The first purely digital international game days are over, leaving many fans with mixed feelings. After four days of online trade fair, the mood is mixed, pervaded by criticism and perplexity, but also jubilation about a new format that may be offered in the coming year, albeit as a purely by-product. Regardless of whether you liked SPIEL.digital or not, one thing was made very clear to the majority of the players: how valuable the on-site trade fair in Essen is.

 - a comment by André Volkmann


Every year, after the SPIEL in Essen, a similar picture emerges: there is ranting from full pipes about full halls, about narrow aisles, about sold out games and long queues, about always occupied tables, about offers that are actually not. And this year everything is suddenly different: You want to see the sweaty T-shirts of the person in front of you, appreciate the kick in the heels or remember with joy how the publishing staff rolls over your feet with the hand truck. You miss the cherished pain that so many trade fair visits cause you in Essen. What you can't have, you usually want in particular: in the Corona year 2020 this will probably apply, among other things, to SPIEL, which somehow existed, but somehow also not.

The game is over at the digital fair. The bottom line? Not uniform. Spin the ropes for the organizers? Not fair. And by the way, not appropriate either. Despite all the justified criticism, the online version of SPIEL also achieved what was previously only expected of the physical event: bringing people who were completely strangers to one another at one table.

SPIEL.digital celebrates the acclaimed and criticized premiere

Admittedly, not everything was great about SPIELdigital. The user interface was sometimes confusing, the content often uniform, sometimes clumsy. But: Not everything was automatically bad about the online trade fair, which celebrated a successful debut overall. Now for the organizing Friedhelm Merz Verlag it is not about licking its wounds, but about learning. And you can be sure that the organizers will do just that. The very fact that you have set up a digital trade fair in a hurry demands respect. In the mixed mood you can even see great praise: The fair turned out at least as good that the devastating shitstorm did not take place - in times of the Internet, you are almost ennobled for a service you have provided.

A central question is currently being debated on the Internet: Is it allowed to criticize SPIEL.digital at all when everything was free? Of course. You even have to do it. Without constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement, everyone loses in the end: fans, publishers and organizers.

Now it is time to work through the event and to take praise and criticism to heart. If SPIEL.digital takes place again - to whatever extent and for whatever reasons - it will not be in the form it had over the past four days of the fair. Some concepts remain, others are changed, perhaps discarded altogether. That's a good thing, because it has to be exactly like this: There can't be the perfect concept for a debut, and certainly not one that suits all tastes. It will hardly be any different in the future either.

Like at the on-site trade fair: there is often joy, sometimes perplexity. Photo: Volkmann

Like at the on-site trade fair: there is often joy, sometimes perplexity. Photo: Volkmann

In advance, every fan had their own idea of ​​what an online trade fair should look like. And now that there is a template against which you can measure your expectations, you notice how different these ideas were. There was talk of virtual halls, of walks through online worlds. On closer inspection, it seems downright absurd: An online trade fair must be easily accessible in terms of hardware, controllability and useful life. Immerse yourself in a “virtual 3D world”, probably only very few fans could do that. So conceptually it came out on a platform that could be accessed just as easily with a mouse and keyboard as with a smartphone, including some restrictions.

Online board games worked surprisingly well, the video content on offer was solid, although it is technically well implemented, but ultimately lacked the necessary professionalism that you would use as a benchmark for a trade fair event, at least if you paid an entrance fee. Because that was not the case, in the worst case you can even nod “Team Knuffig”. Thanks go to the influencers without a doubt: They worked passionately for a project, gave their best and delivered in front of the camera. Chapeau!

The premiere of SPIEL.digital is initially just a prototype, a basic framework and thus a concept that can be built on. No matter what conclusion you draw in the end, one thing is clear: there is nothing that cannot be adapted in the future in the interests of the user. The bulky design? One can change. The lack of overview? can be changed. The interpretation of the list of novelties? One can change.

But: What is difficult to change is the basic product. Board games will always remain primarily “analogue entertainment formats”, regardless of online technology. Walking the tightrope between board games, the internet and visitor expectations was a major challenge for the organizers. And in the end they mastered it despite all the adversities.

Publishers too have yet to learn to deal with the new opportunities. Some succeed in doing this faster, others may need years until a competitive appearance has been designed that goes beyond the presentation of blurbs. But what did you expect as a fan at a time when the preparation for an on-site trade fair was first slowed down, then interrupted and finally had to be canceled? One could think that Corona would offer the best conditions for hosting an online trade fair. The opposite is the case.

Greetings from the future: Sit in the exhibition halls in Essen and watch the SPIEL.digital on your mobile phone. Photo: André Volkmann

Greetings from the future: Sit in the exhibition halls in Essen and watch the SPIEL.digital on your mobile phone. Photo: André Volkmann

So what it takes is an omnipresent connoisseur who guides, controls content and spins red threads. At times it seemed as if the much-lauded diversity of the board game scene was its biggest problem. It was difficult for visitors to discover content, and even small filters couldn't change that much. Is there a patent solution? Hardly likely. Gamescom hadn't been able to show how it was done correctly either: They had brought a few well-known media partners on board, who were supposed to entertain the fans for several days. That was reasonably entertaining. So less is not always more. You quickly notice: THE ideal format for an online trade fair will not exist, expectations are too different, user behavior is too different. The on-site trade fair in Essen has it much easier: You cram a few thousand people together in one hall and say: “Have fun!”. As simple as it sounds, it works. But this is primarily due to the experience of publishers, organizers and visitors. You have to give SPIEL.digital time and recognize that the format can only develop through practical experience. The actual planning of the online trade fair begins now!

“Better than no SPIEL”, however, is not an argument for quality. If one praises, then it is the advantages of the online trade fair and not the fact that something somehow exists. And the SPIEL.digital had its charms: You could take your time playing games, allowing yourself to be explained, the number of virtual tables is not limited. Everyone can basically play what they want and when they want. In any case, the visitors to an online trade fair determine their pace of consumption, nobody pushes, nobody pushes - not even the official trade fair closing date, because a lot of the content is still available: spiel.digital/de.


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