It’s that time again folks – with E3 well and truly behind us and most of the post-E3 preview tours out of the way, PR’s are now looking to the next ‘big’ event on the calendar, the Cologne Games Convention. I say ‘big’ – Cologne has always had issues because it’s rather too close to E3 for a lot of company’s liking, although being in Europe, being more PC-friendly and being largely consumer-based (as opposed to E3’s purely Press & Corporate), it has some leeway. That hasn’t stopped companies like Microsoft, Sega, etc… From pulling out though. Still, it’s technically the world’s largest gaming event, which counts for something.
This year will be my fifth year at GamesCom, and my first as a freelancer… although I won’t be able to do that much freelancing per say – this year is also the first year that I couldn’t quite afford to pay my way up front (Times being tough, plus I’ve had to shell out a lot for the flat move…). Thankfully, Strategy Informer (the people who I’ve always gone anyway), agreed to pay my way up front this year (instead of me claiming it back after the fact). I always enjoy GamesCom… great atmosphere, great times, great people… I still want to go to E3 at least once to say that I have, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up liking GamesCom more overall.
I’m also not as in charge of my own schedule this year as I have been in the past, so I imparted some words of wisdom onto my boss to help make sure he doesn’t make my life hell, and it inspired me to write up a post on the subject. Here are some of the rules and tricks I’ve pick up though for planning a GamesCom:
– It doesn’t matter which side of the River you are on. No matter which side you choose, you’ll have to trek somewhere. Last year I was on the Messe side of the river, in a little urban/parade area directly south of the convention centre. A lot of out of the way and cheap hotels (although with little frills), and you’re no more than a five minute walk away from the convention hall. It was then a quick tram ride into the centre of town…This year, I’m on the other side of the river, just up the road from the Central station – it’ll mean a slightly longer trip (15 minutes top I should think) to get to and from the Messe, but I’ll be right in the heart of the town. Swings and Roundabouts really… most of the press and other industry folk tend to go to the same places anyway, so you’ll rarely have far to go. There’s this Irish Bar that I’ve always missed out on going too.
– Try to be near a metro/tram station. The reason for this is two-fold: Firstly, it gives you a greater degree of flexibility as to how far out your Hotel can be before it becomes unworkable (happened to me a couple of years ago, was a good 20-25 minute TRAM ride away… didn’t got out much, as you can imagine, although I did get a lot of work done…), and also because Cologne-Bonn airport as a good rail link into Cologne central station (and the convention centre, if you wanted to go straight there) and from there you can access most of the major tram lines around the town. The tram/metro service is pretty decent in Cologne, and as much as I feel guilty for advising this, it can be quite easy to get a cheeky free ride on the tram – conductors are rare.
– WiFi is Golden. Check your Hotel’s policy on Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet… the convention centre’s wireless infrastructure has always been a little sketchy, and while some publishers set up their own internal networks at the booths, those can also be a little dodgy and sometimes they don’t allow press access. That leaves your Hotel as your last viable line of communication with the outside world. You’re unlikely to get free wifi (although I did last year, it was epic), so check prices. If they offer wired Ethernet for free, make sure you bring a cable. I keep forgetting …
–Breakfast is also Golden. Apart from maybe the first day, all the other days you’re going to wake up exhausted and/or hung-over. Therefore, Breakfast really does become the most important meal of the day, as you’re unlikely to get another decent meal until dinner (see ‘Give yourself a break’ below). It may bump the price up, but splashing out to have breakfast included will be the best investment you’ve ever made… depending on your location, you’re unlikely to be able to grab a bite to eat anywhere else, and certainly not when you get to the Messe (see ‘Avoid 9am bookings’ below).
– Avoid 9am bookings. The Messe has a strict policy of only letting staff and ‘Trade’ Visitors in before 9am. Everyone else, including ‘Press’, have to wait until they doors officially open at 9am each day. Even waiting at the South entrance – the one nearest the two business areas, you’ve still got a 5 – 10 minute walk as you get there, get to the right hall/floor, and THEN have to find the right booth. I aim for a 9:30 start, which allows me plenty of time to get in there and just take in the surroundings, as well as find out where everyone is.
– Avoid any appointments in the consumer areas where possible if they are Thursday onwards. GamesCom has been growing in size and prestige every year… my first GamesCom was the last year it was in the East German town of Leipzig (convention centre was pretty swish, town was very soviet and rundown). Since it moved to Cologne, the number of attendees has just kept growing. 2011’s attendee figure was at 275,000… that’s a lot of eager, sweaty Germans trying to cram into one place. They even had to bar entry on the Saturday because there were just too many people trying to get in.
Trust me when I say you DO NOT want to be dealing with that. Now, most of the ‘big boys’ will have booths in the Business centre, which is never that crowded. Sadly, some of the smaller (yet just as cool guys), will only be able to afford to be in one place, and they will want to be in the consumer halls to get their message across to more people. This means that some consumer hall appointments will be unavoidable – do yourself a favour and limit those to Wednesday as much as possible… Wednesday is the press day, so the halls won’t be as crowded.
– Give yourself a break. This is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times in the past I’ve ended up with wall to wall appoints, 9-6/7. Granted, the Business area booths are usually nicely decked out, so you can take ‘mini-break’s and feed yourself via a drip-feed of snacks and caffeine at the various booths. Still, try and give yourself at least one hour in the day to just sit somewhere – feel free to work, I mean you’ve probably already seen, like, five games that day, might as well start writing some of them up – but make sure you’re sitting down, fairly relaxed with a drink or something to eat. I wouldn’t try going to one of the Messe’s restaurants – they’re not that big and are usually fairly busy (not to mention pricey), although you could try hitting the food stands on Wednesday – more variety and you’ll actually be able to get at them.
– Expect to leave the Messe, and try to plan for it. Some companies now, instead of booking a booth in the Messe itself (whether Business or Consumer), will hire out some Hotel suites near the convention centre. Sony did it last year, Paradox Interactive are doing it this year… whilst these venues are no more than five minute walks away, you’ve still got to get there, get back, and then find your next place. The Messe is quite large – coming back to Sony’s example last year, it was on the other side of the roundabout from the Messe’s North entrance, but the Business centres are all the way in the South side… that’s a good 5-10 minute walk right there. Planning stuff like this is hard, especially because companies do things differently, which leads too…
– Expect to reschedule. A lot. It’s easy to get some appointment booking done early – some companies are pretty good like that. Other aren’t though, and as you get closer to GamesCom and the gaps start filling in, Someone you really want to see will only have times available where you’re already booked, so you’ll have to shift, compromise and find work around whenever possible.
– Cold Calling generally doesn’t work. There can be many situations that leave you without an appointment for someone you’d really like to see – they didn’t have times that matched your schedule, you’ve lost touch with your local PR’s, you don’t know who your local PR is anymore, they don’t like you… That basically means you have to rock up to the booth and try and wrangle an appointment. Generally, I don’t think it works (feel free to correct me, everyone). PR’s and even the people hired to man ‘reception’ are pretty on the ball when it comes to stuff like this.
If you’re going to attempt it, at least make sure you know who your local PR is and ask for them directly. It would help if you’ve had some contact with them in the past, and generally just try and be humble about it. Or accept that it’s just not happening and take the opportunity to get some actual work done. Which leads to the Golden rule…
– DO WORK WHEREVER POSSIBLE. GamesCom mans a lot of appoints spread over 3-4 days, that’s a lot of games, and mostly all of them will need writing up in some form or another (that’s not to mention news, mini-featurettes etc…) Get a head start as soon as possible, as it WILL pile up and you’ll be spending the week after GamesCom grinding them out one after another.
I know you want to go out and party, but make sure you leave yourself sometime after a day’s work, not only to just chill for a bit, but to do some work. IF you’re like me and you’re on your own, it’s especially important. Actually, that should be the Golden Rule… Bring a team… I’ve been soloing GamesCom every year for four years, and trust me when I say it’s tough… I was hoping to have an extra with me this year but that’s not happening.
There’s more I could say, but I don’t want this to get too jumbled or long-winded… only other thing I’d mention is don’t bother with the official GamesCom party – it’s like £40 a ticket and most of the press/PR will go out to Cologne town centre anyway. Other publishers throw their own mini-parties as well, and those are usually free-entry too. If anyone wants to submit their own GamesCom (pro)tips, then feel free. Look forward to seeing you all there!