Later this week, after a Covid-enforced hiatus, the Tokyo Game Show will reopen its turnstiles for the first time in three years: a massive 1,883-booth trade show convened in the belief that filling a hangar with humans is the best way to sell the idea that the future of gaming is virtual.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, the once powerful and inescapable TGS seemed to have realized it had a problem with relevance. It wasn’t because Japan’s creativity and power were waning (although some interpreted that as such), but because an event that once featured the industry’s cutting edge had been sidelined in a world where so much marketing, gossip, trailers and leaks are happening online.
At first glance, the challenge of the revived TGS – the need to meaningfully catch up with everything that has happened since 2019 and to state authoritatively where things are heading next – seems orders of magnitude higher.
The changes to the game over the past three years have been seismic, and the next few seem even less predictable. The delicious possibility, according to game analysts and industry executives, is that it will be the most attended, most international and most revealing TGS for many years.
Part of this may stem from a sense of urgency and historic opportunity.
During the pre-vaccination months of the pandemic, a locked down world spent more time playing or watching games. Mobile gaming was a particular beneficiary, but it was the general heyday of screen time for consoles and PCs, and to bring new gamers into the fold.
It’s no surprise that this phase of divorce from normalcy has seen the industry get ahead of itself: first with the promise of smooth streaming games like Google and Amazon, then the metaverse. , where the virtual worlds are permanently open for visits. of our sofas or gaming chairs.
However oversold these promises are, a more immediate question is whether, post-pandemic, the industry can expect hours of play to see a structural increase. In a report released ahead of TGS, Goldman Sachs analyst Minami Munakata says they likely will.
Global increases in labor productivity have increased people’s free time over the past two decades, with average annual working hours per person in OECD countries falling by around 5%, from 1,825 during this period. Covid-19 caused them to fall even more sharply in 2020, but while they recovered somewhat the following year as economies reopened, they remain suppressed. If, as Munakata suspects, remote working is now well established, that should keep the free time levels higher.
These hours will inevitably be the target of fierce competition from other forms of entertainment. But the TGS 2022 floor plan, which is far more densely and diversely populated with exhibitors than it was in 2019 and before, suggests an industry gearing up to fight for every available minute.
The list of exhibitors, which includes companies from Chile, Malaysia, Finland and others outside the traditional game-making nations, reveals an industry yearning for deeper globalization.
The strong presence of Chinese game companies at this year’s TGS, said veteran games analyst David Gibson, is particularly noteworthy. As tempting as tales of decoupling may be, Chinese companies have been very good at localizing their products to sell in the massive Japanese gaming market. At the same time, he said, they will look to TGS as a gateway to securing the kind of Japanese content that will end up selling so lucratively in China.
Another important feature of TGS will be the presence – in one of the largest stands – of YGG Japan, a company specializing in the emerging field of blockchain gaming where a large number of casual players can, in theory, make money. by playing and then selling on a decentralized platform, the assets they acquire in-game.
But the key, in all of this, is not the individual exhibitors and the products that each will show, but the creation of a moment when a global industry can be physically in the same place at the same time – even for an industry that shows up as a provider of immersive online worlds where none of that is necessary.
While it’s true that TGS bricks and mortar seemed to have been on a long slide into irrelevance, it now looks likely to prove just how strong the pent-up demand is for large-scale, offline assembly of contacts. shopping, ideas, and the chance to play a game or two.