7RPlGdIqBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This is my fourth year attending the biggest tabletop games convention in the UK. This is the third year that I help organise some events at the show. This is the last year things remain as they’ve been.

And that’s a good thing.

For the last few years, the UK Games Expo has grown as much as anyone could have wished and a lot more than anyone was expecting. This year alone there have been nearly 9000 unique visitors through the doors and more than 14000 visitors in total. Enough to prove the prediction of outgrowing the venue true. We knew it would happen. We didn’t now it’d happen so fast.

Yes my friends, we have to get out of the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham and upgrade to the NEC. Next year it will take place in both locations at the same time, with the trading floor taking place at NEC and the tournaments taking place again at the Hilton Metropole. How that’ll pan out it’s to be seen, but we’ll find out soon enough. Precisely in one year.

For now, let me give you my impressions of this year’s event.

I spend most of the time – as in 90% of the time – looking after the seminars and the press event that was organised this year for the first time, so my perspective is a little different.

How did the convention feel? Amazing. From day one – and that was Friday as this year the Expo had one extra day – the place felt buzzing with excitement. People arrived constantly to take part in the tournaments, volunteer or simply visit and enjoy a few days of gaming. With dozens of games going on pretty much all the time, and more demos on the trading floor I can even count, no one was ever too far from having a good time.

The press event was something we saw at Spiel, where it’s very successful. Basically, a room is reserved for the traders to showcase their games and only the press has access to. The exciting bit for me is that we had plenty of people showing new games at the Expo. Companies are indeed releasing games at the UK Games Expo and announcing games there too. This is very significative.

Releasing a game at convention is not just a matter of having a date, but also doing it at a place where there is enough traction to get people and distributors interested and ready to buy the game. It is the reason – or one of – why so many games are released at GenCon and Spiel; publishers have the attention guaranteed and the sales maximised. For small companies to have a place like the UKGE to set as a milestone of game release matters a lot.

And it matters a lot because the UKGE has got a very prominent role as the host of several championships that attract hundreds of participants and has large companies like Fantasy Flight and Mayfair games very much behind the show. Mind you, Mayfair Games has been the longest supporter of this trade show thanks to the shrewd mind of Larry Roznai, who saw the potential pretty much from day one.

Coiled Spring Games didn’t take long to follow and Esdevium didn’t miss out either. This is amongst many others. Enough that I won’t mention them because… well, because I wouldn’t be able to remember them all.

Something else caught my ear. It was something some guests from overseas said.

The panels, as always, are very well catered for by a tremendous selection of guests who gladly share their knowledge. This year we were very privileged. We had writer and Line Developer for Margaret Weiss Productions, Monica Valentinelli, Director of Publishing for DriveThruRPG.com Matt McElroy, genius designer and cool guy Eric Lang, Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing and other Star Wars games’ Lead Designer, Alex Davy and many others.

Surprisingly, though, the panels were a bit hit and miss. Some of them were very well attended whereas others that would have been expected to get a lot of attention didn’t really capture people’s imagination. Weird, but hey-ho. Those who made it had a great time!

Anyway… what they said that caught my ear was this: UK Games Expo today feels like Origins felt 10 years ago. Exciting, vibrant and growing.

And this is significative because Origins has been a very important trade show for a long time. Not as large as GenCon, Pax or Spiel, it did however have a gravitas that placed it firmly on the map. Still does, just not as prominently.

And now UKGE grows. Next year it will spread its meeples and step up to take a hall at NEC for the trading while keeping the hotel to host the gaming. That is very good news.

More space for more traders – UKGE organisers have had to turn down a number of companies who arrived too late to get a space to sell their goods – and those traders with more space to show their games and play with more people.

And it will get more attention too. This year I had enquiries from the BBC to get information about the event, though no confirmed sightings of anyone who contacted me, so I don’t know if any coverage was given. I reckon, though, that being at the NEC will be enough of a step up in prestige to attract the bigger media attention.

Of course this comes with risks as the expense to get it all sorted is greater and the logistics of staffing two locations is much more complex than doing just one. There will be some teething problems like there always are when new things are tried and that should surprise no one. However the organising team are far from being naive or stupid and there is no doubt the problem will be minimal, if at all existent.

I reckon even without the use of an advertising or PR agency (which I think the organisers should start considering) most of the trading floor will go by Spiel, as it always does, and the rest shortly after.

Heed my words, mortals, for this is one mammoth beast of a games convention that’s just starting to show its teeth and when it’s fully grown it’ll have nothing to envy from any other.

You’ve been warned.