There was a time when certain events or establishments were only frequented by a select number of people. Entry was strictly guarded and only very few people were allowed in. Clubs, casinos, conferences, exhibitions and conventions, to name but a few, were usually small and comprised solely of people who were either already members, who could pay a lot of money or more simply, who knew about it at all. Enter the digital and consumeristic era and that barrier inched lower and lower every day. Not only could we travel to destinations because airfare is cheaper AND because we got notified about them in our inbox, but sometimes we could visit them virtually. We stream product launches and talks, we take virtual classes and play at online casinos. But most importantly, we formed global communities – and that is how our story begins.
Just over two decades ago, gaming conventions were peripheral events attended by maybe a few handful of hard core fans to celebrate their passion for computer games, cosplay or any other games related topics that sounded at the time rather futuristic and looked upon as reserved for true nerds and couch potatoes. Nowadays, it is one of the most common spare time activities and as we’ve seen above, it’s never been easier to play all kinds of games online.
What a difference a few decades can make. Barely enough to fill a conference room in a hotel, these events were designated geeks-only gatherings where nerds would divulge in some strange habits that only they could understand. However, the quick technological progress in the last 20+ years has led to a surge in the number of conventions as well as seen existing ones exponentially increasing their visitor numbers. The best example is Comiket or, as initially known, Comic Market with its first convention in 1975 in Tokyo counting just 600 attendees, swelling to over 500,000 in 2017.
I remember fondly my first encounter with computer games in the mid-80’s where we vividly played on a C64 computer the pixelated Decathlon game from Activision with giant joysticks, all running from an equally giant diskette. It kept me and my friends superbly entertained for hours on end, only interrupted by the occasional breakdown of a joystick, something the game was notoriously known for. Especially the final 1,500 meter race saw us ending exhausted at the finish line since a permanently fast shaking of the joystick was needed to accelerate the runner. Just like in real life, we would slow down towards the end of the race because our fingers grew tired, only to try and get to a final push and cross the finish line in first place. Needless to say, we were regularly beaten by the computer.
It wasn’t until a decade later, when I was nursing my left knee after a major surgery, that I had my second serious period of playing computer games. This time it was thanks to a Nintendo console from my little nephew that came complete with the extremely popular Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda games. The four weeks I was bed-bound passed in a flash with countless hours between physiotherapy and after-surgery check-ups spent to improve my scores on Mario or beating the final monster on Zelda.
Even today, a number of competitions take place globally and attract millions of gamers. They're full of madness, allowing fans to take part in panels and workshops, preview upcoming games releases, rummage through jam-packed booths and even the hot chance to take a picture with their favourite writer, actor, hero or designer.
The biggest conventions though have evolved into huge marketing events for the entertainment industry, where virtually every major publisher and developer shows their face and connects with their most avid supporters and fans. Take the Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, which grew from just over a few dozen companies in 2009 to over 900 companies from 54 countries in 2017. Open to the general public, well over 300,000 fans and wannabees roamed the convention floors at the last event to quench their thirst and passion for anything related to computer games and software in digital entertainment.
Meanwhile, anime and manga conventions have grown to become the most popular and largest conventions in Asian countries, mainly in Japan and Singapore. The world of animated comics has seen numerous writers and designers to become overnight heroes and shoot to unimaginable levels of stardom with dazzling sparks and such a huge fanfare that the comic heroes even found their way into online slots.
Today, the millennial digital era plays host to countless conventions and fairs as the faced-paced development in the entertainment industry needs to keep its current and future fan base updated and well informed in order to successfully launch their latest games and products. Just as vast is the number of conventions where all sorts of merchandise and collectors’ items are traded between geeks and today’s newly acquired fans.
Worth mentioning is the fact that those early geek-only designated conventions from the 20th century place well in the top list of biggest fan conventions worldwide. Take a look at our latest infographic with the current TOP15 chart for The World’s Biggest Fan Conventions.