Off, off, off - the SPIEL is over. That's it for the international match days in Essen this year. The organizing Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag started up again in 2021 after a one-year break due to the corona situation. The conclusion is positive from the organizers, visitors and publishers. The new chance at an on-site trade fair made game fans dig deep into their pockets - the money flowed, to everyone's delight. 

The international game days SPIEL '21 ended successfully, so the conclusion of the organizing Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag. The world's largest trade fair for parlor games attracted 93.600 visitors last year after a corona-related break. The game enthusiasts were able to see, try out and buy more than 1.000 new products from 620 exhibitors from 41 countries. The visitors made ample use of the latter option in particular. Quite a few games, showered with advance praise in the run-up to the fair, were sold out within a very short time. Almost all of the publishers spoke of good to excellent sales figures. It seems as if the game fans withheld their money in times of the pandemic in order to be able to go on extensive shopping spree. The publishers and, above all, game retailers are granted this: During the pandemic situation, little or nothing happened at times, especially in the specialist trade sector. The retailers were troubled by a huge drop in sales - for them the desire to buy is a blessing.

The joy of walking through the exhibition halls again, getting to know new games, buying first editions or rarities and finding bargains brought more than a smile to faces. Also to that of the managing director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag, Dominique Metzler: "It's great!" Was her interim conclusion on Saturday. “The concept worked.” Metzler probably already knew some of the visitor and sales figures. However, the accounts were not settled until the end: the Corona debut was a success with over 90.000 visitors. For comparison: In 2019, 209.000 fans made the pilgrimage to Essen. More than twice as many, but at that time there was no talk of a pandemic including lockdown and contact restrictions.

The visit to the trade fair was subject to the 3G conditions, and a corona test center was set up especially for visitors on the exhibition grounds. Masks were also compulsory in all areas. "The well thought-out hygiene concept with wider aisles, increased hygiene measures and a distance regulation has proven itself and provided the necessary freedom of movement," said the organizing Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag in its closing statement. And the concept actually worked – at least for the most part. Here and there you could see them, the "coatis". Then the mouth-nose protection became a pure mouthguard - sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes just the beard was in the way. And the Cajon backpacks, which were actually forbidden, also shaped the picture in the halls, albeit very sporadically.

The measures took effect, at most on Saturday afternoon the hygiene and safety rules reached their limits. The rush on the traditionally busiest day of the Essen Games Fair temporarily caused a "system overload" on several levels. A few hours later, the balls had been straightened out, and the entrances were checked more intensively again. Dominique Metzler stated that she was not aware of any "negative incidents". The concept worked. At Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag, people are not only happy about this, but also about the fair taking place in general. Metzler revealed that they should have trembled: "2G would have dealt the fair the deathblow," she revealed. Some foreign publishers in particular would then have faced problems, as it would not have been possible for them to take part in SPIEL under such stricter regulations. In the end, politicians should opt for the more relaxed of the two paths - and at the same time clear the way for SPIEL'21.

Dominique Metzler now looks back positively: “I am very happy about the enthusiasm with which this trade fair was received by exhibitors and visitors. It was a special year for us as organizers, but also for all participants. Cooperative games are in vogue and SPIEL was a great joint effort by organisers, exhibitors and visitors. As organizers, we feel confirmed by the success of this trade fair. It was exactly the right decision to hold an analog fair again this year and to give game fans from all over the world the opportunity to take part in this most important gathering of the gaming world. The visitors followed the rules of the game at this fair in an exemplary manner.”

Picture gallery for SPIEL'21 in Essen

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The exhibitors were also satisfied with the response. The trade fair means a new start for the industry, said Hermann Hutter, publisher (HUCH) and chairman of the games publishers industry association: “This trade fair was very well balanced between security and just the right number of visitors. All visitors were very disciplined - it was the perfect experience to see the joy and excitement of trying out the new products. Every member of Spieleverlage eV felt comfortable and enjoyed the fact that enthusiastic international trade visitors and gamers came to Essen to literally soak up the new products.”

SPIEL'21 in Essen was much more than a return to familiar territory. For the games industry, the fair could be a role model for what is possible in difficult times with the right concepts. Friedhelm-Merz-Verlag describes this as the "initial spark for further events with an audience". With all the easing of the corona situation, the following applies: the pandemic is far from over. In particular, international trade fairs such as SPIEL in Essen show how small the big wide world can become when a catastrophic event brings nations together. Where the number of infections is falling and the number of vaccinations is increasing in this country, this is far from the case in other countries. And so a Corona impact can also be assumed at SPIEL'22. The date for the International Game Days next year has long been fixed: from October 6th to 9th, 2022, board and card games will be celebrated again in Essen.

Andreas Finkernagel, Managing Director of Pegasus Spiele, adds at the end of the four-day SPIEL '21: "I am positively surprised by the way the fair went and I hope that it can now continue with face-to-face events based on the SPIEL model." On-site events are for Pegasus plays the central element of contact with players. "I saw many happy faces in the halls, people are overjoyed to be back at SPIEL," says Finkernagel. "And the visitors followed the corona-related rules very well - masks and distance didn't spoil the fun. We are also witnessing that the demand for games has exploded. The gaming tables at the Pegasus Games stand were fully booked at all times. Even the people who just found their hobby in gaming last year are now sticking with it.”

Mostly frequent and expert players dragged themselves and their purchases home satisfied. Despite the absence of some well-known domestic and foreign publishers, the range of products at the fair seemed to be large enough for them. "One or the other publisher could regret not having taken part in the fair after all," concluded Dominique Metzler. It sounded like a friendly dig. In any case, the relief was written in the face of the publishing boss, which was only half recognizable. And 2022? Which measures could find their way to the next SPIEL? Dominique Metzler didn't show her cards, but she admitted to having cards in her hand: “I don't want to reveal anything just yet. Those are my plans!”. It sounds as if visitors should be prepared for a few changes in the coming year, which will then help ensure a positive trade fair experience.