Doug's Tokyo Game Show 2014 Experience

"What is this game and why are so many people lining up to play it?"

The home of the Tokyo Game Show, the Makuhari Messe convention center and entertainment complex, isn’t even in Tokyo. Instead, it’s off in the suburban wilds east of Chiba -- somewhere between Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo International Airport Narita. Hell, the Makuhari Messe area also contains a baseball stadium that plays host to the Chiba Lotte Marines, one of Japan’s 12 major baseball teams.

Following the crowd from the train station, to the line outside, through the show floor and finally on the ride back, the sense of constantly being in a crowd permeated my expo impressions. As somebody who’s read about the Tokyo Game Show as far back as Electronic Gaming Monthly, going to the show was the fulfillment of a small personal dream. However, it was a little bit of a letdown.

Let’s be clear: It’s an extraordinary show. The Tokyo Game Show is one of the big three for games, alongside E3 and Gamescom. And TGS was just as bright and overbearing as its fellow expos, with a show floor that's loud, bombastic and almost overwhelming in how much can be seen. It was amazing to walk in and be greeted by Electronic Arts’ mysterious Battlefield Hardlinepolice truck, along with the two-story monument to PlayStation in Sony’s booth, the massive inflatable Monster Hunter dragon at Capcom and so much more. It’s even more impressive in person than in pictures.

Unfortunately, the marketing materials were what I spent the most time with. Dry-erase boards displayed the wait time for a demo, and most of the major titles had an hour-plus queue. I believe that Sony put out a sign for Bloodborne  saying “We’re not allowing anybody else in line for the day, sorry!,” with about four hours left in the show. Microsoft’s booth became a place to see third-party games thanks to a much-shorter wait, but even then, Evolve had a two-and-a-half hour line on the final day.

There was more than just the booths, though. As a secondary location inside the show, the TGS merchandise area was astounding. Square Enix had not one, but two separate merchandise booths; music sales alone made up one of them. TGS merch was vast and varied: limited-edition items lined the shelves (and were quickly purchased), and, as I later heard, in the cosplay area below a stand sold white hoodies with the Dreamcast logo. I missed them, sadly.

There were also unique booths lined up next to the big publishers, including a "romance game corner," specific booths for the Taiwanese and Swedish game industries and a larger indie booth (sponsored by Sony) that featured plenty of unique mobile and PC games to try. Plus, besides the developers more familiar to Western fans, there were also plenty of mobile-specific publishers: DeNA, Gree, BushiMo, and more.

Booth babes have been on the wane at American game shows, but they are still in full force in Japan. Also in full force: the herd of dudes with cameras ready to take pictures of them.

Booth babes have been on the wane at American game shows, but they are still in full force in Japan. Also in full force: the herd of dudes with cameras ready to take pictures of them.

While this was my first year at TGS, Tyler, one of our editors, has gone before. When I told him how early I was heading in, he sounded pretty dismayed in his response: “What are you going to see? What will you do? You don’t need that much time,” he said, which I blithely ignored. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t rushed or that I didn’t miss anything.

Unfortunately for me, he was right.

Truly, unless you’re set on playing something specific and make time to stand in line, there's not much do at TGS. The show floor is huge, but the staff aren’t too keen on people lingering to watch gameplay as others play the demos. I got scolded for this in Microsoft’s booth twice. Some dude even berated me in English. The only other source of entertainment I found was playing photographic Pokémon with booth babes. While there are still a lot of booth babes at TGS, there are even more guys ready to take their pictures -- even if they're not doing anything especially unique. Microsoft had women in jeans and white button-up shirts standing near posters of their upcoming games, and these women still had crowds taking their pictures. The lines are too long to play a ton of games, but if you don’t stand in any lines, it’s hard to find things to fill up your day.

Compared to the PAX experiences I’ve had, Tokyo Game Show felt limited in its scope. If the PAX show floor is too busy, you can head to any number of free-play rooms, panel speeches and so on. As for TGS, the entire experience is the show floor.

The lines are too long to play a ton of games, but if you don’t stand in any lines, it’s hard to find things to fill up your day.

I hate to admit that my criticism is so harsh. I’m glad I could experience the show, especially now as a resident of Tokyo, but I wished my time was more fulfilling. Had I gone on a press-only day, where the lines are much shorter and the whole floor is less crowded, I might have a different opinion on TGS. Taking that a step further: I wish I had the time and connections (and liver) to enjoy the ‘shadow’ TGS that happens when tons of expats fly-in to cover the show and make merry at various izakaya-style restaurants in the Tokyo area. While I'm wishing for things, I also wish I had a magic No Lines, Please badge to get me priority access -- no questions asked.

But I don't have that kind of power or access, so I waited in one line (for Winning Eleven 2015 for 20 minutes) and spent a lot of time wandering around the show floor trying to take it all in. It was fun, but I hope next year's Tokyo Game Show is more than just lines and merch.