gamescom 2022: What It Was Like To Attend

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After two digital-only years, gamescom, the world’s largest gaming event, has in 2022 finally returned to Koelnmesse – the huge exhibition centre located in Cologne, Germany that has been housing the show ever since its inception in 2009.

CGMagazine has for the past few weeks been covering everything related to gamescom 2022 with our very own editor-in-chief, Brendan Frye, being part of the illustrious jury of gaming experts which have nominated and voted for the games to take home the awards for best in show.  Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be in attendance and cover the show from location.

Gamescom 2022: What It Was Like To Attend
One of Koelnmesse’s many entrances

Going into gamescom 2022, I already knew that this would be a somewhat scaled back edition. For one, due, I assume, to the impact of the pandemic, less tickets were put on sale by default. However, as the official press release touted, more than 265,000 visitors still gathered at the Koelnmesse in the 5 days that gamescom 2022 took place over. This does not reach the impressive numbers achieved in 2017 or 2018 – which were 355,000 and 370,000, respectively – but it is a pretty positive result nonetheless.

Beyond the many visitors, gamescom 2022 also saw a total of over 1,100 exhibitors return to Cologne, exhibitors including Xbox, SEGA, Bandai Namco, THQ Nordic, Ubisoft and many more publishers and developers ranging from AAA to indie. Some notable exceptions included Sony, Nintendo, Activision Blizzard and Take-Two Interactive. Their absence was, at least to an extent, a reaction to the on-going pandemic, yes, but it is pretty evident that Sony and Nintendo especially have both been recently distancing themselves from more traditional gaming shows such as gamescom in favor of hosting their own online presentations.

This is a shame because I heard numerous fans over the days lament the absence of two of the biggest players in the industry and even I must confess that I was somewhat disappointed. At the very least, the silver linings are that the exhibitors that were there made full use of the space they had available and that the show floor was jam-packed with things to see and games to play. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have had to squeeze in some extra time to play God of War: Ragnarök or Bayonetta 3 but I would have loved to have tried. Oh well, there’s always next year. 

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This mechanical LEGO Bowser was  great, but not even it was quite enough to make up for Nintendo not being at Gamescom

Armed with all this knowledge and with my expectations firmly in check, it was finally time to depart for gamescom 2022. Some odd few weeks of planning, booking and scheduling everything from accommodation to game appointments and interviews would all culminate over the span of just a couple of days. I had hall plans for Koelnmesse downloaded, joined the official Discord server for r/Gamescom – which I can only highly recommend you do as well if you ever visit – and, most importantly, I had a calendar booked with games to play.

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Yes, the Cologne Cathedral really is this beautiful

Day 0 – Tuesday: Cologne and Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live

Since I landed in Germany the Monday before the Wednesday gamescom 2022 opened its doors, I decided to spend the majority of my free time taking in the sights. I had never been to either Cologne or Germany before so I loved pottering around the famous Cathedral, which is well worth entering if you’ve got the time, and the charming historical center that is just a few minutes’ walk away.

My two observations from being a tourist, if I may, are that most everyone was comfortable speaking English, although it is appreciated to try at least some basic German, and that cash payments seem to be more popular than in other European countries. In fact, many shops and even booths at the trade floor itself did not take cards so, if you plan on visiting, make sure you have bank notes on hand. 

While wondering about, I also soon noticed the many gamescom 2022 banners and concert stages that had been peppered throughout the city of Cologne. This made me realize, because I didn’t know before, that gamescom is a city festival too, with many concerts taking place throughout the proceedings – the one I briefly attended later on in the week seemingly having nothing to do with games.

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Disclaimer: Not the actual concert I stumbled upon

This being said, gamescom is and has always been about more than games as, for example, the event has a significant political importance as well. The convention would, at least in the past, invite politicians from around the region and the country to open the show by giving a speech and sharing their thoughts on video games I remember that it was a big deal when, in 2017, Angela Merkel, then Chancellor of Germany, opened that year’s edition of gamescom and gave a speech emphasizing the importance of computer and video games as ‘cultural assets’ and as a ‘driving force for innovation’. 

Inviting politicians for the opening ceremony changed in 2019, when the organizers behind gamescom opted to have Geoff Keighley, host and creator of The Game Awards, put on a production that was more focused on world premieres and game trailers. His subsequent show, Opening Night Live (ONL), proved to gather more viewers year-on-year which cemented it as the now traditional start of the gamescom 2022 week. 2022’s Opening Night Live, however, was more important than in previous years because it was the first time since 2019 that the show was actually hosted in person. 

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We know how much Geoff loves his shoes so this may just be the only picture of him ever in which you can’t see them

As for me, I decided to catch ONL on streaming, despite being in Cologne, mainly because there was nothing I would really miss from not being there. Seeing Keighley and the developers in person would have been nice, but not quite worth coming back to my accommodation late, especially not ahead of some busy floor days with early starts. Overall, I thought the lineup of games was solid but not great, with the note that I personally liked what I saw from Moonbreaker and New Tales From The Borderlands the most.

Day 1 – Wednesday: Open for Business

gamescom 2022 was spread over five days, the first of which, Wednesday, being dedicated exclusively to trade and media. For me, this meant that it was the day to check out any games that had piqued my interest and that I did not have an appointment for. As such, I wanted to fully use my time and make sure I was at  koelnmesse around or even earlier than 9:00 AM – the opening time.

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A beautiful morning to spend in a trade center

koelnmesse, spread across 11 total halls, is an immense convention center. It’s so large, actually, that it must have taken me more than a couple of minutes to get from one end to the other – maybe even more when the public was there. Needless to say, if you’re planning to visit, make sure you’re ready for a lot of walking around. In any case, for gamescom 2022, the halls were allocated as per this illustration:

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It may not look like much, but pacing from Hall 4 to Hall 8 left me out of breath many times

Now, most of these areas were open to the public, the two exceptions being the business area, which was only accessible by exhibitors, trade visitors and press and the creator co-working space which was meant only for accredited creators. I reckon I spent most of my time at gamescom 2022 in the business area, which closed after Friday, and in the entertainment area which is where the marquee games were. 

I started my first day at gamescom 2022 with an appointment at Xbox at 9:00 AM and I think I must have left koelnmesse by about 6:00 PM. It was all very hectic, with a lot to see and not a lot of breaks, but it was great to be there. I must also say that it was nice to have a full day to attend gamescom before the public came in because, as much as I recognize that it is a privilege to be granted early access, it did undoubtedly make it much easier for me to play the games I was looking forward to reporting back on.

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Xbox on the outside and Xbox on the inside

It’s worth mentioning, too, that day one, like the rest of the show, went on without a single hitch. I was very impressed with how orderly it all was and was very surprised to have encountered barely any crowd congestion. Granted, I did not attend gamescom during the weekend, when it is usually at its busiest, but my own experience has been nothing short of ideal in this sense.

COVID-19 measures wise though, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that masks were deemed to be optional. This is not just because gamescom brings together a significant amount of people from all over the world, but also because German law still requires that people wear masks in public transport. So it was strange when, in my case, I had to wear a mask on the tram that took me to koelnmesse, but not at the convention itself. Nevertheless, while I do know some people who have unfortunately tested positive for coronavirus after attending, gamescom went on without any major problems.

I called it a day on Wednesday after having played a bunch of big games, like Sonic Frontiers, some smaller ones such as Friends vs Friends and having scoped out most if not all the halls. My highlight of the day outside the games? Well, what else could it be but the Mini x Pokémon electric car?

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Look at this thing go! Well, not really, but you get the idea

Day 2 – Thursday: Open For All

Thursday was busier as it was the first day that gamescom 2022’s doors opened to the public. And since press got to enter just a bit before (9AM for press, exhibitors, etc. and 10AM for public), I quickly lined up for some games that had caught my eye such as Goat Simulator 3 and Park Beyond. When the public finally joined up, the change in energy was palpable, in a very good way: the passionate crowd brought a lot of life to the somewhat lethargic halls.

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I’m not sure how tall the tallest rollercoaster in Park Beyond goes but I’d love to find out

Day 2 further reiterated to me the idea that gamescom is about more than the games as a good number of people came to koelnmesse to play new stuff, surely, but also to check out the many other things and events happening. From cosplay contests to a live metal concert, gamescom 2022 had it all, and it really seemed to me to be an event that celebrates having fun above anything else.

To quickly touch on this concert, publisher Funcom rented out an entire hall to host an epic show in celebration of the upcoming rhythm shooter Metal Hellsinger – which, importantly, features a lot of talent from the heavy metal scene. Sadly though, I could not be in attendance due to a clash in my schedule, but I did hear from friends who were there that it was one of the best marketing events for a game that they could remember.

In any case, Metal Hellsinger took the cake for hosting gamescom’s most popular concert ever and for good reason as playing live in front of a ravenous crowd, and to the tune of in-game songs that they lent their performances to, were Matt Heafy of Trivium fame, Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Glüz, Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity and Dennis Lyxzén and James Dorton from Refused / INVSN and Black Crown Initiate, respectively. I ended my busy Thursday catching a bit of the concert live on YouTube, and it was definitely a highlight of the whole show for me – and I wasn’t even there!

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A joining of music and game

Day 3 – Friday: Winding Down

I hadn’t had much planned for Friday’s itinerary, beyond my appointments, of course, so I decided to take it easy and truly spend some time taking in my surroundings. I eventually found myself in the merchandise area (no surprise here), where I bought a lovely limited edition gamescom 2022 t-shirt designed by a record label and distributor of video game soundtracks from Cologne called Black Screen Records.

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A wide variety of video game soundtracks to own on vinyl

Afterwards, I decided to stop for a meal and settled for a falafel wrap from one of the many food vans. I would say that gamescom has enough food options to accommodate everyone – I am vegan myself – but if you happen to be looking for something in particular or just don’t want to queue for too long, it might be better to pack some food with you, which security allows. 

After going through the halls once more, I eventually called Friday early. I was exhausted after roughly three days of conference-ing but deeply, deeply fulfilled. In my last appointment, I got to interview and talk to Charlie Cleveland (Subnautica) about his upcoming game Moonbreaker. I’ve loved Subnautica for a long time now, so getting to meet with the main guy behind it was one of those pinch-me-i’m-dreaming moments and the perfect way for my time at gamescom 2022 to come to a close.

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High five, gamesbot! (That’s its actual name!)

gamescom 2022 was a celebration of what makes the games industry so special. This being said, it is also a convention that treats having fun with the importance it so deserves. And, ultimately, in the face of a pandemic that kept us apart for years, it is a reminder of the magic which surfaces when we all come together.

You can follow all the coverage of gamescom 2022 here at CGMagazine, with many previews, interviews and articles still to come.

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