setting up the Grey Goo booth at Gamescom

E3 is often described as the video game industry’s biggest show, but there’s a knowing wink to that label – a collectively agreed upon piece of advertising. E3 is the “biggest show” because the highest profile reveals happen there, carrying on the legacy of powerful American media and retail chains.

But Cologne’s Gamescom is literally the industry’s biggest event, drawing in 340,000 visitors and over 600 exhibitors in 2013 – numbers that have, by all accounts, increased in 2014. With a huge blowout of indie titles one might easily miss, Valve in attendance (but sadly no Half-Life 3 news), and gamer-friendly keynotes by both Sony and Microsoft, this year’s show has proved a wonderful counterpoint to E3 that we’d argue is a much better representation of the people who make and play games.

As gaming has democratized, producing an era in which social media, crowdfunding, and video streaming can drive a game’s success, it comes as little surprise that one of its most democratic conventions has flourished, too. If E3 is about winning approval from the industry gatekeepers, Gamescom has revealed that those walls no longer exist.

And Gamescom shines in a way that isolated southern California can’t: geography. Reasonably accessible to nearly every nation in Europe, Gamescom draws a multinational, multicultural crowd of both game makers and players, eclipsing even its community-focused peers like PAX. As European game makers reach increasingly global audiences, Gamescom will further demonstrate the power video games can wield when everyone is invited to play.

None of which is to say that it doesn’t behoove the gaming community to have different shows for different purposes, whether they serve journalists, developers, or general audiences. Nor that shows like PAX and Comic-Con and Gamescom aren’t also riddled with the same exhausting blitz of lights, noise, and salesmanship as any other big trade show.  IGN’s Brian Albert shows us there’s an urgent need for efficient crowd and booth distribution here.

Albert sums it up in that same tweet – “Gamescom is really cool but also a DISASTER.” Gamescom 2014 is a show that doesn’t quite know how big it really is: enjoying incredible influence while maintaining a genuine play-focused attitude and communal draw. It’s an image we might consider sharing with the rest of the world more often.