Thursday, May 30, 2013

A slighly grumpy post about UK Games Expo

I swung into UK Games Expo on Sunday for a quick game of Achtung Cthulhu and a mooch around the trade halls. 

This was the first time it had moved from the Masonic Conference Centre and neighbouring hotel in Edgbaston out to the Hilton at the NEC. Word of the Gaming Gods is that they got 3,500 people along (most for 2-3 days) which is their best attendance yet.  

Good stuff: 
  • The Trade Halls and gaming rooms were a lot better laid out and easier to navigate than the previous venue (there was much less chance of your way being blocked by a marauding dalek). 
  • I was able to lay hands on a copy of Shock.
  • You could still check out board games to play-test in the bar (like this round of Pirates Cove)
  • Good family-friendly atmosphere
  • The USP of always being able to get into a game, whether RPG, board or wargames.
  • Being able to get there by train was much appreciated.

Not so good stuff: 
  • Food and drink prices ranging from expensive to rip-off, with punters shelling out upwards of £4 for a decent coffee or a pint at the main bar, which wouldn't have been so bad were it not for...
  • ... the comparison with previous years, where you could nip outside the con to a range of decent pubs and restaurants, even if you weren't straying more than 5 minutes walk away. 
  • Or go in search of cheap snacks according to means and timing.
  • General sense of soullessness endemic to the Hilton and surrounds made you long for the quirkiness of Apron 'n' Compass central.

The setting for a con matters, so while transferring Expo to the Hilton probably makes a lot of sense for the size of event it's become, it has lost quite a bit of its charm in doing so. 

I'm not sure if that was my last visit to the event, but I'd be reluctant to do more than a day in future. I wish the organisers well, but perhaps I'm not their target audience.


  1. Agreeing with the majority of your points about over-priced commodities & captive market syndrome, I would like to jump to the defence of Richard/Tony et al on their attempt to mitigate this by agreeing a subsidised canteen & bar with Hilton.
    Main meal nosh for £7 was fair & beer for £3.30 was grateful.
    The problem was that this bar shut at 9pm, that many gamers just went straight to the (understaffed) main bar - and then complain after about the prices- and the shortage of lounge seating (& early closure of some of the rooms containing seats/tables).

    Again- it's not a perfect solution to the extortion that Hilton employ, but it was a small attempt at succor that was appreciated.

    I did like the way that the organisers tried to make the move upwards in size & scope of the 24hr location by putting on Talks, Quizzes ...and even a mini-cinema to help occupy the Convention goers during & after the times that the Trade Hall shut.

    I still agree that the Con has lost some of the character that it had from its previous location; but that its an unfortunate side effect of the success they had in that they needed to enlarge from the previous location.
    I'm not sure what else they could do.

    But perhaps next year, Hilton will realise what some of Convention it is & have enough space & staff allocated to deal with the numbers.

    ....don't think they change their prices tho... ;)

  2. Food and drink prices were very silly. It's something that the Expo team are aware of (I know because I had a nice chat with John Dodd and Tony Hyams about it. Apparently Hilton had massively misunderstood the number of people likely to turn up - even though the Expo team tried to make them aware - and didn't have enough staff on!

    There was a cheaper "gamers" bar/food "court" but it was poorly stacked (meant to have a selection of beer but only had Becks) and still expensive - I partook of a flavourless jacket potato with beans and a can of Diet Coke which cost £4.50!

    On the plus side, the NEC was only a short walk away with a reasonably priced Subway inside (I had lunch there on the Saturday - must tastier and better value).

    I'm thankful though that I was in a hotel on the other side of the tracks (only physically thankfully ;)) where the beer and food was a third cheaper.

  3. No hypodermics in the toilet this year then? :-)

  4. Thanks all for the comments guys. As I said, there's still a lot I liked about Games Expo, and I agree with you that the organizers did an excellent job overall.

    But the venue ... just not my cup of tea. I worry that they've dealt with the problems of the previous location by going for its polar opposite.