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PLAY Expo London 2018: the trouble with retro games

At Rezzed in April, we noticed an increase in the number of narrative games on display. This wasn’t such a good thing for an expo: these quieter titles tend to get lost among the stands of bright lights, loud sounds, over-enthusiastic PR staff and free merchandise.

I noticed something else which may not be entirely suited to gaming shows while at the PLAY Expo in London last weekend: retro games. This may seem a weird thing to say considering PLAY promotes itself as being a ‘celebration of gaming’ and makes a huge selection of arcade cabs, pinball machines, and computers and consoles covering the past 40 years available to its attendees. The expo is the place to be for those with a fondness for the retro side of our hobby – but hear me out.

At events like as Rezzed and EGX, where the focus is on upcoming indie projects or big-budget releases, developers and publishers want as many as people as possible to see their work. Bums on the seats in front of their title equals more publicity and profit in the future; it’s just good business sense. They therefore want to give you a taste but not so much as you hold up the queue behind you, so they usually make a playable demo especially for the show or limit play-time to one level.

PLAY Expo London, video games, Ethan, Commodore 64

You’re therefore at their stand for perhaps 15 minutes (not including waiting-in-line or developer-chatting time) before the next interested person can get their hands on the game. This is a good amount of time for you to get a feel for it and for the other attendees behind you not to get frustrated at the length of time they’ve been queuing. Some titles are an exception: when the latest Call of Duty was on display, I spoke to one person who’d been waiting at the stand for over five hours.

With retro titles however, there’s none of this need for promotion as they’ve already been out for a number of years, or perhaps even decades. Such games are indeed there to be a celebration of gaming rather than for publicity. Instead of an adequately-timed demo, the full release is available for anyone to play right through to the end and there are some people who will do just that. When you leave the event, you’ll see them in the same seat you noticed them in when you arrived.

This can cause a huge amount of annoyance when some games are permanently occupied. It can be even more difficult when you’ve got children there with you. My stepson is now old enough to understand that if he wants to come with us to expos, he’s going to have to queue and he’s pretty good at taking a turn before stepping away to let someone else have a go. If he wants a second opportunity that badly, he’s happy to wait in line again (while rabbiting on to the developer about all the things he enjoyed about their project).

PLAY Expo London, video games, warehouse, crowds

He gets incredibly frustrated though when other attendees don’t show him the same courtesy. As he told my mother-in-law when she asked him how the PLAY Expo was last weekend: “It was ok, but some people don’t take turns properly.” And what’s frustrating for my other-half and I as parents is other parents don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on or the people around them – they’re more than happy to leave their kids staring at the same monitor for far too long, rather than controlling the length of their play-time.

I guess you could have a buzzer which signals when your 15-minutes is over so everyone can swap seats. Or tickets with a specific time could be issued to attendees for the titles they particularly want to play. Or gaming shows could stop including classic narrative releases in their retro section and instead provide games which are match- or mission-based and perhaps more suitable for ‘taking turns’. But all of these options are impractical and come with an administration overhead which makes them almost pointless.

So instead it’s up to us to be aware of our surroundings and show others attending the same expo a little bit of courtesy. If your bum is starting to feel numb, it’s probably a good sign that it’s time to move and let someone else have a go.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

5 thoughts on “PLAY Expo London 2018: the trouble with retro games Leave a comment

  1. Ahhh queues. The bane of game expos. I still find it amazing that 10 years ago Eurogamer was empty enough that I only needed to wait 10 minutes or so to play a AAA blockbuster game. Over then last decade it has blossomed into this colossal extravaganza with crowds so huge you now need to queue 2-3 hours for some games. That’s not fun for me… especially if I only have 6 hours to enjoy the day. I dread the same thing happening to Hyper Japan one day.


    • 10 minutes… that sounds like an absolute dream ha ha!

      The longest I’ve waited in a queue at an expo was an hour, for Detroit at EGX last year. I’m pretty fortunate that most of the games I like aren’t the ‘popular’ ones so I’m not in line too long; but my other-half and I would like to do Gamescom next year, so that could be painful…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember waiting in line for the original titanfall for nearly 3 hours only to be cutoff as a celebrity was waiting to demo the game.. Was left fuming. Partly the reason now I always allot at least two full days to expos, can’t waste the whole day for one game


    • I’ve never queued more than an hour for a game at an expo (but I’m lucky that most of those I like are the ‘quieter’ ones which don’t tend to have a big queue). However, my other-half already has his sights set on The Division 2 at Insomnia this weekend… it could be a long wait.


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