Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sony Gamer's Day 2012 in Saudi Arabia

On the 17th of October, the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center (RICEC) played host to the fifth annual Sony Gamer's Day. I managed to attend the first day and get an overall impression of the event. I apologize in advance about the article being more about the cultural phenomenon of the convention and less about the actual games. Also, forgive the poor quality photos because I had to take them with my cellphone camera.

First, let’s get the good out of the way. The move to RICEC, even if only a single area was rented out from the several that are available, was a huge step up from the tiny hotel floor space of TGXPO. The convention space was a nice 48x75 meters room with several games getting multiple demo stalls. Entry to the convention was free but required a simple Eventbrite registration which entitled you to a free PSN Plus subscription. Despite being a Sony-only event, the lineup of upcoming games was considerably more impressive than the minimal offerings from last year, including but not limited to: Tomb Raider, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, Hitman Absolution, Assassin’s Creed 3, WWE ’13, Little Big Planet Karting, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Wonderbook, Epic Mickey 2, Ni no Kuni, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. We also got two guests this time in the form of head Tekken producer Katsushiro Harada and former wrestler Mick Foley, who were here to promote the newest games in their respective franchises.

Unfortunately, while this all sounds great in theory, the execution is where things went downhill. I arrived at the exhibition center half an hour after the convention started and met up with a friend. Once again the organizers were overwhelmed by the incredible amount of attendees who swarmed around the entrance. It turns out that about an hour earlier people started showing up and the exhibition staff discovered that the system for reading the registration tickets’ QR code had crashed. Eventually, the crowds got fed up of waiting and forced their way past the paltry security and into the convention. The exhibition floor of course quickly filled up and the organizers were forced to close the doors to prevent more people from entering. It didn’t take long of course for some of the crowds to get really rowdy. Banging repeatedly on the doors, busting locks and breaking part of the gate partition are just some of the assorted acts of vandalism that went down.

When we finally managed to get in after the security gave up, things weren’t that much better off inside. Maneuvering through the crowds was a chore, and the staff was forced to cut down demo playtime significantly to allow as much people as possible. M-rated games were in enclosed areas to allow some form of age control over who gets to try them, but that policy was only loosely enforced, to say nothing of the fact that the Tomb Raider demo machines were Xbox 360’s! Dumber still was how several of the fighting games being demoed on the floor were only being assigned one controller, which is ridiculous and narrow-minded when you consider that TGXPO allowed two players to try out Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and the demo of Street Fighter vs Tekken.

When the time came to inquire about Harada’s scheduled appearance we were met with more disappointments. Harada had left early after being rushed by an overwhelming swarm of people, causing any hope I had to get a photo with him to go up in smoke. Instead I had to suffer through people crowding around obnoxious local and out of town Youtube personalities.

It didn’t take long for upper management to finally get fed up with the chaos and had all the displays shut down two hours before the scheduled time, ending the first day of SGD 2012 with a miserable whimper.

The next day of the convention began early morning and several people reported that things went a bit smoother. Unfortunately, the chaos erupted once again around the evening and went full swing when Mick Foley arrived. The man barely stuck around for twenty minutes before leaving in a huff amidst a large crowd of insane fans, though a friend of mine did manage to get him to sign a belt so at least someone got something out of this mess. By the time I had arrived, the place was already closed four hours ahead of schedule. The following vids speak for themselves:

The embarrassment didn’t end there. On top of the laughable management, there were multiple reports of display PS3’s being stolen and a Mustang displayed on the show floor having its windshield broken. The biggest stroke was the cancellation of the women-only third day, which upset the female gaming population quite a bit until GCON took over and reorganized it into two exclusive women days in November, with the stipulation that no one would be allowed to attend both days.
It’s hard to determine exactly why things got ridiculously out of hand compared to TGXPO. Was it the more notable and open location of RICEC? Was it the high profile guests? Was it the early preview of Black Ops 2? Either way it’s a harsh lesson for Sony’s handlers in the region that they would do well to learn from.

1 comment:

  1. Today's generation takes gaming quite seriously and this is one of the reasons behind such a rush in the Gamers Day. There are gamers from all over the world I think.