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UK Games Expo Now World's 3rd Largest Tabletop Gaming Convention

UK Games Expo, with 16,500 unique attendees, just passed Origins (15,480 in 2016) for third place, behind Essen Spiel (174,000 turnstile in 2016) and Gen Con (60,819 in 2016), depending on what figure you use to measure it. The gap from Essen and Gen Con to those below it is pretty huge, while UKGE and Origins are pretty similar in scope. UKGE has been growing enormously every year - The last time I was there (before this year) it is was all in the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham. This time, it's spread to the N.E.C. It's starting to feel a bit like Gen Con - certainly like the Gen Cons of a few years ago.

ConventionUnique AttendeesTurnstileExhibitors
Gen Con60,819201,852500+
Essen Spielunknown174,000900+
UK Games Expo16,50031,000325
Origins Game Fair15,48052,561200


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This year's attendance figure was announced on stage by Tony Hyams of UKGE. Turnstile attendance was 31,000 (turnstile is just how many people went in - if you go into the trade hall a dozen times over the weekend, you get counted a dozen times, which means that a longer convention can have a lower unique attendance but a higher turnstile figure; unfortunately, Essen only releases the turnstile figure, so it's hard to find out its unique attendance). The Expo's figures in 2007 were just 1,200 attendees.

UKGE has quickly outgrown the Hilton, which was struggling to handle the capacity. Gen Con is in the centre of Indianapolis with tons of hotels, bars, and restaurants within walking distance. UKGE is away from the centre of Birmingham, so it's a taxi ride or the Hilton hotel bar (which is still the slowest and most frustrating bar in the world), and my hotel was several miles away.

It's great to see the UK gaming industry thriving so much, with the liked of Modiphius and Cubicle 7 leading the charge of the roleplaying game companies, and a vast assortment of boardgame and tabletop wargame manufacturers. It was also great to see Paizo over from the US with a strong trade floor presence. They were very approachable as always, even in the face of my inane ramblings (see EN World's coverage of the Starfinder demo) as well as my photos from my own experience of the game.

I think it's safe to say at this point that UKGE is one of the "must-do" events, especially if you're in the UK. If it keeps growing, it's going to become a major international event. I was there was a punter this year (in previous years I've gone to report for EN World, and next year we might have a booth for the 2000AD stuff, but nothing's set in stone yet) - actually, that was my first time ever at a gaming convention where I wasn't working in some capacity. No interviews, no ENnies, no booth of any kind, etc., so it was something of a new experience for me.

It'll be interesting to see what the new Pax Unplugged does in Philadelphia in November this year. It's also worth noting Italy's Lucca Comics & Games, which has around 271K turnstile, although it has an advantage in that comic conventions tend to be bigger than gaming ones. Penny Arcade's PAX shows (East and West) respectively drew 80,000 and 70,000 turnstile in 2017 and 2015. Something like San Diego Comic-Con reports unique attendance of 167,000 as of 2015, which rather dwarfs any tabletop gaming conventions!
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Badvoc

Explorer
One of the real highlights of the year for me and it's an event that is growing at a remarkable pace. Hotels around the NEC are already selling out for the 2018 dates and there was talk of adding a third hall (Hall 2) for next year.

I'd like to see more publishers taking a leaf from Paizo and running RPG demos in the trade hall though. It seems a shame to have nearly all of the RPGs closeted away from the wider public.
 

I spent most of my time running the Games on Demand room at Expo, so was in the hilton most of the time

The torrent of people all over was insane, but everyone had good things to say. Didn't feel over crowded at all on our end.
 



Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I wonder how long it can stay where it is with that growth? For me, the hotel situation was close to a deal breaker - not even being able to have a shower after the sweaty, hot trade hall closed and the social stuff begun was unpleasant, but my hotel was miles away. It's not like you can just easily go elsewhere, either, unless you like walking down dual carriageways and roundabouts.
 

DragonMan

First Post
So these are all open games? You can join any table that you want? I suppose the characters are pre-generated.

I'm not seeing the fuss. Even if it turns out to be the best game you ever played, there's no continuity. The convention will be over in a few days and that great DM will be gone.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
So these are all open games? You can join any table that you want? I suppose the characters are pre-generated.

I'm not seeing the fuss. Even if it turns out to be the best game you ever played, there's no continuity. The convention will be over in a few days and that great DM will be gone.

Huh? Did you mean to respond to a different thread?
 

Badvoc

Explorer
I wonder how long it can stay where it is with that growth? For me, the hotel situation was close to a deal breaker - not even being able to have a shower after the sweaty, hot trade hall closed and the social stuff begun was unpleasant, but my hotel was miles away. It's not like you can just easily go elsewhere, either, unless you like walking down dual carriageways and roundabouts.

It will be interesting to see the details of the plan to hold events in nearby hotels other than the Hilton next year. I'm assuming it's going to be dedicated open gaming space and they won't be relocating any of the RPGs or entertainment events, but we'll see. There's a desperate need for more open gaming space after the trade hall closes - a larger second hall next year, along with some additional tables at the Genting etc. should alleviate that somewhat. It's only going to get worse as attendance figures continue to rise.

Grabbing rooms on-site is becoming very difficult / expensive now and there's no way for the organisers to magic up more space on that front. As great as the Expo is, I wouldn't consider spending the full three days there if we couldn't book a hotel within a 5-10 min walk of the venues. Having young kids in tow means I need the option of a quick retreat when they start to get tired!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Grabbing rooms on-site is becoming very difficult / expensive now and there's no way for the organisers to magic up more space on that front. As great as the Expo is, I wouldn't consider spending the full three days there if we couldn't book a hotel within a 5-10 min walk of the venues. Having young kids in tow means I need the option of a quick retreat when they start to get tired!

I was several miles out. And the Take That concert on Sat night meant I had to walk about a mile to get my taxi due to the police exclusion zone.
 

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