In April 2022, I wrote that the organisers of EGX needed to be wary.
I’d just come back from the first WASD event hosted at the Tobacco Dock in London. The Rezzed brand had been scrapped by ReedPop in October 2021, and fans were eager to find a spiritual successor to fill its indie-show-shaped space.
Despite visitor numbers feeling low, we’d enjoyed our day there. The limited number of attendees had meant we’d been able to play the demos we wanted to without having to queue for long, if at all. We managed to find a few additions for our wishlists too: Inscryption caught my attention even though it wasn’t something I’d usually play, and Pete ended up buying KeyWe on the way home.
There were a few teething problems, all to be expected with a new event. The venue’s basement had been left empty so it hadn’t been as full as other expos we’d been to there in the past, but there was still more to do than at EGX the October before. We also missed the buzz of being within a crowd, and it seemed there were more people with ‘content creator’ lanyards than normal visitors.
But I still felt hopeful. The WASD organisers had an opportunity to learn from their experience and create something even better for the 2023 show, perhaps even making us forget all about Rezzed. It was also a very welcome return to real-world events after being in and out of lockdown since March 2020. Pete and I returned to the expo at the Truman Brewery last weekend: did it manage to live up to the expectations set during the year before? Read on to find out.
We arrived shortly after the 10:00 opening time on Thursday, 30 March 2023 expecting to see a queue outside, but only a handful of people meant we were through the doors in a matter of minutes. It was immediately obvious there were event fewer visitors than in the previous year. Many of the rooms were empty as a result but we looked on the bright side: it meant we could once again try any game we wanted without having to wait and have conversations without having to shout.
There were a couple of titles which caught our attention. Viewfinder by Sad Owl Studios is a puzzle game which reminded me of a mix of The Witness and Superliminal, where you take photographs with an instant camera and place them in the environment to create new paths. Pete on the other hand was rather taken by Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector by Black Lab Games, as the turn-based mechanics would make it something which could be played casually in the evenings after work.
On Friday, 31 March 2023, I had the pleasure of returning to WASD to volunteer for SpecialEffect. The charity was showing off two games I’d never demoed on the stand before: FIFA 23 with a chin-controller and co-pilot controls, along with Hot Wheels with a joystick and large buttons. The latter inspired plenty of competition throughout the day as people competed to see who could achieve the fastest lap. It was lovely meeting Chris and Rhys who were there for their first volunteering sessions, along with a few familiar faces.
I first met Terry through blogging back in 2016 and after not seeing him for around five years, it was great to have him as a fellow volunteer for the day. Tom, SpecialEffect’s COO, also made an appearance and we spent some time catching up on what had been happening since we’d last seen each other in person in 2018. Then ‘Famous Will’ from Geek Sleep Rinse Repeat came and said hello before trying his hand at Hot Wheels, and Tom from Godolphin Games came over for a quick chat in the afternoon.
My biggest disappointment with WASD was one also expressed by a few attendees who visited the SpecialEffect stand: it was no longer at the Tobacco Dock. The new venue was more open-plan and full of natural light and, while not always a bad thing, this had the effect of losing some of the ‘cosiness’. Sound travelled around the Truman Brewery along with the smells, so it wasn’t a great environment for playing more story-based games or if you wanted to escape the smoke from the food stands.
Thursday may have been quiet, but Friday was far busier and the buzz of the crowd was back. The organisers must have been successful in spreading the word about their event and encouraging more visitors to attend. Sadly though, I sensed they’d struggled to pull in the publishers after last year’s low turnout as there were fewer games on display and many of them were already available for download. A lot of stands were staffed by PR members rather than the developers, so the show wasn’t as ‘personal’.
Speaking of which: while Pete was playing a strategy game which was more his cup of tea than mine, I was standing behind him watching. The marketing manager approached and asked: ‘Do video games interest you?’ It felt like a question directed at me because I’m female and came across as weirdly out-of-place at a gaming expo in 2023. I know they didn’t mean any harm but this, along with a following comment about Pete’s appearance, left us feeling a little awkward and wanting to leave.
Another person who made us want to leave was the volunteer looking after the Cats Protection stand. They pulled us in when we were walking past and, despite advising we’d adopted two black cats a few years ago (Zelda and her brother Link) and were already making a monthly donation, became rather rude when we said we weren’t going to sponsor a cat. I’ve had similar experiences with the people on their stands at other expos. We’ll continue supporting the charity, but they really need to consider their hard-sell tactics.
To quote Pete: ‘It was alright.’ It would be nice to see additional games and their developers at the show in 2024. There are also a few issues which were the result of being at a new venue that need to be taken care of. For example, a better queuing system outside on busier days and more signage inside to prevent attendees from wandering into the wrong areas are small fixes which would bring an immediate improvement. As I said last year though, these are all things the WASD organisers can learn from.
I have no idea what to expect from the next event though. There’s a chance the situation could reverse again: perhaps there’ll be fewer visitors next time as there wasn’t enough to keep them interested all weekend, but more developers as the number of attendees was higher. The cost-of-living crisis is sure to be having an impact on events too. There’s also the question of whether real-world events like this are still relevant now considering how frequently online expos now occur, but that’s a subject for another day.
I think Pete and I will be back at the Truman Brewery in 2024 regardless. But part of the reason for our return is the cancellation of a lot of the gaming shows we used to go to. WASD and EGX are all we really have around London nowadays so we aren’t exactly spoilt for choice. Perhaps we need to start going further afield to events in other parts of the UK, but this might not be an option considering the huge increases in the price of travel and accommodation this year.
Did you go to WASD last weekend? If so, what did you think of it and will you be going back?