As a lover of cripplingly honest truth coupled with a disturbing passion for video games, let me be the first to tell you how genuinely horrifying conventions are. And this year, 75,000 people demonstrated why EGX should be avoided at all costs.
I don’t want to get too poetic with this Confession, as it’s fairly derisive from the off and I don’t want the message to be confused, but EGX may have single handedly been one the greatest and worst experiences of my gaming journalism career so far. If you’re sat comfortably, then shut up and listen.
First off I want to say how much I adore seeing the collective and general enthusiasm of the gaming community. Whether you’re flinging your entire body towards the XBOX booth for a free, ill-fitting t-shirt or lecturing harmless cosplayers for a minor discrepancy in their colour palette, it cannot be denied that conventions are where the nerds come out to play. This is however the first reason why EGX scared me: PEOPLE.
Human beings are horrid. We plunder, pillage and run at maximum velocity towards any AAA title as soon as the barriers are removed from our path. I’m not kidding. I saw grown men run full pelt towards Star Wars Battlefront to play a segment of its demo before the game gets a general release… IN A FUCKING MONTH. It’s a desperate affair.
In addition to the folks lacking the social awareness to walk places, it seemed to be fundamental for EGX-goers to wear some sort of video game-based apparel/cultural reference clothing. As with anything on the COAGG site, I will not lie to you, so believe me when I say that I got disapproving looks for not demonstrating my love of video games by having it emblazoned on my body. But this matter is instantly resolved as free t-shirts will be thrown at you with surprising force from most of the booths you walk past; be it XBOX or PlayStation, they will get your love and approval with free LEGO Dimensions t-shirts. And before you’ve even realised the error of your ways, you find yourself bouncing up and down like a cheap whore begging for more free clothing from likes of Julia Hardy or that YouTube tit Syndicate.
I just felt sad for every individual in the room. We all clearly had a shared love of video games and the culture of cons, but there really must be a less degrading way of enjoying these experiences together without being herded down tiny gangways to even more overpriced garbage, which, I’ll admit I went cash happy on. Which segways nicely into my second reason as to why EGX was dreadful: THE ARENA.
Based at the NEC in Birmingham this year, EGX was able to take on an even more industrial and inhuman atmospheric theme than it’s 7 predecessors at Earl’s Court in London. Located on an airport runway, with enough infrastructure to host its own small town, NEC allowed the convention to stretch out a bit and invite some extra games and crowds to the ordinarily small European event (NOTE: This is in comparison to the US goliaths of SDCC and E3). However, after clocking the sheer size of the queuing population in Hall 20, it became hauntingly clear that once EGX began, personal space was going to be a thing of the past.
In the hall itself (which was spread throughout 4 enormous rooms), darkness encompassed the entire space. There seemed to be a distinct lack of natural lighting. The noise and bass boom of the whole situation worked to drive up the adrenaline pumping around your stationary body as it slowly ambled into ‘Queue Waiting Time: Hour 4’. Massively high resolution monitors lined endless walls of video games trying to grab your attention away from the even LARGER screens of the YouTube Gaming booth which poured out an endless show-reel of half-famous, British YouTubing personalities to delight and engage the hundreds of adoring children and their bored senseless guardians.
In a word, it was chaotic. Most of the big games were hidden away in the adult restricted areas. Big name PR people and journalists stood on the XBOX or PlayStation stages and decided it was appropriate to shout over each other to see who could generate the loudest amount of love from their adoring crowds below. The poor YogsCast crew seemed to be superglued to their own booth to sign autographs and smile helplessly to 4 days worth of prepubescent fans. And that Syndicate bloke was essentially everywhere, with his own bloody ‘Meet&Greet’ bus as well as frequent trips to the YouTube Gaming stand to pillock about with something else. The people and the press alike seemed to stretch themselves thin in a room that was so colossally big that it would take upwards of 30 minutes to cross from one side to the other. Which brings us to the third reason for EGX’s downfall: PRESS.
Call me ungrateful, as I was one of the people able to flaunt my fancy purple press pass this year, but clearly the definition of what actually constituted as ‘press’ was rather mixed this year. As I sit in silence and the painful level of coldness in the ‘luxurious’ press section of EGX, I find myself getting increasingly agitated with the 12 year old vlogger running about the area with his mates by bouncing in and out of their own private booth. Why the fuck didn’t I get a booth? How the fuck did he get a press pass? How the fuck did I get a press pass?! If you need a salary and day job then I sure as hell am not qualified as press. All kinds of important questions bounce around my head as I continue my prolonged period of sitting quietly in the emotionally cold press-pen of EGX 2015.
Please, for the love of god, do not think that being labeled as ‘press’ means that we all get first class massages chairs, exclusive hands on gameplay demos and fancy mojito’s whilst we mock and spit upon the rabble just past our scary bouncers. It’s perhaps more miserable back here than you’d expect. Everyone stares exhausted at their Mac’s, writing up another news piece for their website/publication of origin in the hopes that just one commenter will show some appreciation for all the queuing they just did. If anything, in my perspective, press just isn’t as fun as general entry. Would I enjoy myself more if I had paid £20 a day to be here?!
This was my 3rd EGX experience, and I seem to be playing less and less games. In fact, the only time I really worked hard as press was to see if I could blag my way to the VIP area of Guitar Hero 5 so I could sit down on a nice sofa and eat some M&M’s. Aside from that, the only things I played were VR titles that I would absolutely never purchase in the real post-EGX world, regardless of how astounding they were. Here, we encounter EGX’s fourth shortcoming: THE GAMES.
What kind of wanker writes for a gaming website, runs a gaming brand and then decides it’s clever to bad mouth a gaming convention purely BECAUSE of its games? Well, hear me out, and decide how severe my torture should be after you’ve seen my reasonings.
First of all, as a parent, it fucking PAINED me to see children drool from their eyeballs over a game that will collectively cost about £100 – and that’s just the base game requirements. That just doesn’t seem fair to me at all. LEGO Dimensions looks so good, and the concept far excels the excitement I have felt for previous LEGO titles, but when you add all of that Amiibo crap and the Skylanders base, then you get an overpriced gimmick designed to entice children and their poor families into bankruptcy. Honestly, it really got to me.
Next up, a game I enjoyed so much it shook me up for hours after my experience with it – Steam Vive (follow the link to see my artsy Vive dancing). My god is that an incredible piece of kit. But it’s gonna be reaaaaaaally expensive, and fundamentally, it is not designed for the home environment. So why was it bad at EGX? Well there was so much secrecy, mystery and hierarchical snobbery surrounding Steam’s booth that when I was supposed to be feeling excited and empowered in the private waiting area, instead I felt sorry for all of the hundreds of eager gamers being turned away because they didn’t book a fucking appointment.
At the end of the day, EGX is the UK’s biggest gaming convention. People travel for hundreds of miles to attend it and get their hands on the most anticipated games before the expensive Christmas period. So why here, an environment for EVERYONE, was this section sat smack in the center of room and arrogantly turning the general public away?! It was teasing everyone there and whilst I was very thankful I was able to get my hands on it, I just couldn’t get over how ill-thought out the whole venture was.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Rezzed and Leftfield portion of the convention – a collection of DOZENS of indie games just dying to be discovered and appreciated. Their creators were standing behind the monitors just so darn happy to be involved in EGX, and yet, people decided a 3 hour wait in The Division queue was a better way to spend their time. Now, let’s not be snobby about indie games, all because they’re independently made does not immediately make them better titles, but I can say by first-hand experience that the best games I played all weekend were located in that cubbyhole. Shout out to RPG Tycoon, FriendShapes and Aaero for some of the greatest small scale games on the convention floor!
One final memory of the games available will never be erased from my mind. Rock Band. The set up for this demo was perfect – one stage, four instruments, and an audience. But, what they didn’t anticipate was the meek attitude of gamers when they’re put on a platform. As a little treat to myself, I would often walk past the Rock Band stage to see what classic was being murdered for the pleasure of everyone within ear shot. The worst one being ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ in which the lead singer decided that the required amount of charisma needed to pass the song was simply to mumble into the mic and hide behind his drab hair. This image alone brings me to my fifth EGX shortcoming: HYGIENE.
Pretty self explanatory this one. And yet, it remains one of the most prominent issues with these gatherings. Human beings just stink. And it’s easily resolved!! JUST TAKE SOME ROLL ON OR PERFUME WITH YOU AND TOP UP EVERY HOUR OR SO. But alas, the BO stink became a pretty dominating factor of the whole weekend as human sardines decided to sweat continuously for 10 hours on a day-to-day basis. Couple this with my sixth EGX crime, and you start to get a 4D image of how terrifying these gaming conventions can get: DIET.
Sweet Jesus, it’s not good. I know we all joke about the Mountain Dew and Doritos sponsorships, but who knew it was going to be taken so literally?! You couldn’t walk 5 paces without seeing someone gorging on a lukewarm, soggy Subway sandwich. And if Subway wasn’t your thing, then simply step outside to taste the culinary delights of the most pissed off Wetherspoons in the whole of the NEC complex. Even if you’re lucky to get your food served to you on a clean plate, you can’t guarantee there will be service with a smile or even a regular/appetising appearance. At the end of the day, BO + terrible diet created a nuclear assault on the senses. And with the safety of continuously noisy sound systems, people were dropping death bombs all day assured that no one could locate the sound of the gas dealer.
And if those gaseous freebies were too much for you, then there’s my seventh and final EGX aggravation to push you right over the edge: SWAG. Fucking SWAG everywhere. It must have been the main buzzword in the office when they started planning this years convention. A Fallout 4 announcement on the XBOX stage turned into a SWAG giveaway, and absolutely nothing at all regarding the new game other than the constant reminder that it’s coming and we know fuck all about it.
Further SWAG came in the form of crappy posters and strange stickers that seemed exciting on the day, but served as perfect bin liners on the mid-afternoon rush back to planes, trains and automobiles home. But these relics weren’t anywhere near as horrifying as the poison being handed out all day, everyday. The energy drink ‘TORNADO’ was literally handed out in their hundreds, and was promoted with the tagline to ‘DO DAMAGE’. Now, call me old, but free energy drinks encouraging violence being given without limitations to droves of children sounds fucking awful. Who thought of this?!
The effects of this terrible marketing move was shown further by cans of the filth littering every single walkway, hall and queue over the entire arena. Honestly, I could not believe they were actively promoting drinking that crap and just throwing it at people who asked without making sure first that healthy quantities were being consumed. People have died drinking weaker shit than that, and it just made me fear for the whole weekend that I would be required to lend first aid to every passerbyer. It was like watching the origin story to the next horrific zombie plague.
And that’s it. From start to finish, EGX 2015 was fun and stupid in immeasurable proportions, but it never strayed far from its next weakness. And for that reason, I found the whole convention horrifying in equal ratio as enjoyable, and I hope that for future shows we get to see less poison and smell significantly less ‘things’. Your move Birmingham. See you next year.