EB Expo’s return to the Gold Coast is a successful one

This weekend saw the EB Expo return to its roots, overtaking the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre for the first time in five years. It was, by all accounts, a successful homecoming.

The first EB Expo was the source of much excitement for the locals when it was that it would opening to the public in 2011. Up until that point, the expo had been a party closed to all but EB Games store managers and higher ups within the company, a way of giving people who’d be selling and talking about these games some hands on time prior to release. This kind of thing is common practice in retail — JB Hi-Fi hosts a similar hands-on conference for games department coordinators in Melbourne every year.

So Gold Coast locals felt a bit slighted (and rightly so) when the all-conquering games retailer packed the whole thing up after just one year and moved it to the more densely populated and game-hungry Sydney.

The Gold Coast is my home town. I grew up there. I know good and well how hard it is to get anything geeky off the ground on the Gold Coast. Its population isn’t huge and its a town far longer than it is wide which means getting around can be a bit of a chore (transit is also hindered by decades of atrocious town planning). It’s also a town quite conservative in its politics despite its reputation for sleaze and debauchery meaning anything that isn’t entirely mainstream is frowned upon.  If it isn’t about beaches or upmarket shopping centres then the Gold Coast just can’t bring itself to care very much.

What I’m saying is that when the EB Expo moved to Sydney, I was disappointed but unsurprised. I understood why it happened. When it was announced earlier this year that the event was coming back to the same convention centre that gave birth to it, it piqued my interest. It felt like an experiment, testing the waters to see if things had changed and the Gold Coast was ready for this.

Our brothers and sisters in Brisbane didn’t let us down. Having turned much of their own home town into a northern outpost for Melbourne living, they rode to the aid of long-suffering Gold Coast geeks in droves. The crowd arrived early, forming a queue to get in on Saturday morning that stretched the length of the convention centre and out the rear doors into its sprawling garden areas. Indeed, so many people turned up to support the show that the convention threw open the doors to the Expo Hall half an hour early to keep things flowing easily.

It was a more contained Expo Hall than in previous years, with some publishing heavy hitters like Electronic Arts, Activision and WB Games sprinkling their upcoming titles among the Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo booths. Ubisoft, Bethesda, Bandai Namco and local publisher Five Star Games commanded significant floor space, giving the public hands on time with several demos, some of which we played ourselves at E3 back in June.

The Ubisoft booth was drawing significant crowds with Ubi’s  commanding line up of holiday releases all available for play — Assassin’s Creed OriginsFar Cry 5The Crew 2Just Dance 2018 and South Park: The Fractured But Whole all drew long lines, as did the Far Cry 5 in-game fishing competition, complete with extremely competitive leaderboard.

Bethesda put on a show as they always do with the hilariously over-the-top Wolfenstein IIThe Evil Within 2 and Elder Scrolls Legends. The Wolfenstein demo involved the now-familiar sequence in which BJ charges around the bowels of a ship, shooting from the confines of a wheelchair.

Elsewhere on the show floor, Capcom had a demo for Monster Hunter World that was very similar to the hands on we did last month and Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball FighterZ was performing very well, as it’s done every time its been rolled out for play. Hordes of fighting fans lined up to spend some time with BN’s high profile take on a formula popular with fans of the Marvel vs. Capcom series.

The Xbox booth drew sizeable crowds but, despite the significant presence of the recently released Forza Motorsport 7, the game that was drawing the most interest was this week’s Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Another game running a demo from back around E3, Shadow of War looked great, played great and provided a stiff challenge. We look forward to bringing you more on this title when we review it in the coming days.

The show’s most popular booth went to Nintendo. Sporting a weighty Switch roster with titles like Fire Emblem Warriors, NBA 2K18, Skyrim and the famed Salmon Run for Splatoon 2, there was an awful lot to see and do. But the booth’s biggest draw by far, the game that kept staff cutting off the line to keep people from blocking entry and exit ways, was Super Mario Odyssey. One of the year’s most anticipated titles and the other reason (behind The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) that many early adopters picked up a Switch in the first place, the E3 demo was leaving players smiling and excited as they were leaving the booth.

Next door to the Expo Hall was the main theatre where throughout the weekend each of the major publishers represented took to the stage to talk about their release roster for the remainder of the year and into early 2018. Good news all round and, for Queensland fans, a great way to experience a little bit of the spectacle of industry press conferences we as media get to attend quite regularly.

If the show has a downside it’s that, compared to sprawling competitors like PAX Aus, EB Expo’s decision to keep its focus entirely on video games makes it feels a touch anaemic. A combination of this focus on Expo Hall hands-ons, E3 demos designed for short-burst appointments and decent line management means its possible to play everything you came to play in just one day. I heard multiple punters in the lobby as I headed back to my car at Saturday’s end saying they didn’t know if they’d need to come back for Sunday because they’d ticked all their boxes already. For multi-day show, that’s not really what you want. If I had constructive criticism for the EB Expo organisers it would be that, while I understand the show’s purpose is as a way of stoking the pre-order engine, consider broadening the scope next year. You have Zing in your toolkit for instance, there’s no reason to not embrace tabletop. You don’t have to shamelessly rip PAX Aus off but you could stand to offer punters something other than the roar of the Expo Hall. I”m saying that to be mean, EB Expo, I’m saying it because I like your show (and so do a lot of Queenslanders based on the turnout) and I think it could be even better.

And so the show winds down for another year. EB Expo’s homecoming was long overdue and went off without a hitch. The lines moved quickly, the staff were efficient and the games on show were timely and exciting. I live in hope that they keep it on the Gold Coast again next year. They need this, EB. They need you. It can’t always be Melbourne and Sydney that get all the love.