The days when gaming was a niche passion are long gone, as gamescon, the gaming industry trade fair in Cologne, shows. Yet despite its own multitude of gamers, Germany is still losing out on market share in the sector.
A winged angel of death descends on the crowd from the escalator, swinging its fantasy scimitar. Nearby, a tank driver and a small girl in a feathery anime costume get their picture taken together, surrounded by a crowd in the hallway. As trade shows go, gamescom is definitely on the more exciting end for visitors.
That's because in the past 10 years, the fair has transformed into an event featuring not only the devoted costumed fans known as cosplayers, but also lots of surrounding activities like concerts, competitions and signing sessions.
Meeting the idols
The luckiest visitors get to not only see their favorite gamer or livestreamer in person, they also get to play with them. When League of Legends player Frederick Hinteregger (screen name Noway4u) gets on stage to pick a team for a live game with him, arms shoot up by the dozens. In no time at all, the extremely comfy-looking gaming chairs on stage fill up.
Hinteregger has found his place in eSports as a professional. "I used to be happy to just get a mousepad, hardware, anything, really. But if you play national leagues, you can make up to €2,000 per month. If you play higher, it can be five digits."
Other fans are dying to get just the tiniest glimpse of news from their favorite game. A long line forms at the Fallout booth. Is there free swag (giveaways)? A well-known player? Can you play the game? "We're showing an eight minute trailer on Fallout Vault 76," the lady at the booth tells me. "And you can take a picture for your Instagram," she hastily adds seeing my disappointed face.
Real life action play
While most game makers rely on providing trials for their pc, mobile or console games, Epic Games — the company behind megahit Fortnite — breaks with that tradition. The cooperative survival game is already free to play on all platforms and has thereby attracted 125 million gamers in the space of just one year.
So rather than spending more time in front of screens, gamescom visitors find themselves jumping over tires, riding a bull or swinging over a moat, testing their own survival skills in the real world against their friends.
"The community is really why the game is so successful", says Fortnite cosplayer Lindsay Aries ("LeeLeeTheBunny"), peering through her oversized glasses and swinging a shark stuck on a harpoon for photos with devoted fans.
The luckiest visitors get to not only see their favorite gamer or livestreamer in person, they also get to play with them.
"Even little things like new emotes (emotional epressions through acting) or a new skin (character appearance) are well-received and sort of explode within the community." And it is in the company's best interest that they do spread widely, because these features are what players are willing to pay for.
From niche to the masses
While Fortnite and many of the other blockbuster booths attract mainly younger visitors, it's the older generation that are really helping the industry to step up their game. On the sidelines of the event, Felix Falk, head of Germany's gaming association "game", says "people aged 50 and over already make up a quarter of all gamers."
All gamers — that's now 2.2 billion people around the world. "The older generation is the fastest growing user base," says Falk. Browser and mobile games have lowered the threshhold for these gamers to play anywhere at any time without previous skills or knowledge.
Felix Falk, head of Germany's gaming association "game", says people aged 50 and over already make up a quarter of all gamers.
But while the market is growing, Falk points out that German companies are losing out in market share as blockbuster titles — like those regularly seen coming from the US and Japan — are missing.
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"Countries like Canada long ago realized how important gaming is and have supported the industry. Developing a game is about 30 percent more expensive in Germany than in other countries," he said. The hope is that a gaming fund may give German gamemakers the boost they need to catch up.