Despite the UK opening back up after 18 months of watching Tiger King, baking banana bread and building pubs in back gardens, it would seem that many gamers aren’t quite ready to reintegrate with society. At least, that’s how it has felt this week at EGX 2021. Far fewer numbers, a condensed experience and almost non-existent queues, it has felt like the polar opposite to years gone past. And you know what, it has been much preferable too.
This being my first EGX I had heard all the tales of the long queues even just to get into the hall itself, so imagine my surprise when I waltzed straight through just after midday on the first day. Typically, the Thursday is understandably the quietest day, considering EGX goes on until the Sunday. But even by Thursday standards there was more than enough room to swing a cat. Or a Keyblade.
Following the news that Sora from Kingdom Hearts would finally be added to the Super Smash Bros’ Ultimate roster, plenty of EGX patrons brought their Keyblades along to celebrate. And those that didn’t could quite easily pick one up. The many shops and stalls had plenty of merch available, the only difference this time being that you could see all of it without having to huddle together for hours. There was no pressure to make snap judgements on whether to buy or not, and there will likely be enough stock for those attending throughout the four days.
The same goes for the actual games themselves. There were fewer pre-release games here than usual, but you didn’t have to be so selective with your time as a result. Publishers such as Chorus Worldwide (Coffee Talk Episode 2), Team17 and Crytek still made the journey down but chose a selection of upcoming releases and fan favourites to showcase. Team17 for example brought couch multiplayer favourites Moving Out and Overcooked! to their booth, and they were still able to draw a crowd. You’ll never see me touching Overcooked again though after all the lockdown arguments it caused.
But this worked for developers as well, who this time around only needed one pair of eyes to see everyone trialling their demo builds. For some, this may have been the first time they’ve received external feedback, but the relaxed atmosphere meant they could get it without being rushed off their feet. This whole process felt more natural too; being less intensive meant there was much less pressure in general. And it meant that those of a more nervous disposition when talking to strangers – ie. me – could feel more at home.
If nothing else though, it resulted in more time for games! Many of the indie booths usually had a seat free to try something; it might not have been a game you would touch otherwise but here you had a better opportunity to try something new.
And yet, it still felt very much like an EGX should do. Everything else was as one would expect; a healthy cosplay turnout, the likes of Eurogamer and Outside Xbox there to entertain the crowd and plenty of stalls for careers advice and various noble charities. The usual LAN and classic console zones were there – I even saw a PSX console out in the wild – and an eSports arena. All of it was marshalled well and had hand sanitisers and anti-bacterial wipes at every station. This will have rightly been a concern for many patrons but there were no corners cut here.
It is worth noting that this was just my experience on the Thursday and Friday. Undoubtedly the weekend will bring in more people, but I still expect numbers to be way down on previous years.
EGX may not be sustainable in this smaller, subdued format without the huge crowds and AAA games dominating everything, and it didn’t quite feel like the celebration of gaming that the organisers would have liked, but as a one-off, it’s been the best expo I’ve been to. Any concerns were alleviated regarding safety and there was a really good atmosphere throughout. This smaller convention may not have been to everyone’s taste from overhearing certain sections, but I couldn’t fault it.
Let us know if you showed up on the EGX floor and what you thought of the smaller crowds. The comments are below.