Visitors to the G-Star gaming trade show form a long queue for tickets in Busan on Nov. 21
South Korea's largest gaming trade show ended in Busan with record visitor numbers, demonstrating the longstanding popularity of online PC games in the country and the show's appeal to visitors beyond game geeks.
The four-day G-Star show, which opened in the southern port city on Thursday, drew nearly 200,000 visitors by Saturday, its organizer, the Korea Creative Content Agency, said, adding that the total number of visitors is estimated to have topped last year's record of 240,000.
The success of this year's G-Star was helped by a record number of corporate participants and the re-entry of global console game makers as well as a larger exhibition area.
Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. and Microsoft Corp. were among the record 311 companies from 22 countries that showcased their latest online, video, board, arcade, mobile and educational games. The two game console makers returned to the show after failing to appear in recent years.
The record number of visitors prompted the organizer to issue what they called "circuit breakers," or 15-minute shutdowns of ticket sales, to limit entry to 14,000 people per hour.
"We issued circuit breakers about six to seven times during the weekend for safety concerns," said an official at the Korea Creative Content Agency.
The six-year-old game show, which vies to equal its older overseas peers such as the Tokyo Game Show, Gamescom and E3, demonstrated that it could be a leader in at least one field: online PC games.
The G-Star show made it evident that South Korea's game sector remains a bastion of the personal computer industry, at a time when other sectors are embracing the mobile boom jump-started by smartphones and mobile Internet.
Crowds of potential high-spec PC buyers thronged to booths for long-awaited online PC blockbusters, such as "Diabolo III" from Blizzard Entertainment Inc. and "Blade and Soul" from NCsoft Corp.
Long queues wound around their exhibition spaces, which resembled the large Internet cafes filled with desktop computers ubiquitous nationwide. Waiting times to play these games stretched to as long as three hours.
"There were so many games I wanted to play but all the booths were too crowded," complained an 11-year-old fifth grader from the expo's host city.
"We cut the playing time of Blade and Soul to 40 minutes from one hour on the second day as waiting times got long," said an NCsoft official at the company's booth.
The return of console game makers to the fair helped divert some of the attention from online PC games. Though their crowds paled in comparison to those for online PC game makers, Microsoft and Sony Computer Entertainment also enticed droves of local gamers with their respective hands-free Kinect gaming system and PlayStation 3 plus driving games.
This year's G-Star also proved that it can attract visitors who may not define themselves as gamers, not just regulars at any game show.
Frequently spotted at the Busan exhibition center were mothers pushing baby carriages and grandfathers holding the hands of their grandchildren on weekend family excursions. These groups of visitors had one thing in common: at least one member of their family was a gamer.
"My husband is interested in online games. We wanted to show our kids," said Shin Bok-ran, a 36-year-old homemaker from Busan who accompanied her three children, aged 2, 5 and 7, along with her husband. "I'd come back next year."
These family visitors shrugged off growing worries about online game addictions.
"This is our second visit to the show. My husband loves it. I think it's OK to enjoy games with the whole family together as long as you're not addicted," said Kwak Hee-young, 35, pushing a baby carriage where her 10-month-old baby boy was asleep.
The G-Star show's closure, however, left a few things to be desired. Visitors pointed out the lack of diversity as giant game developers tried to cater to online PC game-loving locals.
"While big companies got bigger, small companies got little attention," said Lee Dong-yub, a 29-year-old marketing official at a local entertainment company, CJ Internet Corp. "In terms of diversity, it was too centered around online games."