Leipzig's Games Convention is now in its fifth year, but it's only recently that the show - which covers an entire week in August - has risen to prominence. Last year Microsoft used its German press conference to announce the worldwide pricing for Xbox 360, surprising those of us who'd expected to find that out at X05. Perhaps they simply wanted to get it out of the way in time for pre-orders, but it still became a badge of honour for a show that typically just regurgitates E3 demos and plays host to regional announcements - like news of localised MMORPGs.
This year, partly buoyed by the knowledge of how well the Microsoft approach went down, and perhaps partly aware that, the Tokyo Game Show aside, Leipzig now represents the industry's main opportunity to court the press and public en masse, the vast majority of the big publishers have committed sizable budgets and impressive product line-ups. There will still be a lot of E3 overlap, but with the show in the ascendancy - and ideally positioned in the run-up to the Wii and PlayStation 3 launches - it could very well be a cracker.
Don't Mention The Spore
Games Convention is actually formed from two parts. The first of these, the GC Developer Conference, is happening now and concludes tomorrow - with speeches from the likes of Bill Roper and Peter Molyneux - while the show itself consists of one media-day, August 23rd, and four days of public exhibition between August 24th and 27th. Like E3, the show also plays host to a range of press conferences, most of which take place tomorrow - and they're not just opportunities for Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony to speak to us either, with Electronic Arts also among those planning to deliver addresses on the first day.
The main difference between the build-ups of the two big shows is that while E3 has generally been about first-looks and product announcements - particularly during the weeks preceding it - Leipzig is about consolidation, giving publishers the chance to show tightened demo versions and new trailers. In general terms, the show can't compare to E3 for scale, but it does provide a good barometer for public interest, and with the number of key developers present - Will Wright, Peter Molyneux, Gabe Newell, Jane Jensen and others - increasing year on year, there will still be plenty to talk about. We're certainly expecting to get a lot out of the many behind-closed-doors sessions mainly on the first day, during which the likes of EA, Take-Two and others will treat the press to hands-on and in-depth looks at key products. Not to mention Valve, who are promising a walkthrough of sections from Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2 in a look-but-can't-touch demo session for the press.
It won't all be away from the public's innocent eyes and hands though, with plenty to see and play on the show floor. Konami has made a big thing of its decision to demonstrate playable Xbox 360 code of Pro Evolution Soccer 6 for the first time, along with a trailer - presumed new - of the PlayStation 3's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Electronic Arts plans to let the public loose on Spore, while Capcom has hooked up a range of Lost Planet Xbox 360 pods to demonstrate the game's multiplayer component for the first time. Ubisoft will be doing likewise with Dark Messiah of Might & Magic on PC, and Splinter Cell: Double Agent on Xbox 360 - the latter playable in single- and multiplayer modes. Atari will have Neverwinter Nights 2 for the PC and the soon-to-be-released Test Drive Unlimited on Xbox 360 pods, and although it's not ready for the public or the press to go hands-on, the extremely promising Alone in the Dark will also feature in trailer form on next-gen.
Words of Adventure
But the real question for those of you who'll be watching from the Internet isn't whether Ubisoft's Horsez really is a gangster dressage crossover or whether the German localised version of Phoenix Wright will have us all yelling "EINSPRUCH!" It's whether Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will give us the sort of exciting news we all crave from these conferences. And on this the commentators are split. Some are working themselves up for big things (like a Nintendo Wii release date or price, or confirmed PlayStation 3 launch titles), while others decry the show as a parochial affair, and expect the conferences to fit more with the template of demonstrations, videos and regional announcements. The sort of folk who think Microsoft's 360 pricing announce was a one-off.
They're not exactly helped away from their scepticism by the attitudes of most publishers' UK offices, many of which claim to have little knowledge of what's going on. One PR told us in no uncertain terms that Leipzig was a big faff that nobody in his office cared about anyway, and they just left it up to the Germans, before remembering himself and adding that it should be a good show, though, honest, and that his games would be really worth playing. On the platform-holder front, there have been strong hints from the Microsoft and Nintendo camps about announcements - with big software reveals likely - but Sony UK has been unable to provide much info at all, suggesting that if there is to be a major PlayStation 3 or PSP breakthrough at the show, it's being orchestrated away from the regional offices, which could be telling.
On balance, we're expecting something in the middle. We're anticipating game announcements, definitely - better to announce projects to a captive audience than to fire off a press release during September or October, when most people would rather buy games than get interested in new ones - although these will perhaps be of a Western bent given the proximity of the show to TGS. At the least, the likes of Microsoft, who have their own X06 event to think about, will probably focus on already-announced games that we haven't heard a great deal about (what's happening with Castle Wolfenstein, for example?), and save some of their heaviest hitters for Barcelona. We're not expecting a new Halo 3 trailer, for example (although we write that mainly to tempt fate - in the hope they'll prove us wrong and give us two in two months).
The real winners, though, will probably be those who get to walk around the hall and go hands-on. And with the likes of Spore, Medieval II, Sonic and Monkey Ball Wii, Dark Messiah, Neverwinter Nights 2, Test Drive Unlimited, Virtua Tennis 3, Yakuza, Saint's Row, Pro Evolution Soccer, Crysis, Battlefield 2142 and Command & Conquer 3 kicking about - not to mention a new TrackMania, lurking quietly on Deep Silver's schedule - we'll be lucky if we get enough time for a single sausage. Worse still, we're probably not allowed to bring them back on the plane, either. Oh well - with things set the way they are, at least we can be sure there'll be next year.