When GAME’s UK MD Martyn Gibbs spoke at BAFTA last week, half the people in the room was aware of what he was unveiling, the other half were not.
This September, GAME will host its long-in-the-works first consumer show. GameFest takes place at Birmingham’s NEC, with the expo running from the 16th to 18th of the month. The firm has been looking into doing this for well over a year.
“We promise this is not a money spinning venture,” said Gibbs, saying that GAME’s promising an event that allows publishers the chance to get ‘first to consumer’ access to the popular chain’s most passionate shoppers.
The event launches GAME into a competitive arena. The rising star that is Gadget Show Live, four-times-a-year MCM expos, and the increasingly dominant Eurogamer Expo all sit in the event space. GAME’s even takes place just a week ahead of the latter. It may not boost the firm’s coffers, but the brand-building exercise targets an event environment almost dominated by a handful of incumbents.
The key word there is almost. GAME’s plan will see it flex its Reward Card muscle to encourage thousands to attend.
“We have a huge Reward Card database; they get excited about games and they get excited about shopping with us,” explains Neil Ashurst, GAME Group’s head of UK communications. “We want to bring that to life with an annual event.
“Last year we had 2.8m people use our Reward Card. So we know there is a huge audience that this will appeal to.”
With the potential to offer things like in-store ticket sales, on-site pop-up shops, and the chance to integrate retail campaigns with the show itself, you can see why GameFest appeals to GAME.
And to give you an idea of the kinds of numbers these events draw, Eurogamer’s 2011 Expo attracted 20,000 across three days. The Gadget Show and MCM outings – which focus on technology and other entertainment mediums – attract 66,000 and 46,000 respectively.
Don’t forget that GAME Group also has prior form with GameFest. Last year, GAME Spain hosted its first consumer show. That effort drew in 40,000, and even snagged an appearance from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, there to tout Kinect as part of a global media tour.
Plus – and this is a key part of GameFest for publishers – the new UK show will dovetail with GAME’s store manager conference.
“As most of the industry knows we hold that every year, giving publishers a chance to show their games to our managers and get them evangelising the big titles,” says Ashurst.
“We’re extending that so they can now do that with our best customers. Because we are doing it all at the same time, it delivers added value and efficiency to the publishers – it’s not as if they’ll have to do two or three different set-ups. With that one stand they can hit two core audiences: our store managers and our most passionate customers.”
So the store managers’ event will take place on the Wednesday and Thursday (September 14th and 15th) beforehand. As usual, there will be lots of opportunities for keynotes and classes pitching games to staff, says Ashurst.
But the dual audience could encourage publishers to send big-name execs and developers to showcase games to both the trade and consumers.
Ultimately, it’s the firm’s plan to “do everything the industry has seen at our managers’ conference, plus much more.”
That ‘much more’ is still to be decided and GAME has only started seriously discussing the show with publishers this week, but a venue like the NEC promises all sorts of potential.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
But the big talking point amongst potential exhibitors is the ‘battle’ GameFest will have with the aforementioned Eurogamer Expo.
That show takes place a week later, and in a different city, but publishers may still be either facing the choice of backing just one, or a bigger operational bill to exhibit at both. (Those we spoke to this week said they hadn’t decided either way yet.)
GAME is resolute that the timing is not a declaration of war. You can sort of accept that, as the store managers’ conference is usually just before Q4 and peak season. As this is just an extension of that, it’s more a happy coincidence that GAME gets there first.
“Is there room for two? I think there is, because it’s different locations and slightly different audiences,” says Ashurst. Certainly, GAME’s broader customer base is a bit different to Eurogamer’s core gamer opinion-formers.
“We have an audience that includes more casual players so, in the run-up to peak season, this is a great chance to show off and offer something for everyone so it’s not just core gamers. We want families, older gamers… we want to have stuff for them. We’ll be discussing with publishers what we can do to reach that audience.”
Still, GAME’s audience is one to envy – and that might be the deciding factor for some exhibitors.
“We like being first,” says Ashurst. “We’re first when it comes to showing store managers, and we think we can be first for customers.
“Our guys get to see code before anyone else – now we’ll have the chance to offer the same chance to our core audience, which is also many publishers’ core audience.”