Traditionally, EB Games Expo (EBX) is three days of non-stop gaming. This year, it took a turn towards more traditional convention and I’m not sure it worked. It felt empty and unenthusiastic, and this sentiment was something that seemed to be shared by a lot of people.
In the days leading up to the expo this year, Xbox Australia held “Fanfest”, where gamers could participate in three days of Xbox-related activities – including a Forza Horizon 3 festival at Eastern Creek, a Gears of War 4 party at Bondi with Phil Spencer (who delivered this year’s EBX keynote) and early access to the Xbox booth at the expo. But despite all that, EBX didn’t seem to capitalise enough on Xbox bringing over a bunch of their big names and games.
Comparing it from last year, EBX was significantly smaller. Last year, Xbox occupied as much space as PlayStation did in the second hall, but this year seemed to be a fraction of the size, crammed into a tiny spot down the end. With the recent release of Forza Horizon 4, and upcoming titles in their Gears of War and Dead Rising series, this didn’t seem like an appropriate size for something that drew as much attention as Xbox did.
Nintendo had an equally bizarre presence. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the latest edition to Nintendo’s legacy franchise, and the publisher brought a playable demo with them. Unfortunately, it was only available to a select few people who “won” the opportunity to play the game through a photo competition. It shut a lot of fans out who wanted to experience the new demo, which was kind of disappointing.
There was a big absence from EA this year, too. After riding the wave of Star Wars popularity last year to demo Star Wars: Battlefront, the company was noticeably missing in 2016. Hardware company Razer was uncharacteristically quiet as well. In previous years, Razer has had DJs, booth babes and pretty much their own mini-event on the show floor. This year had an entirely different feel. They had maybe eight pieces of hardware set up with three staff members and again, were hidden away behind other booths.
These issues were nothing compared to the technical issues that the booths were experiencing. My friend Zeek, who was running the Rock Band booth, had constant device disconnects through the demos because of the sheer amount of wireless being used in the Sydney Showground. It was an issue for a lot of people running wireless peripherals, anything with Bluetooth or anyone connected to wifi. Many exhibitors chose to run wired devices so that people could use their booth, but for some people, like the Rock Band booth, it wasn’t an option. Zeek, who is a veteran of EBX, said that he’s sad to see how far the convention had fallen this year.
The redeeming quality of the Expo was the retro gaming area in the third hall. Dozens of retro gaming consoles dating back to some pretty early Commodore consoles were available to play and people flocked to them. My favourite was watching 4 people play Mario Kart 64, bickering mindlessly over Rainbow Road and who it was that threw that red shell. It was wonderful to see so many people enjoying old school classic games. I imagine some parents went to EBX supervising their kids and ended up introducing them to their favourite Atari game growing up. I won’t lie, it’s an experience I want to eventually share with my spawn.
The biggest change to EBX this year was a focus on more traditional convention booths and areas like Artist Alley and the Harry Potter store. I love wandering through Artist Alley at Supanova and Oz Comic-Con. I’ve spent way too much money supporting local and international artists who are far more talented than I am. But it felt out of place at EBX and it wasn’t really an advertised feature. It felt disorganised and rushed, and like a distraction from the main event.
I understand trying to diversify and appeal to a wider audience; that’s where the money is. But the way that EB Expo went about it this year felt weird to me. The gaming booths felt like they had been crammed together so that the second hall could be more “regular convention” and less “we’re actually a videogame trade show.” I believe that blurring the lines between regular conventions and trade show can work, but I don’t think I want it to. I want there to be specific games shows where you go to experience the best of your favourite developers and talk for video games for hours with like-minded people.
The reactions from my friends were mixed; some liked the more “cosplay-friendly” feel of EB Expo this year and others (including myself) felt that it didn’t really justify the price of entry. (Full disclosure: I got a media pass.)
EB Expo this year was sadly, a disappointment; at least for me. The lines were long, despite the Expo seeming a lot quieter this year. The event was awkwardly set out and nothing really made sense. It makes me sad because I look forward to EBX as a shake-up of the regular con season. I hope that EBX comes back stronger next year, but it won’t be something I actively look forward to.