GAMEFEST 2011 BIRMINGHAM NEC

Most of you reading this will already have the much-anticipated Eurogamer Expo firmly stamped in your calendar, but this year, high street store GAME has decided to get in on the act by putting on a show of their own: GAMEfest 2011 at the NEC in Birmingham. The event was exclusive for GAME Reward Card holders and is conveniently tagged on to their annual conference, allowing them to dip their toes into the event market.

The timing of the event has caused criticism from some publishers who feel torn between a new event from the UK’s biggest games retailer, and an established consumer show.

One affected publisher anonymously told MCV recently that “with just three days to move from one site to the other, many are unimpressed by the expected costs”. Eurogamer chief, Rupert Loman, told MCV he was “disappointed GAME is attempting to split the market”.

The reality is, there is room for both events and publishers should cease complaining about their overwhelming success, and realise that gamers exist outside of London town. The figures speak for themselves as last year, over 20,000 people attended the Eurogamer Expo in London and it was so successful they have doubled in size this year. The GAMEfest event has been attended by over 30,000 GAME customers and there are already plans to expand on this next year, after being taken by surprise at its success.

To put things into perspective in 2011, where the exhibition and event market has been struggling, over 70,000 people will have attended a gaming event in the UK in ten days. Gaming is now a mainstream entertainment medium and games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 will have opening weekends to rival the majority of Hollywood blockbuster movies. The world is slowly waking up to this.

GAMEfest had something special up its sleeve in the form of an exclusive showing from Activision; this was the first time UK Gamers were able to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 before its release in November. Considering the only other people to have played MW3 were at the CoD XP event in L.A along with Kanye West a few weeks ago, this is quite a coup for GAMEfest.

Upon entering the gaming hub for a presentation of MW3 by Activision, I sat down and was tweeting during a truly cringe-worthy Turtle Beach advert, I was tapped on the shoulder and told to turn my phone off. This seemed a bit of overkill, considering the majority of people have already seen this footage from E3 online anyway.

No phones allowed in the hub…

However, you cannot deny that the footage, showing you surfacing from the depths of the ocean and climbing on to a Russian submarine to witness the New York skyline ablaze (complete with the Freedom Tower in the distance), is nothing short of epic. If that doesn’t grab you, then a battle on the London Underground will make you admit that this shit actually looks good. Hey, the Daily Mail would probably be outraged but that is a foregone conclusion.

With my own fingers and thumbs I was able to play the Survival Spec Ops mode, which, I am sure you are aware, involves fending off assaults from increasingly difficult waves of enemies. I was paired with a member of the Activision team, who I must admit performed better than I did, as my accuracy rating could use a little work. The levels France and Dome were typical Modern Warfare but, with the TurtleBeach cans turned right up to eleven, it was very hard not to be won over.

Before playing Battlefield, you have to get past these guys.

When originally arriving at GAMEfest, I was expecting Battlefield to blow CoD out of the water, but after playing through the Battlefield 3 single-player mission, Operation Guillotine, which is a somewhat generic, night-based mission set on the outskirts of Tehran, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

That said, I believe all the fun was to be had testing the multiplayer, and it is worth pointing out that I did not have chance to test drive this. This was because there were not enough people around during the press preview, which was a little bizarre. The upshot of this is that I missed out on the game’s biggest selling point.

Elsewhere, it was a little disappointing to see only three consoles showcasing the much-anticipated Batman: Arkham City, especially when considering that time was of the essence, with all of this and next year’s big games to sample in a relatively short space of time.

The event began to feel like a theme park as everyone was joining large queues. There was definite growing frustration as some of them were not moving as quickly as people would have liked, such was the overwhelming demand.

To play Inversion, you have to get past this guy.

Despite living in an age where gaming and events like this are dominated by titles with multimillion budgets, the games that had the biggest impact on me were two titles from over ten years ago; Ico & Shadow of the Colossus. Both have been given a HD makeover, and I found them tucked away in a corner. They can only be described as gaming gold.

Shadow of the Colossus is widely regarded as, not only one of the best games of all time, but also a work of art. The emotional journey from playing this game ten years ago came flooding back, as I quickly forgot that I was sat in a crowded hall of 10,000 people at the NEC. I was lost in another world with minimalist design, in this truly beautiful game.

Shadow of the Colossus may not be the obvious choice for most, but this game gets under your skin and will stay with you for life. That’s more than you could say for other games that carry the cold label of “franchise”. If you are passionate about the art of gaming and maybe even missed this title first time around, I implore you to treat yourself to an experience you will never forget.

Final boss level! To play Skylanders you have to get past this guy…

The GAMEfest show itself was a fantastic first effort from the people at GAME. To attract over 30,000 people just a week before a sold out Eurogamer Expo shows that there is room for more than one event to showcase the industry big releases. The staff and everyone I spoke to were fantastic and even the store on-site were selling games at reasonable prices and not the inflated fees you usually come across at events like this.

Before the stampede…

The biggest lesson that publishers have to come away with, is that they need to expand to events outside of London, due to the success of their business.

Several years ago, the Eurogamer Expo opened in Leeds for the first time, and they admitted it was very hard to convince publishers to attend an event in the north so swiftly reverted to a London only event in the following years. As the popularity of gaming has grown on such a large scale, the industry needs to move with the times and recognise that there is life outside of the Capital.

The people behind GAMEfest have recognised this, and by choosing a massive site in the midlands with 21 halls totalling 200000sqm, there really is no limit to how big the show can become. Maybe in the coming years, we could host our very own E3 here in the UK. All this is a few years away yet, but as another wave of gamers head to the Eurogamer Expo, it just might happen sooner than you think.

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