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The whipsaw of online and in-person gaming events | The DeanBeat

Bynewsmagzines

Apr 21, 2023
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It feels a bit like a whipsaw we’re seeing when it comes to whether people want to go to in-person events or attend online events in gaming. And the same goes for whether they want to do some work in person or work completely remotely.

And I suspect that this answer will be with us for a long time, as to whether we want to do things online or in person: It depends.

We saw this whipsaw happen ourselves during the pandemic when we converted our own GamesBeat Summit events to online-only events in 2020 and started doing more of those events. But we returned to in-person and online hybrid events in April 2022 and October 2022.

By February 2023, we found that most people (and sponsors) didn’t want to go to an online-only event anymore, and so we pushed our metaverse event to our hybrid May event, GamesBeat Summit 2023. Our hybrid May 22-23 event will be in person in Los Angeles, while May 24 will be online. (You can get 40% off the ticket price with this code: GBSDEANNEWS).

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The crowds hit 28,000 at GDC 2023.
The crowds will be back at GDC 2023.

With the cancellation of E3 for this coming June, we saw the same whipsaw. E3 was canceled in 2020, and it had a poorly attended online event in 2021, when Geoff Keighley’s rival Summer Game Fest did very well drawing tens of millions of people to a shortish online announcement show. In 2022, the online-only Summer Game Fest got stronger, and E3 once again had a relatively weak showing as Keighley got most of the big announcements.

This year, the Summer Game Fest drew all of the big players, and then E3, now being run by ReedPop, had to cancel and throw in the towel altogether for its in-person event at the sprawling Los Angeles Convention Center. I was stunned that nobody wanted to support the in-person event as in-person events were coming back. This was after the Game Developers Conference had an extremely strong showing in San Francisco, drawing 28,000 for an in-person-only event compared to 12,000 last year.

E3 2023 died.

Now why did GDC succeed as an in-person event when E3 failed in its in-person strategy? I suspect that GDC always had a stronger community of game developers who were eager to see each other again, especially since they didn’t really get much of an in-person event last year. We saw this as well with the Dice Summit in February, which drew a record crowd to Las Vegas. Dice, which is run by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, has a very strong community. On the online side, Keighley’s The Game Awards topped 103 million viewers.

Perhaps that is the marketplace deciding that Keighley’s approach is better and that aligning with his vision for online is probably the real opportunity. But if we don’t show up in person somewhere at a place like E3, I think of all the business deals and connections that don’t happen. Now that E3 is gone, what is that going to cost the game industry?

Keisha Howard at her ECGC keynote.

This week, I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the East Coast Game Conference. It was my first outing to that event, which the organizers said drew 1,500 people over 2.5 days. That’s not a bad result for that event, they said, but there were about six sessions happening at the same time and a lot of sessions had around 10 people. During the keynotes (like the one given by Keisha Howard of Sugar Gamers), they finally amassed decent-sized crowds, and a lot of people went through the expo, which was more like a job fair. But in the end, I would conclude that it had a mixed result in terms of the impact of the conference.

Now compared that to a much shorter event. The League of Legends esports championship that I attended in San Francisco earlier this year was tremendous. The roar of the full-house crowd in Chase Center was amazing. Of course, esports events are very different, yet even that industry is feeling a lot of pain these days as audiences shift back and forth between online or in-person events.

Flames and searchlights at the League of Legends Worlds Championship.
Flames and searchlights at the League of Legends Worlds Championship.

Next week, I’ll be going to Dubrovnik, Croatia, for the first time to an event I’ve been hearing good things about for a long time: Reboot Develop Blue 2023, on the shore of the deep blue Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik is a beautiful place, so I hear, as it will be my first trip to the ancient walled city, where a lot of Game of Thrones was filmed. It’s got a lot of advantages as an in-person event, and this is why Reboot didn’t do any online events in lieu of the Dubrovnik in-person event during the pandemic. I suspect a lot of people want to come back for it as it returns to an in-person setting.

Reboot Develop Blue 2023 is April 23-27.

I’m going to join a panel on the challenges of game events on April 26 at Reboot with Reboot organizer Damir Durovic and Ivan Lobo, the head of Gamelab. We’ll see how it goes.

As for the value of these trips, it is always telling to me. When I go to San Francisco for a day of work, I see how much the city has changed. The offices only look busy — at a fraction of previous crowds — on Tuesday through Thursday. When I visited Epic Games in Raleigh, it looked like an amazing place to work. But there were very few people on campus. I saw the same earlier this year at Electronic Arts.

It seems that we all have a hybrid mentality these days. I drive into San Francisco rarely these days, and I don’t miss it. My car insurance has gone down with my lower mileage. There are so many advantages to working at home and I take advantage of them. But I also feel that need for brand new human contact, so I fly to other cities a lot more than I go to San Francisco these days.

Clearly, there are winners and losers in this mix of in-person and online events. And it takes nimble thinking to read the audience for your events and figure out whether they want their content in either format. The skills and the costs are very different for these formats and it’s not easy to switch.

I sincerely hope that we all see our GamesBeat community show up at our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event at the Marina del Rey Marriott in Los Angeles on May 22-23. And I look forward to seeing our online friends on May 24. This kind of event is where you can still make those necessary connections and deals.

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