Whether game fairs or even larger events can take place in 2021 depends largely on the pandemic situation. Even if the largest vaccination campaign in the history of Germany is currently underway, this is no guarantee that the coronavirus can be contained to such an extent that conventions and game fairs can be held in 2021. Nevertheless: some organizers have set dates. What will become of it? Only time will tell.  

If we were to just go according to the current Corona status and trust our gut feeling, the assessment for game fairs in 2021 is: They will not take place - at least not in the known formats. The number of coronavirus infections is currently stagnating, but the Robert Koch Institute has the R value at over 1. The result: increasing numbers of infections, if it stays that way. It could therefore be another bad year for the event industry, despite the increasing number of vaccinations. Nevertheless, some organizers are hoping for improvement and are setting dates, most recently the EGX 2021 in London.

Game fairs 2021: fans hope, realists turn their backs on it

The organizers of EGX 2021 in London have set a date for the convention in October. The event will take place on the first weekend of the month. Should, because at the same time as the announcement of the date, the EGX team points out that the event will only be held if it is safe to do so. The convention is announced with “optimism and security in mind”. Some fans are at least skeptical about the plans, but still hope that the event can take place.

In this country, too, optimism still reigns. The organizers of the "Play it!" in Duisburg set an alternative date for the summer a long time ago, and have not adjusted it to date - although the probability of a trade fair being held in the summer is rather low. Around 125.000 people are currently vaccinated against the corona virus every day in Germany on average, the focus is still on vulnerable groups and the associated professional groups. It is gradually being expanded, and vaccinations in medical practices are also being discussed from around April. If the plan works, there will be around two months until the “Play it!”. Even if everything went perfectly, a trade fair would be included most recently around 14.000 visitors hardly feasible - at best with recourse to a strict hygiene concept and high safety regulations, and then probably with a fraction of the visitors and significantly higher entrance fees in order to be able to finance the measures. And whether fans and publishers embark on the adventure is a completely different story.

So it doesn't look really good for the summer game fair. Even the experienced organizers of Gamescom have recently asked carefully, what fans would be willing to pay and under what conditions they would flock to the Cologne exhibition halls. Central was the question of the pain threshold for the ticket price after a possible increase. Hardcore fans will probably hardly shy away from higher costs. Whether that also applies to the average visitor, however, is another matter. If you look at a family trade fair like “Play it!” under these conditions, it seems anything but realistic that more than a handful of visitors would make their way to the smelting works.

If a trade fair takes place at all, it will probably have a significantly lower number of visitors. Photo: Volkmann

If a trade fair takes place at all, it will probably have a significantly lower number of visitors. Photo: Volkmann

The fact that organizers do not judge 2021 to be a safe event year was already shown by the early cancellation of the CCXP Cologne, which did not take place last year. This is bitter for the organizing team, after all, the fair only celebrated its debut in 2019. At the toy fair in Nuremberg, you drive on two tracks. After the online premiere of the “BrandNew” offshoot, the on-site trade fair is to take place in the summer. Even if this is purely a trade fair, the requirements are similar to those for the "Play it!". In addition, the toy fair is significantly more international. Which brings another critical factor into play. Just because the vaccination campaign in Germany could pick up speed in the next few weeks does not mean that this also applies to other countries. A significant part of the visitors would have to stay away or could at best participate under conditions that have not yet been determined: A vaccination card? Then an international one with transnational regulations? Until summer? Unlikely. Now, games fair could generally only be aimed at the German audience. The question then remains, is it worth it?

SPIEL'2021 in Essen might have chances - like the aforementioned EGX 2021 in London - due to the late date in 21. According to Merz-Verlag, the game fair will take place from October 14th to 17th. It is currently quiet there, the last Facebook entry is from November 2020. The hibernation at Friedhelm Merz Verlag is still unusually long: Although it is still early in the year, they are probably currently waiting for the latest developments in terms of corona numbers, vaccinations and Forecasts in order to be able to make an assessment. Last year you had digital edition of the international game days announced in May. So there is still time for initial or even tangible information about SPIEL'21. However, given the current pandemic, it is at least unlikely that over 200.000 people will come together in exhibition halls in autumn. If you exclude the international audience, you might also have to exclude those publishers that operate internationally but focus on foreign-language (English-speaking) customers. Would that leave enough top-class exhibitors? Would everyone also participate? The publishers are probably also cautious, after all they have to protect their employees from possible health risks - and, in case of doubt, allow them to attend a trade fair. Would that then be plannable with sufficient certainty?

The following already applies to CCXP Cologne 2021: The trade fair is taking a break this year as well. Photo: Volkmann

The following already applies to CCXP Cologne 2021: The trade fair is taking a break this year as well. Photo: Volkmann

Significantly higher hygiene and safety rules would also be implemented at SPIEL'21, possibly through refinancing through higher entrance fees or stand fees. In addition, there are hotel bookings from arriving fans. Are hotels allowed to open in autumn? If so: to what extent? Would you risk an early booking as a fan and possibly be left with the costs, should SPIEL'21 have to be canceled because the pandemic situation worsened again at the beginning of the cold season despite the vaccination? What would the contact regulations look like in autumn at all? How could you regulate and control that at a trade fair? Do you have to do without gaming tables?

Currently, trade fair planning for organizers probably consists of hundreds of variables. Nothing is certain, little is really predictable. Is that sufficient as a basis for holding the event? Probably not for two reasons: The organization costs money. And: last year was not a lucrative one for organizers. You probably won't take another risk. How difficult financial considerations are is shown by the example of BerlinCon, which the pandemic hits particularly hard as a convention is still young. The makers had via Crowdfunding asked for support and received it: And yet everything currently looks as if the Con in Berlin could not take place this year either - at least not in the summer.

There is a lot of discussion on social media. Some fans are hoping that at least a game fair could take place in autumn, but these are probably more wishes after the long time with few events. Others assess the situation realistically to pessimistically. Even 2023 is named as the earliest event year. In the end, organizers will probably only have the choice between cancellation or online trade fair.

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