To quote my other-half: it was alright. There were slightly more visitors than in the previous year, but we still had benefit of being able to try any game we wanted to without having to queue. These included Viewfinder by Sad Owl Studios along with Warhammer 40,000: Battlesector by Black Lab Games for Pete.
On the flipside though, the low number of attendees and fewer releases on display meant that the buzz experienced at expos several years ago was missing. Leaving the Tobacco Dock and moving to the Truman Brewery also had an impact. The new venue was more open plan and full of light but sounds and smells travelled through the building, so it was difficult to escape from the noise.
In May 2023, we were surprised to read the announcement that IGN were teaming up with WASD to host a new gaming event in London. Imaginatively titled WASD x IGN and remaining in the same space, the organisers revealed it would fall in the post-gamescom window of 14-16 September 2023 to ‘show and amplify pre-release, brand new and always on games.’
Curious to see what this new partnership would bring to the show, we booked our tickets and then headed to the Truman Brewery for the opening day last Thursday. I also signed up to volunteer on the stand for SpecialEffect once again so I spent Friday at the event too but in a different capacity. It’s now a few days later and I’m still not sure what to make of WASD x IGN, whether it managed to achieve its objectives and where it could go in the future.
Let’s start with the positives, the first being that there were more games on display this time than back in April. Perhaps adding the IGN name to the brand helped persuade developers and publishers to pay for a stand? There does seem to be some confusion over exactly how many titles there were though. The WASD website says it was ‘packed out with hundreds’ but only lists 51, whereas an IGN article confirms it as being over 60. I also read somewhere online that the number was closer to 70.
Regardless of the correct amount, we did manage to find a few new additions for our wishlists. Pete liked the demo for Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles by Tomas Sala, a city-builder which reminded us of Flotsam but with a different style. Nivalis by ION LANDS caught my attention as, although simulations aren’t usually my thing, I really enjoyed Cloudpunk’s world. And finally there was Full Void by OutOfTheBit, a puzzle-platformer which gave us Another World and Flashback vibes.
Although it will never match the cosiness and atmosphere of the Tobacco Dock, the new venue managed to grow on us a little. The Truman Brewery’s location not far from London Liverpool Street station is particularly convenient for us, plus the building is really light while managing to retain an urban feeling. It was also nice to see a quiet space sponsored by mental health charity Safe In Our World, although there didn’t seem to be anyone available when I popped in there during my lunch break on Friday.
Speaking of which: the highlight for me was once again volunteering for SpecialEffect. The charity was showing off two games I hadn’t demoed on the stand before. Both Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King and Make Way by Ice BEAM were set up to be played with joysticks and large buttons, suitable for someone with limited dexterity in their hands. The four-player mode for Make Way proved to be a hit with attendees and I can see this being a great game for a GameBlast marathon stream.
Similar to April’s event, there were far fewer attendees than we expected to see and the venue felt quite empty on the Thursday. Maybe this has something to do with the event taking place within a couple of weeks of teenagers returning to school and none of them yet being brave enough to skip classes. Several batches of college students turned up on Friday for the WASD Careers panels, but many seemed to immediately gravitate towards the Tekken 8 area and remain there for the afternoon.
There was also a rather large group of content creators floating around the show. In fact, I’d say there were more people there with the associated green lanyards than normal attendees on the Friday. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, it did have the effect of making WASD x IGN come across like a PR-orientated industry event and I missed the less formal atmosphere from past expos. It’s possible that more creator passes than expected were handed out to make out for the low visitor numbers.
There were more releases on display this time around as mentioned earlier. But despite WASD’s announcement about there being a focus on pre-release and brand new games, it felt like there were a lot which had been available for some time. For example, both PlateUp! by It’s happening and PowerWash Simulator by FuturLab were released over a year ago. The demos for most of the titles we were interested in had already been played during previous digital events, and so we ended up leaving after less than two hours.
We overheard someone ask an exhibitor what IGN’s involvement with the event was on our way out. Their response was: ‘I’ll tell you once I figure it out myself.’ We expected there to be some kind of panel or stage area where IGN representatives would make an appearance, but their only presence seemed to be the name on few signs dotted around the venue. There are also no articles on the website’s homepage at the time of writing despite the original announcement confirming ‘full coverage of the event across IGN platforms.’
After returning from WASD in April, I wrote that I had no idea what to expect from the next show. I said there was a chance of fewer visitors as there wasn’t enough to keep people interested all weekend, but there may be more developers as the number of attendees was slightly higher. Although I still have no clue where the future of the event is headed after this latest round, it looks like my previous guess was a pretty good one. I’d love to hear whether there was more buzz on the Saturday from anyone reading who attended on that day.
It seems like the EGX expo has also been struggling since the COVID lockdowns. It therefore feels appropriate to ask the question: are real-world shows still relevant considering how frequently online shows now occur and how relatively easy they are to organise? The cost-of-living crisis must be having an impact on events too. One attendee told me they’d tried to book a room in a modest hotel chain in a nearby area London for all three days of the event and had been asked to pay almost £500.
I previously wrote that Pete and I would be back at the Truman Brewery in 2024 as WASD and EGX are all we really have around London nowadays so we aren’t spoilt for choice. However, we’ve now changed our minds. WASD ticket prices may be cheaper than those for other events, but we can’t justify spending £30 for two one-day tickets, £70 for train travel and £15 for over-priced coffees in the venue. That’s £115 for less than two hours entertainment so we’re highly unlikely to return unless it’s to volunteer for SpecialEffect.
Did you go to WASD x IGN? If so, what did you think of it and will you be going back?