Expo 2019 – The Niggles

UK Games Expo is over for another year and alongside our praise and admiration for the games and organisers we always like to feedback on the things that we think could have been done better. No convention will ever get absolutely everything right and I hope this feedback is useful to those who are involved with any convention.

 

App & Website

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Apps help idiots like us find our way about, if done right.

Let’s start where most people will with the convention, the website. It really does feel a bit tired now and it is getting increasingly problematic to navigate and find out what is going on. For instance I wanted to find Paul Grogan’s seminar on demos. This was not under seminars as one might expect but under the separate publisher/ designer track sponsored by Carta Mundi. Now I get that a con this size needs sponsorship but couldn’t we just have all the Seminars in one place with an indication which ones are in sponsored venues.

The Website just feels a bit creaky now. It was fine a few years ago when there was less to sift through but now getting through the exhibitor list is a chore and information is never quite where you expect. A good reboot and rebuild from the ground up is definitely needed.

I spoke about the app last year and unfortunately I am back here again. Now I do not use the ticket side of the app as I don’t really engage with the side of the con that would require it, so I can’t really speak to that. What I can tell you is that the map is borderline useless, the app suffers from slow down and freezes and is not actually useful in finding your way around.

What I want from an app for Expo is pretty simple:

  • List of exhibitors searchable by stand, game name and company name.
  • Ability to save the ones I want to see
  • Have those exhibitors/games/companies highlight themselves on a map
  • Store my tickets for events

This is two years in a row the app has been sub-standard, I’m willing to forgive the first year when they launched it about 7 days before the con. Either they need to completely redesign the app, preferably alongside the website so the two work in conjunction, or just dump it as an idea altogether.

If that doesn’t happen let me suggest an alternative venue to check out for your expo planning. This year I used the excellent Tabletop Together site that not only produces some cracking reviews but also gathers as much information about the games that are going to be shown off at the con.

Demos

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Czech Games Edition Demos were excellent

Hey everyone, remember this article. Well it seems like a lot of people listened to that advice but some did not so we are back here again. For the most part I had some really good demos from enthusiastic folk who seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. The majority of the volunteers were polite, fun to play their game with and a credit to their companies.

I had two not so great experiences. On one stand the demoer sort of half explained the game and kept looking at their phone, eventually wandering off to another demo table. I just felt utterly ignored and I am not going to enthuse about any game, no matter how good it might be, if the people selling it obviously don’t care.

The other one was simply mind blowing. We had a demo of a game where just as we were about to start another group came over and asked when this particular game would be released. Our demoer just dismissed them out of hand saying they didn’t know. It was extraordinarily rude. Once the group had left the demoer then went on to say how glad they were that they didn’t have to answer that kind of question as they were just there to demo and that was what they were good at it. Spoilers, they weren’t.

Your demo team is not just there to show off the games, they are representatives of your company and the frontline in your customer service at a convention. I know these folks aren’t paid for the most part, but they should know what the gig is up front and exhibitors need to be aware that they need to treat their staff, for that is what they are, well. I do think the state of demos is improving from what I saw at the convention so these two incidents stood out like a sore thumb.

Press Preview

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Not a lot of space in those corridors

On the Thursday night of the convention, the day before it opens up to the public proper, there is a press preview: exhibitors chat to members of the press about the games they have brought with them. It’s a chance for the press to get a bit of time to filter through all the games that are going to be at the con but there isn’t really much time for demos, it’s mostly just for information (that said I did get a quick demo of Team 3 this year).

It’s a really useful event but there is an issue and I have to say that it is the press. Sounds odd I know. The event is set up between fairly narrow tables with exhibitors pretty tightly smushed together. This is fine until the press equipment comes out. If you are just going around and using the event to filter through a list of games you might want to go and spend more time with that is fine. If you are setting up a camera stand in the middle of a narrow corridor and spreading your arms out to stop other people getting past then, well I don’t even know. We all have to be aware of the space around us at a convention like this and taking up huge amounts of it so you can get your footage certainly rubbed me up the wrong way.

I think the only solution to this would be to say no interviews at the press event, just use it to showcase games and the press can get their footage and recordings on the days themselves. This would no doubt be unpopular amongst the press but I think it would be of benefit to the exhibitors who would see more people over the course of the event. I’m not sure it needs to be 3 hours as well, 2 would seem sufficient, especially as a lot of people will have just arrived and want to see friends and get food.

Haggling

This is nothing to do with the Expo organisers and everything to do with something that personally blew my mind. I saw a few people haggling with retailers over prices. Whilst there will be some show offers on, all the exhibitors and retailers are there in the hope of coming out on top and waggling your phone in their faces, saw this with my own eyes, and saying it is cheaper on Amazon is just downright rude.

On top of that you have paid to get into the con, to travel there and most likely to stay nearby. Even if you are local you probably save more money staying at home and buying online. I just don’t get it. Go to the con to see cool things, meet interesting people and play demos of games to be. If you go just to buy games I don’t see what you are getting from attending.

Facilities

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Fuelling up for the day ahead

For the most part the Expo facilities are pretty good. Loads of food venues, I urge you to try out the food trucks as they are all excellent, lots of space for gaming around the various halls and hotels and helpful staff. However, let’s talk about beer.

Now, I know this is not going to be on everyone’s list but I like to have a nice beer with friends and frankly the Hilton’s ability to facilitate that has now become a joke. Now, there are other bars about the place that is for sure but the Hilton is essentially the secondary venue for the Expo, with the NEC being the primary. In previous years we had the beer bus which was a fantastic third venue for liquid refreshment (bring back the beer bus!). Since then we have also had a tie up with Purity brewery with Hilton staff manning effectively a second bar with satellite bars about the place and one year someone walking around with Brewdog in bottles.

This year. There was none of that. We went backwards. There were some satellite bars about but the purity tie in was gone, the bar was still understaffed and they basically had less capacity to serve people despite the con growing year on year. By the Friday night they had run out of some of the beer behind the bar, which is just an astonishing lack of foresight. Now I don’t blame the Expo for this, but I do blame the Hilton which continues to raise it’s room prices year on year whilst providing a less good venue. Frankly next year I am going to see about heading somewhere else to relax after hours.

 

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