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Notes on #GamerConDublin

Bee and I had media passes to attend the first day of #GamerConDublin (or GamerCon Dublin, whatever it’s called) at the Convention Centre Dublin. It’s an event that generated a bit of controversy within hours of doors opening, as you might have read.

I tweeted some of our own experience of our visit, which I’m repeating here with additional observations.

  • We attended as media so walked in the front door to collect our passes, skipping the queue. This was around 9.45am or so, some 15 minutes after doors opened. We didn’t see how the queue outside was moving, but even inside the venue at that early hour we could tell there were issues.
  • First impression? Not a whole lot to engage with. Granted, Bee is the real gamer between the two of us, but she felt the same way.
  • The main floor held a dealer area on the left, with a few stalls selling games, T-shirts (which looked fairly cheap and tacky), art prints, and walls of Pop vinyl figures. Yet more Pop vinyls to be had in the GameStop store, which took up most of the space in this area. Prices seemed on par with the high street, so no real deals to be had. Not a lot of variety, either.
  • Event sponsor Sony had a ‘PlayStation experience’ type area, with a couple of recent titles (Horizon Zero Dawn, which came out earlier this month, was one) and a handful of VR headsets for demos. It seemed like there was little organisation on this area; if there was a queue to try out the VR, we didn’t notice one. People were just having a go whenever there was a free unit, and that could have taken a while, as there was no effort to cycle people out of these stations (we saw one kid with a VR headset on for more than one game). We did notice later that there was an info stand with a volunteer furiously taking names, presumably for that?
  • We circled the main floor — almost half of which was an open gaming area with consoles and monitors with random games — and the first floor — which was similarly laid out, split between console games and mobas — in little over an hour. And we were taking our time.
  • On those open gaming areas: it looked like a case of first come, first served, and no time limits. You could have sat there for hours if you wanted; we didn’t see any staff ushering people along after they’d had a fair go.
  • Many of the games were mature titles, too, even outside the marked ‘mature’ gaming area upstairs; we saw quite a few obviously underage kids walking past large monitors displaying often violent images, let alone playing the games themselves. The website talks of ‘hundreds of age-appropriate games’ but that wasn’t the impression we got.
  • That was pretty much the whole convention covered, unless you were there to see the gaming YouTubers who were scheduled for on-stage appearances and meet-and-greets. Word has it the queues for those were ridiculous.
  • The escalator shut off as soon as we stepped on it, so we returned to the ground floor via the stairs. I’m not particularly claustrophobic, but there were a lot of people in that stairwell. No staff, though; neither volunteers for the event nor DCC employees themselves.
  • Returning to the main floor, things were noticeably busier, to an uncomfortable degree. Queues were popping up for this and that at random across the floor, and self-organised from what I could tell; there didn’t appear to be any staff directing people. All credit to the attendees themselves.
  • Reading later about people queueing outside for hours and even then not being allowed in, I can only compare with the Dublin Comic Con that’s held in the same venue. We attended our first last summer, and the queue for that one snaked around the building, too, but we were inside within 45 minutes, with plenty of space to move about throughout the day.
  • Besides the open gaming areas and the sponsors’ pop-ups, there were only three stands not selling something, and only one of them for an independent gaming developer. That’s a startling omission, especially considering the stars of the show, those teenage Minecraft YouTubers, wouldn’t exist without, y’know, an indie game.
  • Another startling omission: the Nintendo Switch. It was only released this month! But going by this convention, you’d swear it never existed.
  • Bee pointed out later the absence of tabletop gaming from the event, at least beyond the dealer areas, which only had two trading card stands and a few geek-themed usuals. To be fair, the (more recent) marketing for the convention was all video gaming, but this could have been an opportunity to diversify and include a fast-growing culture under the ‘gaming’ umbrella. If comic cons can do it, you’d think a gaming con would by default. Not here.
  • On the subject of marketing… As recently as six months ago, the event’s official website promised a lot more than what was actually provided. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift were nowhere to be seen; the market of ’50-plus stalls’ was a mere fraction of that; the retro gaming zone, which implied an old-school arcade experience, in reality comprised a single arcade cabinet with a Capcom fighter, plus a few rows of tables with ’90s consoles. One might argue that previous website, which looks very different to the current one (you can see for yourself on the Wayback Machine), was aspirational marketing towards potential vendors. But they were also selling tickets on the back of those promises.
  • (One more thing: the advertised ‘goodie bags’ for media attendees failed to materialise; we got nothing out of it other than the free admission, lanyards for access to the media room, a timetable and a press release.)

All in all, GamerCon yesterday was a disappointment. Even without the organisational issues, there’s little that would encourage either of us to return. Moreover, if we’d paid the €25 standard admission, we’d feel pretty ripped off.