The SPIEL'23 in Essen is just around the corner: From October 5th to 8th, fans of board games from all over the world can try out the new products of the current year in the exhibition halls. What is not immediately clear to many visitors: This year's gaming fair in Essen is the first of its kind. There have been many changes in the past few months - and the process is now clearly noticeable at SPIEL'23.
The gaming fair in Essen is celebrating its 40th birthday this year - behind four decades of “PLAY” is a constant process. The change continues more clearly at the new edition of the event than it has for many years. A business model developed from a cozy gaming meeting, slowly at first, then more and more quickly. And with SPIEL'23, the organizers seem to have finally arrived at the place where fans basically prefer not to see the trade fair: business.
GAME in Essen: It doesn't work without success
Anyone who remembers a decade or two back knows the Essen game fair as a comparatively family event: mom, dad and child strolled relaxed through filled but not overcrowded halls. Even grandma and grandpa were allowed to come along – or were able to. Today the picture is different: you don't even have to appeal to your grandparents when you visit the fair - it's too crowded, too much, too wild. And even mom and dad think twice about whether they want to visit with a small child in hand - too crowded, too busy, too wild, too expensive. Adults pay 23 euros at the box office on a regular basis, while a season ticket for all days costs 59 euros. If you want to spend a day at the trade fair as a family, you have to put 56 euros on the counter - but parents are then allowed to take up to three children or students with them. The cost factor is added to the family visit. The SPIEL in Essen has clearly developed from a board game event into a mega event. With all the advantages and disadvantages that such a process inevitably entails.
And yet: despite the noticeable stress of the trade fair, an event like this happens GAME in Essen not without economic success, especially in times like these. The increased ticket prices on the one hand are offset by cost explosions on the organizer side: rents, staff, logistics, energy, disposal - everything costs more. It is then above all the success that makes a trade fair like this GAME in Essen such crises can be survived at all. As a visitor, you go along with it – or you go without. Most people go along. At least that's what the expected visitor numbers suggest: the organizing Friedhelm Merz Verlag is expecting 180.000 fans over the four days in Essen. Not a new record number, given the current situation and after the Corona situation has been overcome, the targeted number is still impressive. For comparison: According to Koelnmesse, “only” 2023 visitors came to Gamescom 320.000.
Success creates professionalization and, ideally, an improved visitor experience. Because: Anyone who has learned to appreciate the SPIEL in Essen will come back next year or leave a few banknotes at the dealers' stands in a good mood. Or both. A clearer focus on business may not sound particularly sexy, and it doesn't sound light-hearted or light-hearted anyway, but it ensures that gaming fans can be offered something that goes beyond the offerings of a gaming meeting or fan convention. Some of this initially remains unseen: professional structures ultimately ensure increased visibility in the media. Games, authors, publishers, fans – all of them are the focus of attention when press departments understand their craft and practice it correctly.
Professionalization and business focus also means convenience: the premiere version of the app last year is now followed by a completely revamped software, with more functions, more useful things, more fanfare. The trade fair logo is new, the website has been refreshed, the team has been expanded, and the enthusiasm is palpable. The press conference will take place in a new location, as will the new product show. The birthday program is in place, there is a colorful program around the game presentations, including a new edition of “Educator's Day”, the day on which board games are seen as a specialist topic. A bit of a sense of optimism is spreading. But please not too much: How much the new SPIEL is at the same time the old one is shown by the constant concern about the change of location - this time too, fans discussed the question of whether and for how long the gaming fair would remain in Essen. Food and board games – they belong together.
Ultimately, SPIEL'23 differs significantly from previous events. It is the first year without Dominique Metzler in the front row, which is also part of the change at the trade fair. She was granted it.
And the charm of the “old” SPIEL? It is also available with innovations. Neither the new sorting of the halls by theme nor the dashing mascot stand in the way of the feeling that long-time fans in particular feel in the stomach when the doors open on the first day of the trade fair. Then there is running, jumping and shouting, and space at the gaming tables is sometimes fiercely contested in the early minutes of the fair. With that in mind: see you at the tables!