On Saturday, January 31, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the Taipei Game Show (TGS). Let me clarify a few things before I get into the meat and potatoes of my experience. Firstly, this was the first game show/convention I’ve ever attended in person. I have watched streams and uploaded videos of many shows over the years such as E3, but this was the first one that I ever was asked to give an account of first hand. Because of that, there are a lot of assumptions and expectations I had going in based on what I’ve seen of American gaming expositions. For all I know, my expectations of American shows are not entirely realistic either because the videos and streams only ever give a small portion of what actually goes on at the shows. So, I will be making a number of comments based on certain preconceived notions that may or may not be completely accurate. Second, I do not speak Chinese fluently, so much of the information and occurrences at TGS went right over my head due to the language barrier. When reading about my experience at the TGS, please take that into account.
The first thing I noticed about TGS was the logistics of it all. This was the most convenient event ever. It took place in a very central location in Taipei that was easily accessible by public transportation. The building used for the event is literally on top of a subway station with one of the exits from the station leading right up to one of the entrances to the show. Entry was public, costing only $5.98 (200 NTD) for a one day pass. Tickets did not have to be purchased in advance and were readily available in the afternoon that I attended. This alone made the show superior to anything I’ve ever heard of in America. Let’s compare it to two fairly well known American gaming conventions: E3 and PAX East.
E3 is located at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Being originally from LA, I have first-hand experience of the general area. The Convention Center is one of the best locations in the city to hold an event like E3 because of its size. But it’s also horribly located and near impossible to reach in a manageable amount of time via public transportation. You essentially must have a car to attend the event. E3 is not open to the public even though it relies heavily on public viewership and participation via streams and Twitter. If somehow you do manage to be allowed access, the tickets will cost you between $795 and $995 depending on the date you pre-register for a three day pass. This literally means that without taking into account any other costs such as hotel and return travel, if TGS and E3 took place on the same day and you were already in LA, it would still be cheaper to fly to Taipei from LA and attend TGS. Additionally, it would also be less of a hassle to actually get into the show because again, it’s public access.
PAX East is much more in the realm of comparative reality to TGS than E3. It is a public event, but due to its size and the limited spaces available in its Boston location, tickets must still be purchased well in advance. Tickets are $50 for one day, which compared to $265 ($795/3) is amazing. The price is still about 836% higher than a ticket to TGS and I have no idea how convenient it is to get there because I’ve never been to Boston. As you can probably guess, I was very happy with how the logistics of attending TGS compared to American shows, but now let’s go inside the building.
The first thing I noticed when entering TGS was that I was greeted with swag. Upon entry I was handed a gift bag with a few posters, cards, brochures, and a bottle of water. Admittedly, I didn’t have much interest in any of the games being shown in the bag, because they were all Asian mobile app games that I had never heard of. But I was impressed by the fact that as soon as I walked through the door they were already trying to soften the $6 blow to my wallet, which wasn’t painful to begin with. It showed that I was appreciated as an active member of the gaming community taking time to attend the event instead of it being about them doing me a favor by allowing me to attend the event. Personally, I think that’s the kind of mentality that the United States gaming industry as a whole from developer to publisher all the way down to brick and mortar seller needs to get back to. Or work towards reaching if you believe that such a time never truly existed in that region of gaming.
Some things I quickly noticed upon entry were that TGS is not only about video games. While the area(s) was small, there were booths set up for board games and card games as well as general tech purchases such as computer parts and smart phone VR headsets. While I didn’t have any interest in these things personally, I appreciated the fact that many people did and that such things certainly had a place in a gaming event.
To my surprise, the largest presence at the show was actually held by mobile app games. Gigantic areas and displays were devoted to specific mobile apps that I’d never even heard of. Lines of people waited to try them out on provided smart phones and collect tons of swag including grab bags, blow up toys, and even sunglasses. I can admit that I personally still see mobile app games as casual gaming, but in Taiwan that is not their point of view. Mobile games are serious business for the gaming industry here.
Not surprisingly, PC gaming had a large presence at TGS as well. Companies like Intel had stage shows with matches featuring players of multiple races. Common component sellers to the region such as MSI and GIGABYTE had large displays where people could demo games on their products. I even saw a display allowing people to try out a specific Steam Machine from a company I wasn’t familiar with. Some current big budget games were available to try on PC such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but those weren’t the main focus of players. The aforementioned Steam Machine was running Portal 2. There was a gigantic display featuring more than 30 desktops allowing people to play a Navy Battleship game that I couldn’t even tell you the name of. PC gaming is huge in Taiwan, but it’s focused on completely different things than what’s currently selling in the West. I didn’t see any COD, LOL, any games commonly overhyped in America, or E-Sports games being displayed on PC. It just shows you how different the word gamer really is when you step away from the English speaking world.
Finally let’s get to console gaming. The very first and extremely surprising thing to me that I noticed at the console section of TGS is that only one console even had a presence. There were tons of different booths and displays for PlayStation related products. There was even a gigantic store setup just to sell PS4 and PS Vita products. You saw companies such as Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, and Bandai in full force. There was not a single XBOX ONE or Nintendo product present. No Wii U’s, no 3DS’s, no Halo, no Smash Bros. I mean literally nothing mentioned about either of those companies other than on posters displaying certain cross platform games such as The Division which has the common “available on these platforms” stamp at the bottom. And please let it be known that both companies do have a place in Taiwan. I could very easily go to a number of stores very near to where I live via subway and find tons of products, many of which aren’t available in the USA, for both Nintendo and XBOX consoles. But at TGS they were both non-existent. It was all PlayStation and they provided a lot of content.
PlayStation VR had a huge booth and a VIP lounge setup. The line was so long that they started handing out fast passes to come back and try it a specific time and even those were all gone more than four hours before the show closed for the day. Sadly I didn’t get to try it, but I did see a number of games being demoed for it such as a robot fighting arena shooter and an Until Dawn expansion. I’m still not convinced that VR isn’t just a gimmick, but at least at TGS, PlayStation appeared to be taking it very seriously.
PlayStation and affiliates like Ubisoft also had a number of booths set-up for other games to be used on the PS4. There was a huge focus on The Division, which even had a live action indoor game. It had such a long wait that I didn’t get to try it. Dark Souls III was available to demo on the PS4. Uncharted 4 multiplayer had 10 player matches running. I will say that it was basically identical to the beta if you tried it with the Uncharted Collection pass back in December, so they didn’t really show anything new with that particular game. There were a number of other PS4 games available to try for those 18 and older. The list included titles like Bloodborne: The Old Hunters, Dead or Alive Extreme 3: Fortune, Far Cry Primal, Uppers, and Attack on Titan. I chose to try AoT and it was very interesting. Anime art style and very challenging controls, but I was not unhappy with the final product. I will most likely end up buying that one.
If you didn’t want to play the adult content games, there was also a much larger PS4 area where you could play a number of indies such as The Tomorrow Children, Battleborn, and Mighty Number 9. Yes Mighty Number 9 does actually exist in a playable form on the PS4. This area also allowed you to try games like the upcoming Ratchet & Clank reboot, which played excellently, and Star Ocean 5. While this area did have a number of indies to try out, the general indie presence outside of mobile apps seemed very small. There was a very limited space called “Indie House” that allowed you to see a small list of independently developed projects, but for the most part it wasn’t being pushed the way American indies now seem to be. I will admit though that it’s a lot harder to tell what’s indie and what isn’t when you can’t read Chinese at TGS.
PlayStation is still working very hard to push the Vita in Taiwan. There were lots of PS4 displays, but for every PS4 setup there was also a Vita nearby running the same game if it was cross platform. Sadly though they didn’t get much attention. The PS4 displays all had long lines and the attendants were using timers to shuffle people through as quickly as possible, allotting 5 – 15 minutes a person depending on the popularity of the game. If you wanted to play anything on Vita, you could just walk up and play for as long as you wanted.
Bandai had its own gigantic display where you could demo Gundam Breaker 3 on both the PS4 and the Vita. Their booth was one of the coolest there because they had tons of large Gundam models including a full sized mech head. The game is not bad, but it didn’t wow me either. I only got to play the single player though, so maybe it’s more exciting in online multiplayer.
Probably the biggest and most popular PS4 game on display was Street Fighter V. This had a stage show with one of the male producers dressed as Chun-Li playing battles against the other hosts and members of the audience. There was a second smaller stage featuring matches fought by audience members. And then there was also a demo area where you could play against your own friends with the PS4 arcade pads. It’s a solid SF game. It didn’t wow me any more than the last one, but hardcore fans will not be disappointed. The crowds for that game made Dark Souls III look like a small, unknown indie for a niche audience.
It was very nice to see a lot of PlayStation footage for unreleased titles that I’ve had my eye on. Several minutes of Horizon Zero Dawn were on display and I will definitely be buying that game now. Detroit: Become Human by Quantic Dream was only displaying the trailer with content much the same as what was showed at Paris Games Week, but seeing it on a much larger and higher definition screen than my laptop really makes it look worth checking out. There were also booths for SEGA and a number of games focused on anime such as One Piece, but none of these things garnered much overall attention with the exception of the aforementioned Bandai booth.
Something I found really interesting was the type of swag given away at TGS. When I think of the stuff given away and more importantly desired by people at shows and events in the USA, I usually think posters, T-Shirts, backpacks, and other types of useful items like water bottles and to a lesser extent knick-knacks like key chains. AT TGS, none of these things were given out except some posters for the lesser known games. The most common items given away were pins, the ones you put on hats and jackets and stuff, and bags. I got tons of them. PlayStation gave out pins featuring their signature buttons (triangle, X, circle, square) at every booth. I got all four and a few doubles. I got pins for SFV and The Division as well. By bags I don’t mean backpacks or knapsacks. I mean actual paper and plastic bags that had designs from games on them. Lots of stickers and as well. I even got a PlayStation VR sticker. At face value this might sound cheap and I was personally underwhelmed because I was hoping for shirts, but the local Taiwanese people were feeling just the opposite. They loved the bags. They even went out of their way to get more of them. I saw two guys with four or five of the same plastic bag each. Even my girlfriend got really serious about collecting all the PlayStation button pins. These sorts of items are apparently the swag of choice in Taiwan. Developers are definitely getting off easy if that’s all the branding you need to get people excited about your game here.
Ultimately I greatly enjoyed Taipei Game Show. Even without being able to participate in the various contests and stage shows because of the language barrier, I still had an excellent experience with my fellow gamers from the other side of the world. A lot of things could be taken from this show to shows in the USA that would improve them considerably, though I would say the same is possibly true in the opposite direction as well. I will certainly plan to attend TGS again next year if I’m still living in the area.