Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gamescom 2015 Toys to Life Report

I spend most of my gaming time these days on toys to life franchises, which I am slowly introducing to my 2-year-old daughter as a way to populate her dollhouse with dragons and superheroes in addition to the usual princesses and clothed animals. My primary goal during my trip to Gamescom was to focus on both the upcoming games and any good opportunities to collect more stuff.  Various observations:
  • Lego Dimensions, which won the award for best Family Game, was out in force with a full booth and additional playable demo stations in the family gaming lounge.  They had the Dr. Who and Portal figures and periodic panels at the booth (mostly in German, but there was a dev from the US who did a walkthrough of the Wizard of Oz level in English).  People who like the game praise it for being just like the current Lego games… I see the glass half empty in that I saw nothing about the actual gameplay to justify why basically the same game needs to cost 5-10 times more. 
  •  There was a modest Disney Infinity 3.0 area with around 10 demo stations inside the Sony portion of the show floor. They had all the announced 3.0 figures in display cases and playable demos for Twilight of the Republic, Rise against the Empire (exactly one demo station had the Boba Fett figure), and Inside Out. You could generally walk up and get a controller with little to no wait time. Oddly, they went out of their way to prevent you from playing the Disney Originals characters. There were toy box demo stations with a Marvel figure and a Disney figure on the portal, but there was only one controller and the portal was inside a glass case (unlike the Star Wars and Inside out demos where you could switch figures). Not sure what the reasoning for this was, we've seen these figures playable on Youtube and isn't this game coming out in two weeks?
  • There was a single Skylanders Superchargers station in an odd corner of the Nintendo booth, presumably to showcase the two Sky-miibo. They had Donkey Kong, Bowser, Gill Grunt, and their vehicles to cover all three types of terrain for racing mode - I don't think the demo included any traditional Skylanders gameplay.  The only swag for playing was some stickers and a Kaos keychain - for an event Hot Streak I might have considered taking a spot in line from an 8 year old but I couldn't bring myself to do it just to test drive the game since it was literally a single Wii U available to the general public.
  • Nintendo had a large booth with a glass case containing all the Amiibo, organized loosely by franchise. The regular Sky-miibo (no dark variants) were included, if anyone out there is still a Sky-miibo-denier.  If there was any information about Amiibo support, it was in German.  
  • There was also a local game vendor who had a booth in the corner of the merchandise floor and were selling clearance Giants and Swap Force Skylanders (including the only new-in-box Magna Charge's I've ever seen).  I felt the stock was a bit overpriced, so I passed on Saturday afternoon, came back on my way out of the show on Sunday to find that they had sold very little and reduced prices.  I grabbed a S3 Prism Break and a Lightcore Drobot for 3 Euros each ($3.30 or so).  
  • Outside of Gamescom, I visited Saturn (known internationally for announcing the Disney Infinity 3.0 starter pack early), Media Markt (kind of like Best Buy, generally has good prices but inconsistent stock), and Gamestop.  There was a lot of older Skylanders and Disney Infinity at discounted prices (3-5 Euro's) and a few discounts on the current game figures.  I grabbed two trap masters, an earth trap with a variant villain, and a Donald Duck Disney Infinity figure for 26 Euros.  
  • I don't actually collect any Amiibo, but I do sort of photo-safari when I see an Amiibo "in the wild" here in Europe that is impossible to find in the US.  I don't think I'm ever going to top a mall Gamestop in Cologne that had all three of the "holy trinity" plus DeeDeeDee, Lucina, Robin, Lucario, Greninja, Pit, and Bowser Jr (not out yet in the US) on a single rack.  That said, I could find at least a few of these guys in most stores, including a random French supermarket we visited later in our vacation.  Perhaps either supply in Europe is catching up or else demand is dying down as the bubble pops out here. I think at this point the only Amiibo I have NOT seen in the wild are Captain Falcon and the yarn Yoshi's.   
  • (Note - writing this from a hotel in France, any additional finds from the tail end of my trip will go here.)  
So, was it a good trip for a toys to life collector? Probably not. If you had your eye on all the free/exclusive figures that Skylanders and Disney Infinity handed out in places like E3, SDCC, and D23, you would have been disappointed, as there was nothing on offer for the general public. Likewise, the shopping was fun but not inherently worth the trip over to mainland Europe.  Also, an in-box collector would probably need to buy and check an extra bag for the return trip if you bought all the rare Amiibo I've seen in my travels.  I also had some more general cautionary notes on Gamescom. Fun, but I can't say I recommend the trip from the US for this experience.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Cautionary Notes from Gamescom

I visited Cologne, Germany last week for Gamescom, and had more than 140 characters worth to say about the show…. funny, I used to have a blog for that sort of thing.  Overall, it is an interesting show but I hesitate to recommend it to people who aren't already in Europe due to a number of quirks.

  1. What you read is not what you get: Gamescom is technically a trade fair and maintains a separate area for press, exhibitors, and other "trade" visitors.  The new Skylanders game was based in the trade area. Neither SWTOR nor GW2 were on the floor.  Marvel Heroes was not on the floor either, though David Brevik personally made up for that by hosting a fan gathering at the end of three straight days of interviews.  Point being, you can show up and not get any closer to the real news than you would have been from home.  
  2. Entrance at the cost of experience: Gamescom claims over 300,000 attendees annually.  They do this by selling tickets to the limit of what German fire code permits, and then re-selling the spots of people who leave the show as space-available afternoon tickets.  As a result, there isn't really quiet time at the end of the day when you can avoid the worst of the lines.  Instead, most lines have matter-of-fact markers indicating that you will be waiting 3 hours from this point.  I'm sure it's lucrative for the organizers but it's not a positive experience to walk the floor at 1:30 PM and feel like you have to line up for something now because if you wait any longer the show might close before you can get to the front of a line.  
  3. German is the primary language: You won't have trouble ordering food, as most signage is also in English, most employees speak English, and English is definitely the second most common language.  The Assassin's Creed demo had English voice acting and German subtitles/instructions. The WoW expansion trailer had German voiceover, but many of the Heroes of the Storm character trailers were in English. Lego Dimensions apparently flew in a developer from America, who would hand off the mike to the German community guy periodically.  Just be aware that you will probably miss out on understanding some of the content  if you don't speak the language. 
  4. German Public Transit, Also German: (Also, I found the public transit system hard to use because you need to identify the right stop to know what to pay and then find the right train and not stay on too long and end up on the other side of the country.)  
I don't mean to be too negative on the show - in some ways US shows like PAX suffer from the same crowding issues.  You do get a very large crowd with all the requisite cosplayers (note: unlike in the US, German cosplayers can use realistic looking guns without running afoul of law enforcement), merchandise, and access to the top games for the fall if you were prepared to wait.  I was coming from England, and tacking this onto a family vacation, so I'm mostly okay with the effort and expense.  I would not have been happy with the effort and expense if I'd flown in from the U.S.  Your mileage may vary.