Asia's largest gaming event, Tokyo Game Show, was bigger and better this year than ever before, boasting a record number of exhibitors from all over the world, and of all sizes, from indies of one developer through to the mega publishers Square Enix, Sony, SEGA and Koei Tecmo.
I have a lot of coverage planned for the weeks ahead, from previews through to interviews with significant developers. But I wanted to start things with a couple of immediate responses that I had to what I saw and did over the couple of days that I was there.
1) Anyone who questions TGS's relevance is doing it a disservice, and missing the point
There continues to be this perception among those in the west that TGS is irrelevant. After all, with all the big announcements being made at E3 and Gamescom, there's not much left for TGS, right?
But I find this to be a bad misreading of what TGS exists for. It's not there for companies to make the big announcements on what games they'll be releasing in the months and years ahead. Instead, it's very much a conference to track and shape the development of the games industry itself. Among the big booths there are innumerable smaller booths, where companies that offer key background services and support to game developers set themselves up. Another section is given over to developers from emerging Asia to encourage them to sub shoulders with the major publishers and form business contacts. TGS might not be the place where many games are announced, but the conversations that go on between developers and publishers at TGS assuredly shapes the games that get made... even if it all happens in the background and neither the mainstream games media nor the players ever quite realise it.
2) Mobile means more to Japanese players and its industry
I know this is something I've mentioned on numerous occasions before, but mobile games are taken far more seriously by Japanese players. They simply don't have the same reputation for being "casual" experiences or "money grabs" that they do here. This is partly because Japanese mobile games tend to be more involved and mechanically rewarding when compared to the mobile games developed by western developers, but it also has something to do with the Japanese mindset, who simply don't mind spending money on mobile games to get better value from them (the statistics back this up, showing that Japanese players are more likely to spend money on a free-to-play game than any other nation).
And in that context it's not surprising that the mobile developers and publishers have the same presence at TGS as the big blockbuster game developers. Because to the Japanese a game like Chain Chronicles is every bit as worthy as anything else from SEGA, and so on.
3) This year's indie section is the best I've ever seen at any conference
The quality and variety of indie games improves with every year, and at this year's TGS we saw a bit of everything, from poop racing (literally) through to a game billing itself as a "fourth person adventure" (I'll explain that one in a proper preview later).
It was also good to see Aussie developers this year, with quite a few of them in attendance, including the team responsible for the utterly divine Submerged, which I am inclined to think the Japanese will appreciate more than the western audiences did.
It was also notable that "PlayStation Loves Indies" flags were everywhere, and there was a definite weighting towards the PlayStation platform from those indies that were releasing their games on console. Sony's efforts in supporting indies is clearly paying dividends.
4) Virtual reality is really, REALLY, popular in Japan.
To get a go at the virtual reality booths, either at Sony or Oculus, you needed to get a "ticket" from the event, which would set out the time that you could come back and get the goggles on. By about 11am, all the day's allocation of tickets were gone. The lines of people to try these things out were obscene. Japan has a real love affair with virtual reality at the moment which borders on the ridiculous. I've not seen how people have been responding to VR in western conventions recently, but if you ever need proof that these current attempts at VR are on a course for commercial success, then a quick trip to Japan will convince you of that.
5) Sony really quite annoyed me
You won't be seeing coverage from Sony's booth or games from us this year. I only mention this because I know that some DDNet readers will otherwise wonder why there isn't any coverage, but unfortunately Sony's management of the event was nothing short of appalling. Prior to TGS I was told that there would be no access to the media private games booth this year. DDNet was given access the previous year, but apparently this year there was only room for one Australian journalist, and that went to someone else.
"Okay, fair enough," I said to myself, and proceeded to get to TGS this year two hours before the doors opened, so that I would be the first one through the door. I figured that I would simply rush on over to the Sony booth and play the games as a regular attendee. It was all going to plan and I was literally the first one at the Sony booth. Then I made the critical error of asking how I could get on the list to try the Hatsune Miku VR demo. One staff member bounced me to the next, who sent me to the opposite corner of the booth to where the VR headsets were, and there the staff tried to stick the Vita demo of Project Diva X on me, which I had already played at the Miku Magical Mirai expo, and was quite definitely not what I had requested to play. Finally I was handed over to someone who had a clue, who very politely explained to me the ticketing system for VR games.
By which point half an hour had passed of being bounced from one booth to the next, and the VR lineup was hours long, while the rest of the booth was filling quickly. Trying to salvage something of my extreme efforts that I had taken to actually play some damned Sony games, I moved over to an empty display, where there was no lineup, and a demo of the Bloodborne expansion playing. The staff watching over that one told me I needed to go and get a ticket and that was that. I just walked off.
So, no Sony coverage from me this year sadly. Luckily the rest of the booths were universally friendly and helpful, and I got to try out some great games. Aside from feeling like I wasted the effort in getting to TGS early, the rest of the day was a lot of fun, so stay tuned for plenty of coverage and previews in the weeks ahead!
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld