Those of us in the games industry and based in the Americas or Asia have probably attended GDC, but many of these folks I’ve spoken to haven’t yet made it to Germany’s Gamescom. This is partly due the primarily industry focus of GDC (and the great talks there), vs the consumer aspects of Gamescom. There’s also a bit of conference fatigue — with GDC, E3, PAX, Pocket Gamer Connects (note: great speakers at PGC as well), Casual Connect, and Slush not to mention various Asia-focused conferences including ChinaJoy, G-Star, and Tokyo Game Show all vying for developers’ attention and marketing budgets.
Gamescom is huge: in 2017 the conference had over 350,000 visitors (5x more than E3) from over 100 countries, over 30,000 of which were trade visitors; almost 1,000 exhibitors; and over 6,000 journalists attended.
If you haven’t been to Gamescom before, you may find these tips helpful for surviving Europe’s largest video gaming trade fair.
A bit of history
Straddling the Rhine, Cologne (Köln in German) is one of Germany’s oldest cities, established by the Romans in 50 AD as “Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium” from which the city gets its modern name. Bits of Cologne’s early Roman history continue to surface, including a nearly 2,000 year old boat that was unearthed in 2007, and more recently in 2018 the remains of a Roman library have been discovered.
Cologne’s cathedral has quite rightfully been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status. 515 feet (157 meters) tall — 50 stories — the cathedral must have been truly awe-inspiring to residents when work began in 1248 AD. The building somehow survived World War II and several direct aerial bombings — a time during which the rest of the city was effectively leveled, and the population was reduced by 95%.
Arriving, getting around, where to stay
Flying into and out of Cologne around the time of Gamescom can be tricky and expensive, given all the people arriving. If you can’t find suitable flights via Cologne, consider Düsseldorf (30 minutes by train) or Frankfurt (90 minutes by train) airports.
In my experience — whatever you do, avoid Schiphol at all costs. If an airport is going to get shut down for weather reasons anywhere in Europe, Schiphol and Britain’s god-forsaken Luton airports seem to be tied for first place for weather-related delays.
Accommodation in Cologne can be difficult and expensive to find during Gamescom; consider making use of the free public transport your Gamescom ticket gives you, and the great Deutsche Bahn system, to look further afield. Düsseldorf and Bonn are great cities in their own rights, and a quick train journey to the Koelnmesse.
Another option I’ve never been brave enough to try is the nearby Gamescom campground, which I’ve reliably heard is a heck of a lot of fun.
Essen und Trinken
As with most conference centers the area around the Koelnmesse is a bit lacking in decent cuisine (the exception of course is that here in AdInMo’s hometown of Austin, our own amazing Convention Center is smack in the heart of the downtown cultural district). You may find yourself in the occasional off-site “chat over beers” meeting at the Dorint across the street; otherwise, avoid the area in the evening, and instead cross over the Rhine to Cologne’s Old Town (Altstadt) centered on the famous cathedral, and wander from there.
It should go without saying that your trip won’t be complete without at least one schnitzel. If your tastebuds desire something a bit sweeter, the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum) should be in your plans.
There’s a long and intense battle between Cologne and Düsseldorf over their traditional beers, and the locals take their beers seriously. Do not accidentally order an Altbier in Cologne, or vice-versa a Kölsch in Düsseldorf! A (Cologner) friend of mine summed up his perspective with this: “You have to keep in mind, Cologne is upstream on the Rhine from Düsseldorf. So we make and drink our great beer and piss it out, and then Düsseldorf makes their Altbier from the leftovers.”
Enjoy the (by British standards) tiny glasses of beer, and the way your waiter will track the number of beers drunk over the evening by marks on your beer mat. Keep in mind — the waiter will keep bringing you beers whenever your glass is empty, unless you place your beer mat on top of your glass to signal you are taking a break from imbibing. Do not be surprised if your manliness is questioned by the waiter when you do so, however.
As the inimitable (and sadly missed) Anthony Bourdain put it when he visited the city:
“I don’t mean beer culture in a judgmental neckbeard hovering over you waiting for you to decide between craft beers way, either. I mean here, decent beer is a way of life. It’s a birthright. You don’t talk about it too much, ya freakin’ drink it.”
If you have a booth, then all the usual expectations and planning for any conference apply — location, demo content, marketing materials, business cards (don’t run out), etc. If you have a booth open to the public, make sure you have plenty of tchotchkes!
And lastly — Gamescom is a hike! Not quite as large as the largest convention I’ve ever attended (the automobile industry’s SEMA, spread over 20+ acres), it’s still a trek. Bring supplies (food and drinks in the Koelnmesse are expensive), and wear comfortable shoes!
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