China is charging ahead with its biggest gaming expo ChinaJoy next week, going against the trend of recent tech and game show cancellations due to COVID-19 restrictions, including the demise of this year’s CES Asia in Shanghai.
Although the show goes on, it will be different from the format in previous years. Attendees will need to wear a mask at all times, admittance will be via a face scan, they will need to confirm their recent heath status and no large gatherings will be allowed inside the venue.
“Against the special backdrop of this year’s outbreak, the organizer of ChinaJoy will actively comply with the requirements issued by the Shanghai government and health department of the Pudong district,” said the event organizers. “Not only have we established a joint prevention and control mechanism [to safeguard public health], we have also put together an anti-epidemic contingency plan.”
Although many gaming companies have decided to join the event, which will take place in Shanghai from July 31 to August 3, it is expected to be smaller than in previous years
Also known as the China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference, ChinaJoy will pull in not only domestic champions such as Tencent Holdings and Bilibili but also foreign giants, such as Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Epic Games, and Bandai Namco.
Sony and Microsoft are among those who will not be attending this year, and neither will rising Chinese game maker miHoYo be there, according to information received by the Post.
ChinaJoy may be the only on-site game show available this year. Other major game conferences – the Game Development Conference, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Tokyo Game Show, Gamescom – have all decided to either cancel or turn into online-only events.
On a more positive note, while COVID-19 has dealt a blow to ChinaJoy in terms of attendance, this year has actually been a boom year for video games as the stay-at-home economy has put games in high demand.
And although public health measures will be front and center – developers and investors will be hoping to close as many deals as possible with other game shows canceled.
Last year, ChinaJoy attracted nearly 400,000 attendees across its 15 pavilions spanning 170,000 square meters, according to organizer Howell International Trade Fair. At ChinaJoy, companies typically set up huge booths and hand out many giveaways to fans.
For this year’s event, visitors will need to scan their face, their national ID cards, and digital health codes to enter. Developed by the government and national tech giants such as Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent, digital health codes in China are effectively government-issued hall passes which determine whether a person is at risk of infection.
Although large gatherings are banned – small groupings are inevitable.
Ubisoft China’s booth is typically among the most popular at ChinaJoy, and will still have “stage performances” and “hands-on opportunities”, according to information from the company.
However, Yonghe Wang, a game producer at Shanghai-based Pollard Studio who is scheduled to speak at ChinaJoy, expects this year’s event to be less diverse than in previous years.
“Companies like Sony Interactive Entertainment and Microsoft usually like to involve their executives for their campaigns in China. But this year they can’t fly into China … So most of the speakers this year are Chinese developers,” said Wang.
Nonetheless, Maciej Burno, a Beijing-based executive for the app publishing firm Aptoide, said that he is hoping to close as many deals as possible at this year’s event.
“ChinaJoy in previous years was crazy. We had 10 to 14 meetings on a daily basis. We would be running from place to place, with some meetings starting at as early as 7 a.m,” said Burno. “This year I feel like it will be busy but it will not go to those extremes.”
In addition, Apple’s recent decision to remove thousands of games in China in compliance with government restrictions has also spurred interest among Chinese game developers to publish games overseas, which has created opportunities for his firm, said Burno.
To make up for a potential dip in attendance this year, ChinaJoy will feature an online component – ChinaJoy Plus.
Powered by Chinese game engine company Cocos, the online platform will allow fans to visit virtual pavilions from different companies, watch live streams and take part in various events using their own customizable avatars.
“Having an online aspect to the event is incredible for those afraid to attend in person … I really think this might be the beginning of what many … want for customer-centric game shows. We expect this to be a standard for future events,” said Luke Stapley, senior marketing manager at Cocos.
This article was originally published by the South China Morning Post.