Tokyo Game Show 2013 Retrospective
Of all the quotes about the Tokyo Game Show, all the controversial statements (Keiji Inafune's comments about the Japanese games industry being finished), or the silly event slogans throughout the years (“Game, it's so energetic!”), the one that still sticks out to me is an unofficial one that was repeatedly stated throughout the 2008 edition, upon the wake of the (temporary) demise of E3: that TGS was “the biggest games trade show in the world”.
At that time, TGS was drunk on its own success, and the organisers decided to use the perceived momentum to stage slightly lavish events throughout the show--especially after hours. Fighting game tournaments and cosplay fashion shows are some of the most prominent examples, but none can top the lavish concert in 2008, featuring an array of bands with a "game-y" sound such as YMCK. The odd experiment was not repeated, but that didn't stop the organisers from trying other experiments throughout the years, since the indie-spotlighter Sense Of Wonder Night (http://expo.nikkeibp.co.jp/tgs/2013/...own/index.html) became surprisingly influential.
As a relatively long-standing trade show, TGS struggles with its identity in an industry where its relevance keeps getting questioned. Without the games TGS wouldn't exist, and they are the main attraction of the show, but one that looks increasingly like one geared to a show for the attending masses, and less so for the public around the world. It sounds like an obvious point, but it's one bearing in mind when people comment every year that there was nothing of note at TGS.
In many ways, what the organisers have tried to do with the show is emphasise “gaming culture,” especially with a focus on Japan—and other East Asian countries, to a lesser degree. This explains the idol shows, the wrestling matches, the mountains of merchandise, the cosplay section, the mascots, and, in another sense, the “booth babes.” And maybe it’s worked, as a record 270,197 people attended the 2013 show, mainly on the public days of Saturday and Sunday. This was especially surprising, since most people coming in were aware that the PS4 was not going to be available that year, and the Xbox One was just an item on a PR statement for Japan.
The companies at the show didn’t disappoint either: Sony filled their enormous booth with the most anticipated games for the PS4, and they managed to add to their message the other two stories running in parallel, the PlayStation TV and the PSVita. Microsoft was back with their own storyline, involving the One and a Windows connection boosted by the success of the Surface tablet in Japan. And the booths of the big publishers boomed with energy and verve that was gladly received.
That's the big side of TGS--the one that is most commonly reported--but there's another side that is always present, and exhibits the intertwined issues that have always surrounded the show, in varying degrees: the state of Japanese games, mobile vs console, and big vs small.
These are the booths orbiting the big planets of the big third parties and the console makers: hundreds of small instances that reflect on the industry, and maybe the most visible one is GREE. It was supposed to be the next big thing in gaming, and especially mobile gaming, entering the ring with a big splash in 2012 with a huge white booth. It turned out to be a toothless threat, though. GREE’s business model, where they acted as an intermediary for publishers using web apps, was swiftly side-stepped by most publishers. The company has now shifted focus to other markets.
Still, the mobile quest lives on, spurred on by tantalizing profit and also a slight resentment that the mobile game developers have toward the big publishers. The latter are proud to show off their big games, when in many cases it's been the small mobile games making them profits. Vindication has come in the form of the popularity of the iOS and Android app stores, and last year the mobile big star was GungHo’s massively popular Puzzle and Dragons, a massively popular freemium title in Japan. Industry-wise, it’s a phenomenon that has been a long time coming, but it's one where the big publishers have been caught on the back foot, and it’s part of a battle that feels much bigger.
What is the next big thing in video games is what's at stake. There will be thousands of people in line to play Destiny, Monster Hunter 4G, and all the other big games, dozens of silly shows and laughs at the Kinect games. I'm looking forward to the newest PS4 and PSVita games. The latter is especially interesting, seeing how much Sony have struggled to make it relevant in the market. Seeing Microsoft’s plan for a market that remains fairly apathetic to the Xbox manifesto (Minecraft?) will be also interesting to see.
At the very least, seeing some of the wackier ideas using games technology, and experiencing the passion and energy at the indies' booth should be worth it. But the story of the show might well be the publishers' streaming models, now with Square-Enix launching themselves into the fray.