My current obsession is Guns of Icarus Alliance, an online co-operative game featuring flying airships. It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually go for as I tend to shy away from anything with a competitive edge; but after getting roped into a match at Rezzed earlier this year, I purchased a copy and have been hooked since. There’s something about working as part of the team, focusing on my role of repairing our vessel and listening out for their commands that’s weirdly addictive.
So does this obsession mean I’d make a beeline for the stand if Guns happened to be on show at the next expo I’m due to attend? As much as I’m enjoying it and look forward to spending a few nights each week as an Engineer, probably not. I might wish to visit the developer at some point to give positive feedback about their project, but it seems strange to spend time queuing up for a ten-minute session on a title I could switch on as soon as I got back home to the comfort of my own sofa.
This hopefully explains my confusion when entering the NEC Birmingham last weekend for Insomnia63. After a short tour around the exhibition hall, we counted five separate areas dedicated to Fortnite: two full rows in the PlayStation zone, a couple of stands from Nintendo, a line of computers in the middle of the show and two merch sections where it was playable on gaming laptops available for purchase. And that’s not to mention the fact it also made several appearances on the BYOC timetable for the weekend.
Let’s get one thing straight before we continue: this post isn’t now going to turn into me ranting about how terrible a game Fortnite is. Yes, I’ve played it and no, I wouldn’t call myself a fan. But I’ve actively defended the title in the past when it has been the subject of outraged news reports and I don’t believe it’s going to bring about the downfall of our children (bad parenting will be able to do that on its own without too much help).
What I feel irked about is it being given so much coverage that it’s then turned into the ‘highlight’ of a show by proxy. I noticed the same thing done with Minecraft at Insomnia61 last year, along with other past events: row after row of monitors displaying the same badly-pixelated pigs. Although there may be a competitive element to these titles which doesn’t appeal to me, it strikes me as discouraging that so much floorspace is devoted to games which are readily available and most attendees likely already own.
Maybe I’m being cynical but it just seems like a cheap and non-creative way to fill empty areas in an exhibition hall. Tickets for myself, my other-half and stepson for Insomnia63 cost around £80 (including booking fee) so to part with that much and then be greeted with so many machines running Fortnite was a disappointment. And it’s not just the cost in terms of money: it’s also that we made a six-hour round trip and spent half of our weekend together at an event which promoted a game we could have stayed at home to play.
Seriously though, I think the worst thing about expos resorting to existing titles like this is the fact that new and unique projects then get overlooked by a good portion of attendees. Indie developers put so much time and effort into the games they’re working on, and those I’ve spoken to previously about the subject have revealed just how much commitment and organisation it takes to appear at a show. I can only imagine how disheartening it is to finally get there and realise you’re competing with 20 instances of the latest fad.
Attendees should be free to discover their own highlight of an expo rather than having something like Fortnite or Minecraft foisted upon them. Let’s hope we get to EGX next month and don’t find more than few machines dedicated to either of them.