PC at Gamescom: The epicentre of everything

E3 loves consoles, yet Gamescom championed the soaring PC, NetworkN’s James Binns explains

Here’s the key difference between E3 and Gamescom. At E3, the press conferences rule everything. So by the time the doors open to the LA Convention Centre, there’s nothing left to see.

At Kolnmesse, there’s everything to see. It’s a show. The show floor rules. New games and old games showing new stuff. Punters playing more than they can take in. And the real important difference:?at it’s heart it’s a PC gaming show. That makes it the most exciting place to be in the industry.

First of all: it’s well organised. Business meetings are calm and cool thanks to a separate business area, well away from the crowds. It’s busy but fun: the crowds on the show floor are unbelievable, but they’re all here to play and enjoy the eSports competitions. It’s like Glastonbury for geeks. The customers are all there legitimately, not pretending to be buyers or journalists.

So what worked?

Merging eSports with new game releases. Sandwiched between Riot’s insanely popularLeague of Legendstournament and the rammed Intel Extreme Masters stage were what are likely to be 2013’s biggest free-to-play successes:Brickforce,Planetside 2,FirefallandHawken.

Brickforce is a soon-to-be massive secret: a Minecraft-style FPS in which players build the levels they fight in. And it’s working, it’s already phenomenally popular.

Planetside 2 is the PC’s most exciting game right now: the queues to fight within even a small area were gigantic, even if the show experience could never match that of the beta. Hawken is mech-deathmatch (mech-match?), with a free-to-play business model that allows publisher Meteor and developer Adhesive to sell new chassis every few weeks. America will go nuts for it.

Firefall’s impressive and slick booth was drawing crowds, but until the devs implement a European server cluster, Europe’s just not going to embrace it. The lag’s too severe for twitch FPS combat.

The bigger publishers get the show, and the PC audience, too: Activision, Bethesda, Ubisoft and 2K all had grand shows with games that will hit PC as well as console.

Borderlands 2looks insane. Bethesda’sDishonoredis one of the games that comes up once a generation – a shooter that takes inspiration from nearly every brilliant RPG shooter from the past ten years, BioShock, Thief, Deus Ex and more.Call of Duty: Black Ops 2shows a fresh understanding of what their hardcore audience wants: better streaming tools and balance adapted for eSports. EA brought SimCity, and that was enough.Assassin’s Creed IIIis another end of generation game with a ridiculous sense of ambition, even if the naval combat demo was a world away from what you’d expect from Assassin’s Creed.

There’s more. Games that wouldn’t necessarily get a look in at E3 got way more deserved attention. RaiderZ is a smart free-to-play MMORPG that’s picking up a growing and enthusiastic playerbase. Lords of Football is a strange mix of celebrity and on pitch management that’s looking to challenge Sports Interactive. Bohemia’s ArmA 3 is insanely ambitious, but it’s Bohemia, and that’s just what they do.

But most important were the games we already own and play.

That’s what’s odd about Gamescom: the lines to see Riot and Blizzard’s shows were longer than anything else on the show floor.

What Gamescom can teach the industry is that meeting your players isn’t just about selling them new stuff. It’s about cementing their support for the game they already play.

The biggest cheers at Gamescom weren’t for new products. They were for the players of Starcraft II, World of Warcraft, and League of Legends.

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