And so ends ECTS 2000, the first ECTS of the new millenium, or the last of the old for the pedantic amongst us. Three days of madness, exhaustion and the overwhelming cacophany of thousands of conversations and the buzzing of hundreds of badly adjusted and overheating computers, consoles and outsized video screens.
Today we take a look back at the event to see how it compares to previous shows, what the highs and lows were, and where ECTS goes from here...
Once again ECTS was defined as much by who didn't attend as who did. Regular absentees Activision and Infogrames were again missing in action, as were Electronic Arts, who instead held an extravagant party at their opulent European headquarters in nearby Chertsey.
Joining the stay-at-homes list this year were Eidos and Acclaim. Eidos have something of a reputation as the booth meisters, with spectacular open stands featuring their full range of games and (apparently more importantly) hordes of scantily clad women. Last year they retreated into the back rooms, sealing themselves off from the world and only allowing in writers from print magazines and big corporate websites like IGN and GameSpot. This year they failed to turn up at all, instead mailing out a new digital press kit for us to pick over. Which is a pity.
Acclaim were here in force last year, with a big stand right in front of the main entrance. Since then they have suffered something of a collapse, with most of their UK development teams shut down or reshuffled. Recently news emerged that they had cancelled their two Ferrari motor racing games, which had been set to appear on PC and Playstation 2, with unannounced Xbox and GameCube ports also planned. A source at Acclaim Studios London told us that the games were cancelled because the company could no longer afford to pay the hefty license fees for using the Ferrari name.
In fact, both companies have had serious financial difficulties recently and are at the center of take-over rumours, so perhaps it's not surprising that they didn't put in an appearance at the show this year, as stands are rather expensive. Some things never change though - this time last year Eidos were rumoured to be on the verge of a buy-out by Havas, whereas this year half a dozen other companies are tipped to be about to take them over...
The departure of Eidos and Acclaim left more room for the rest though, and several new publishers put in an appearance. Eon Digital are one name that we haven't heard before, but with promising games like Z2 and Airfix Dogfighter on the horizon, things are certainly looking good for them.
Another new name at ECTS 2000 was CDV, a big German publisher which has just moved into the UK market. Their World War II real-time strategy game Sudden Strike was looking great, with vast numbers of detailed units on screen, and the ability to blow up pretty much anything in the game with air strikes and mobile artillery. Cossacks also looked promising, with a rather Age of Empires feel to it, and again sporting the ability to have literally hundreds of units on screen at once without any noticeable slow-down.
Meanwhile French publisher Microids was undergoing something of a renaissance, with an impressive line-up including motor racing game Master Rallye and the stunning space-bound strategy game FarGate - a far cry from the rather baffling selection of games they have typically shown in recent years. Perhaps we could see Microids joining fellow French success stories Infogrames, Cryo and UbiSoft at the top in future.
ECTS seems to be developing an identity of its own at last, shaking off the "European E3" label that it has had in the past. In fact, it's all becoming rather .. serious. Private back room showings were the norm rather than the exception this year, with few of the PC publishers maintaining large open stands.
3DO, Novalogic, SCi, Sierra, and Take 2 were all disappearing into closed stands, and Virgin even went as far as to have an uniformed doorman to stop anybody without an appointment from getting into their back room. Last year their stand in the Pillar Room had been a hellish chapel, filled with under-age fanboys, and filled with a haze of sweat and smoke. This year it was an invitation-only haven of air-conditioned luxury, with free drinks and nibbles for visitors. A big improvement all round!
One side effect of this mass exodus to the back rooms is that booth babes are becoming something of an endangered species in the UK, with only a scattering of scantily clad women and rubber-suited men wandering around. Funcom scored top marks for their massive Brute suit, an eight foot tall giant lumbering around the balcony at the show, while Erotica Island turned heads with their pink bikini-clad girls. Empire also get bonus marks for their Little Bo Peep and sheep, wandering around outside the pub which they had taken over as their base for the duration of the show.
Jo Wood had some cave girls on hand at their stand, as well as a life-size model of a big blue guy holding a club - we're not quite sure what was going on there... The Freeloader girls were my personal favourites though, if only because they were handing out free bottles of mineral water on the Tuesday - much appreciated!
The consoles had a big presence at ECTS once again though, with Nintendo this time outdoing themselves with a double-decker stand that dominated the center of the main hall at the Olypmia exhibition center that hosted ECTS. GameBoy Colour and N64 games rubbed shoulders with the new GameBoy Advance system, although sadly their next generation console wasn't on show.
Sony also had plenty on show as well, with both the portable PSOne console and their cutting edge new Playstation 2 present in abundance in the "tunnel of love" they had built off the side of the main hall. Meanwhile Sega were again absent, although several other publishers were displaying Dreamcast titles, including Half-Life at Sierra's stall and Stupid Invaders at UbiSoft.
Finally Konami had arrived at ECTS in style this year, with a compact but impressive stand dominated by a massive video screen that played trailers for their various games throughout the show, much to the annoyance of neighbours Hasbro, as one end of their stand was constantly over-run by people trying to catch a glimpse of the Konami videos...
ECTS was rather subdued this year, but in a way this was a good thing. We got much more business done and saw far more games than in previous years, and the air-conditioned back rooms were a welcome change from the over-crowded, brightly lit public sweat pits of previous years. The disappearance of Eidos and Acclaim was disappointing, but it did give us a chance to meet a whole new range of smaller developers and publishers, many of whom had far more interesting titles to demonstrate. Tomb Raider 5? Who gives a damn?
With any luck the tide will start to turn next year anyway, as ECTS 2001 will be housed at the brand new ExCel venue in the London Docklands - this should prove to be a great improvement over the ageing Olympia, and the improved facilities may entice back some of the big publishers. Either way, ECTS 2000 was a big success for EuroGamer, and we all had a great time there. And at the end of the day, that's what counts...