The international game days are imminent. Because a virus mixed up a lot this year, SPIEL will take place in a new format, as a purely online trade fair. In view of the digital oversupply that is raining down on users every day, this step could simply be nodded off, perhaps ignored because “you can't do anything with digital trade fairs”. What is currently happening with the international match days is a historic and long overdue step - for fans, exhibitors and organizers.

- a comment by André Volkmann


What began in the early XNUMXs as a fixed idea of ​​a somewhat larger game day at the Essen Adult Education Center has long since become a fixed date for the industry: SPIEL takes place in October in the middle of the Ruhr area. It's almost like a law. So far, nothing has been able to shake the fact that the International Game Days have been celebrated in Essen for the past few decades - until now. A virus has done what previously seemed impossible. The organism, which is invisible to the naked eye, but so noticeable, has put the organizing company Friedhelm Merz Verlag under pressure: Simply cancel the SPIEL? Without using the modern internet technologies at least in part? That was apparently unthinkable. As rigorously as the publisher pushed through and justified the right decision to cancel the physical trade fair, they are committed to a purely digital version of the popular trade fair - and against so much resistance. Just looking forward to what's to come? Hardly conceivable, somehow “un-German”.

SPIEL.digital: Consistent, not a matter of course

The implementation of SPIEL.digital is not a matter of course, but it is a consistent development. You would not have expected that from a trade fair like the International Game Days, after all, the principle “Come on, play with!” Has stood for analogue gaming fun, on site in Essen, together with others who are not just there somehow, but sit across from you. With its decision in favor of SPIEL.digital, Friedhelm Merz Verlag has dared to take a historic step - and one that is now long overdue. Last but not least, this can be recognized by the fact that SPIEL.digital is a new format, but makes use of technologies and offers that have long been standard in the board game industry: News about board games is no longer just on paper , but on countless blogs, media portals, community pages, forums or as entertainment formats in video or audio formats.

Even more: players no longer find information about board games, card games or toys only on the Internet, they even play on online platforms - together. For example via Steam, where PC adaptations to board games can now be found increasingly, or via platforms such as Tabletopia. That is now more than a marginal phenomenon: Financed by around 2015 supporters via crowdfunding in 2.500, the platform is now regarded by industry experts as the standard way of playing online together. Especially in times of the Corona, where playing together after the first powerful virus wave remains a necessary challenge.

Publishers lure board games with fake video slot machines. Photo: Volkmann

Publishers lure board games with fake video slot machines. Photo: Volkmann

What the organizing Friedhelm Merz Verlag had to do was not to develop completely new possibilities, but to bring the majority of offers together on a user-friendly platform. SPIEL.digital is not necessarily innovative, but so far unique in the history of the International Game Days, but above all a clever move that could ultimately benefit the entire industry. It is finally becoming more measurable how great the influence, but also the interest, is in digital board games. Finally it is showing how big the global community - in which everything is by no means friendly and collegial - really is: Where around 200.000 fans celebrate their favorite games together in Essen, millions of players can now do it together on the Internet. Once installed, the SPIEL.digital platform can continue to establish itself in the scene from year to year, use the new “tool” for scaling, and perhaps also serve to enhance the self-image of the International Game Days as a trade fair for fans of “analogue games” in the medium term change.

The SPIEL as an annually narrowly defined on-site experience will then become a synonym for worlds that have long since merged: analog and digital, board players and video players. The chance is there, you just have to seize it.

In the development of board games, it has long been standard practice to use measures that were previously assigned to the games industry. Apps have long been telling stories behind board games, explaining rules, recording game successes or helping frequent gamers to keep track of their collection. Not all concepts and ideas work out, some go under, others do not offer the player base what the creators of the game had in mind. Digital life has long been awakened at the SPIEL on-site in Essen: Live streams and videos were no longer shot by hobbyists on compact cameras, but by publishers themselves, who recognized the signs of the times and invested in technology to have; new podcasts enriched the scene, news from the fair was reported "live" in real time via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There were even consoles here and there on some stalls. What was playable there? Board games, of course, only digitally adapted.

The fact that board and video games are strictly separate products has long ceased to be the reality that some traditionalists mourn. There are also many players who are satisfied with the current situation. Board games belong on the table, that's what they say. Reproducible. It is in the understanding of board games to bring people together in one place in the real world in order to play together. In the end, however, that's just one of the ways it can work. Video games are now able to do what was previously reserved for games in the real world: unite fans in one place - even if only in one place made of bits and bytes. Thanks to webcam and real-time communication, people can now play together without meeting. That is possible, even if not favored by everyone. Because the world only knows one forward technology, you have to come to terms with it and see these possibilities as a supplement and not as a substitute. Just as SPIEL.digital can usefully complement the range of international game days. You just have to take the chance.

The idea is already paradoxical. You play at tables that aren't really; with players who are actually not there, at least not in the conventional sense. “Everything new” is not, however, the proclaimed motto for SPIEL.digital. A lot of things that fans know from the on-site trade fair are returning: “explaining”, gaming tables, competitions, discounts on shopping, author lessons, competitions, and innovations anyway. The fact that the SPIEL format will be a success just because it is there is a fatal mistake that should not be made. Yes, board players can be passionate fans, but it is the broad mass of types of players, families, and curious non-gamers who turn a small game fair into a mass phenomenon. Just because the internet is there doesn't make a web project a success.

Board games and video games: the worlds overlap more and more often. Photo: Volkmann

Board games and video games: the worlds overlap more and more often. Photo: Volkmann

You have to use your tools cleverly, it will be difficult enough. A good example of this is the recent Gamescom, which also took place in a purely digital manner due to the Corona crisis. The conceived format was not fundamentally bad, some offers had their appeal - but imitation is not recommended. The creators of Gamescom also had to learn that digital basic products cannot be presented as if pulled on a string, even in the digital world - as part of an entertaining concept that users like to follow for hours. How difficult does it have to be, of all things, to knit a digital trade fair for parlor games that does not only entice players to take a quick look?

To scold the organizers during this gigantic learning process was too easy for oneself. With all the legitimate criticism there is: It is in the nature of things that there are factors that offend organizers when they steer through thick fog. The journey is one with an uncertain outcome. And anyway, in the end, it's not just up to the organizer to make SPIEL.digital a success. Friedhelm Merz Verlag provides a framework that works or not - it is up to the users to add real added value to what is offered, not least through the courage to interact. Anyone who sees SPIEL.digital as a complete alternative to Youtube and Co will be disappointed, that's for sure. It is important to take the format into your own hands as much as possible and simply use it. And if fans with dislikes don't do it for themselves, then maybe for those in the industry who are having a hard enough time due to the Corona crisis. With this in mind: come play with us!

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