night with meetings. No opportunity is wasted. Gaming is, after all, a crowded, competitive and fast-moving industry. Don't be fooled by the smiling teen gamers down the hall - this is about more than fun. This is big business.
This year, like most, the Gamescom headlines have been dominated by the big hardware makers. They usually use the occasion to launch new products, or give new information about forthcoming releases. This year most of the talk has been about the impending console war between Sony and Microsoft. The former is to release its eagerly awaited Playstation 4 on 29 November in Europe, while around the same time Microsoft will start selling its new Xbox One, the successor to the Xbox 360. It is a big deal for both companies. But also for the game developers and publishers who will create titles for both.
Since it announced details of the Xbox One at E3 earlier this year, Microsoft has been on a PR defensive, after many of the new console's features were widely criticised by gamers and developers. After several embarrassing u-turns in recent months, Microsoft has attempted to draw a line in the sand at Gamescom. It's offered an olive branch to independent developers who it originally said would not be allowed make games for its new pride and joy. Now they will get kits to actually assist them develop games for the new technology. It's also unveiled some of the exclusive and new games that will be available for the Xbox One at launch, as well as scoring a goal by revealing Fifa 14 will come bundled with the console if ordered before Christmas.
Sony on the other hand has used Gamescom to reinforce its position ahead of beleaguered Microsoft, before the products launch. It has already scored 1 million advance orders for the PS4. It also announced new titles for its new bit of kit, as well as a price cut for its handheld Vita.
But many have questioned just how well these new blockbuster consoles will sell. The market has in recent years shifted away from consoles and towards mobile and social media gaming. That is where the growth area is and where many start-ups are targeting. Start-ups such as Dublin based Digit. Its first game Kings of the Realm will be seamless across platforms, allowing gamers to play on a tablet at home, phone on the way to work and PC in work for example.
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Digit's CMO Martin Frain was one of a number of Irish development company representatives at Gamescom. He says the Irish gaming industry is in good health right now. Although finding suitable talent, finance and connecting with publishers and others who will carry and promote games remains a challenge, he adds.
Digit is one of a number of Irish gaming companies that has worked with Enterprise Ireland (EI). Two of its representatives in Germany, Anne Oebels and Manus Rooney, were also at Gamescom, helping Irish companies to make those connections. EI is also financing a number of emerging Irish gaming companies, through its competitive start-up fund, which incidentally is open for another round of funding at the end of the month.
Food for thought perhaps for some of the 89 workers at Big Fish games in Cork, who may be set to lose their jobs. A number of Irish gaming start-ups have risen phoenix-like from the flames of other companies – such as Six Minute, the promising new development company whose founders came together following the closure of PopCap's Dublin office last year.
The IDA, also represented at Gamescom, says the decision by Big Fish to pull out of Ireland is not reflective of the multinational view of the Irish gaming scene. It points to a number of investment wins in recent years, like Serbian developer Nordeus, as examples of how Ireland's stature as a place to develop games is growing. It says the challenge, however, is to convince multinational game companies to invest in higher value development studios here, not just customer support operations.
But Games Ireland CEO David Sweeney says more could be attracted into Ireland if it were made worth their while financially. Games Ireland believes the 3,000 currently employed in the sector in Ireland could grow to 12,000 within a decade, if the right supports are there. Mr Sweeney is currently sitting on a Government-appointed working group looking at the sector, and his hope is that Ireland will follow Britain's lead by offering tax breaks for gaming companies that locate here. Much like the games they produce, the hope is that this could bring Ireland to the next level of the global gaming industry.