In the baking 30 degree Kent sun the beaches of Margate are filling with sandcastle making children. But while this may be the traditional family fun day out, It's hard to imagine anyone would see the crowd of excited gamers at Play Margate and still believe that playing Video games is a reclusive hobby. There's a buzz of excitement in the air as cos-players mix with retro playing children. Behind them are parents wearing geeky t-shirts which proudly remind onlookers that video games have a long history and spans generations. Family fun days out have changed.
The success of this years Play Margate Gaming Expo is simply down to the fact that organisers Replay Events know this audience well and more importantly know what they have to offer to please them. In February this year, a similar event known as Geek came to Kent and for many it was a huge disappointment . There seemed to be the belief that the people attending only wanted to play Minecraft and buy Pop! Vinyl figures . The event boasted industry celebrities but unless you were a big fan of teenagers who make YouTube videos you wouldn't know who they were. Kojima, Miyamoto and Molyneux must have missed the train. Despite having run for a number of years, Geek in 2015 saw far less retro gaming than at previous years. Admittedly there were the more famous Super Nintendo, Mega Drives and PlayStation consoles for playing (along with some Atari 8-bit consoles and couple of Sega Master Systems) but there was no sign of any Commodore, Sinclair, Amstrad, or Acorn computers. Retro it seems was original Xbox and Playstation 2, which along with current consoles took up the majority of the show floor. As you left the event there was a board where attendees could stick stickers in different boxes to indicate what they would like to see more of in a future events. It's telling that there was no space left in the "More Retro Games" box and only a handful of stickers indicating a desire for "More Current Gen" .
Video games are no longer the pursuit of just children. Thriving retro communities exist too and theses average an age of 35. Many come to events like this to trade and buy games and consoles; appreciating that there's merit to touching and feeling a rarity before commuting to a big purchase. At February's Geek Expo though, trading stalls were few. To make things worth, with less competition many saw the opportunity to bump up the price of stock. That was of course if you could find the trading stalls, hidden in dark recesses of the expo to make room for more Current generation FPS stands. The fact that the crowds were around the retro sections rather than the modern games was a clear indication of what people had Flocked to see. It showed just how wrong Geek had got it.
Play Margate being a hit, shouldn't be a surprise. Replay Events are the go to company for this sort of gathering. They provided the consoles for the previous Geek festivals from 2012 to 2014 and are also responsible for the PLAY Expo and PLAY Blackpool. From walking in the door it's very obvious that there is an inherent love for old games as much as new. Console Passion's huge trading stall is the first thing you see and they are not the only people selling gaming goodies. From novelty geeky jewelry to rarer Japanese Famicom games there's many places to spend. Better yet, in the main it is fairly priced, certainly in line with current eBay prices. Of course unlike remote buying through eBay you get to freely talk to the traders and The benefit of seeing the stock can't be underrated (especially with retro seller's varying interpretation of "good quality"). Just getting the chance to buy and sell games wouldn't justify the cost of entry of course.
The big draw is the main hall, brimming with consoles and computers. Yes there's a Minecraft section, yes you can play Halo on an XBox One, but these if anything feel included to keep children amused while their parents play on the many legacy consoles. Vectrex machines sit alongside Amigas, Jaguars and Neo Geo consoles. The history of gaming seems to dictate the organisation of the room. Famous series are clumped together, allowing you to play a Star Wars game on one of six consoles spanning 30 years. Mario Kart's history is charted over 4 games & you can make Lara Croft leap in any one of three console generations. There's a Mario game playable on every home console Nintendo has made, and tragically you can also see Sonic's fall from grace along a single row on consoles.
PC gaming and minority Indie titles are also on display. However, without developers sitting beside the machines explaining how to play the games most people seemed to scared to give them a try and instead opted for the familiar machines of their (or their parents) youth. The only thing there was any sort of significant queue for was the tournaments. Participants were clearly eager to get their hands on a Games Master style golden joystick provided by the popular local shop Level Up Games. Of course for those who have no idea who Dominic Diamond is, steam codes for PC games were a desirable alternative, made possible by DotEmu.
For a retro collector, events like this sometimes feel like a case of people playing machines that sit in your loft. Often they are reminders of what we have and what we need to dig out and enjoy again. But as you stroll around the hall, conversations spark up and Play Margate really has a community feel which perhaps gets lost at larger events. When you're being recognised from your Twitter profile picture it's obvious you're amongst like minded people.
Amongst the stall holders the general feeling was there wasn't as many people attending as they hoped, Friday in particular was very quiet. On a baking sunny day the beach perhaps had a greater draw than a room with no air conditioning. The inevitable positive word of mouth will only attract more people, though although this would of course cause longer queues.
Replay's history of success illustrate just how great these sorts of days can be. based on the smiling faces leaving the Winter Gardens this year, they should add Margate to their roster of annual events. Play Margate was held at the Winter Gardens, Margate, from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd August 2015. Tickets for the event were generously provided by Replay Events.
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