eGames Expo 2009: Interview with Peter Barlow

We speak to the founder and manager of Australia's biggest video games expo

Yesterday PC World attended the eGames Expo 2009 at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. Although it was a slightly quieter affair compared to previous years, there were still plenty of games, gadgets and exhibits vying for punters' attention, including playable previews of Assassin's Creed 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Avatar in 3D.

The Digital Lifestyle Show was also in full swing, showcasing all the latest innovations in entertainment technology. At the end of the day we caught up with the expo's organiser and founder, Peter Barlow. Here's what he had to say:

PC World: Hello Peter, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. We're sure it's been a busy week!

Peter Barlow: It sure has. I got four hours sleep last night, and that's the best I've had all week. I'm pretty much running on empty [laughs].

PCW: Tell us a little about the eGames Expo. How has it changed over the years?

PB: The expo started off as the eGames Entertainment Expo in 2006. Obviously, its main focus was video games. [This] was the primary 'hook' to entice people to attend the event, because everyone loves them. But the expo's model has always been to cover all forms of digital entertainment. Over the next year or so, it sort of changed a bit in the sense of trying to create a more defined environment -- that's where the Digital Lifestyle Show came into play. We're very committed to having that sense of separation, with each [section] having its own show.

From a business perspective, the expo allows technology companies to engage with consumers on a one-to-one basis, whereas normally they would have to rely on retailers to move stock off the floor. [The expo] helps companies to promote their products on a direct level.

What motivated you to found the eGames Expo in the first place?

PB: Well, 2006 was a pivotal year in the games industry. We had always been thinking about running a video games event in Melbourne, but the thing that really triggered it was the next-gen consoles. With Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii all coming out, we felt "if we don't do it this year, there's probably no reason to do it." So we made every effort possible to pull together a good event. In the end, we had Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all attend, which was fantastic -- it really gave us the momentum to keep going.

PCW: Is it difficult striking a balance between hardcore gamers and a more mainstream audience?

It's very hard. We're in an unusual situation, because a lot of the games companies want to engage with fresh audiences, which a dedicated games show wouldn't provide. They want to feel like the door is opening for them to promote their product to a different market. Having the Digital Lifestyle Show next door is one way of saying "we're going to bring other people that possibly aren't aware of your product, and hopefully they'll engage with it."

It also works vice-versa for the digital lifestyle side. So there's a logic to running both shows alongside each other, even though it's difficult to promote two shows at the same time.

PCW: Does it get easier or harder to organise the event, year-by-year?

PB: I thought it was getting easier, up until this year. I think the GFC has had a bit of an impact to be honest. Some of the companies we expected to attend didn't -- including some that regularly attended in the past. That was hard. We had to sort of make a decision: do we drop the momentum because it's a difficult year for some people? Or do we keep the ball rolling, stay true to our consumer market and put on the best show possible?

It would have been very easy to turn around and say "you know what? It's been a hard year this year so let's just drop it, like a lot of other events have done". But the thing is, we have a very dedicated audience. They look forward to the event each year and come down from all around Australia. I feel like they've supported us over the years, so we need to support them by keeping the event going.

PCW: That kind of leads into our next question. There have been some big names absent from this year's event, including Sony, Nintendo and Activision. Do you think this will have an affect on the show's future?

PB: Look, I really do believe this is an isolated year; that's been the indication quite strongly. In fact, we had a lot of [industry] enquiries come in very late, some as late as this week. That indicates to me that we've probably gone through our dip and we're on the way back up.

PCW: Good to hear. In the past, you've hinted at the possibility of the eGames Expo coming to other states and territories. Is this something that's still on the agenda?

PB: In its current state, I would have to say no. It's quite difficult to get support for a yearly show in one state, let alone two or three. Ultimately, the nature of the concept will fall in line with some of the conventions that occur overseas -- they only stay in one place, they only happen once a year, and people plan to attend. We want to head in that direction and give Australia an event like that. I think it would be watered down too much if we moved it around and treated it like a regular road show.

PCW: Fair enough. And lastly, what are some of your favourite highlights from this year's show?

PB: The UbiSoft stand is obviously a pinnacle for me, they're showcasing pre-release products such as Assassin's Creed 2, Splinter Cell, and Avatar, which are all fantastic. Madman Interactive and Microsoft with their big trailer have been great too. Another big one for me is the F1 2009 display with the Formula One racing car. We had to go down a very hard road to get that Formula One racing car, I can tell you! They don't normally bring them to events.

On the other side of the show, [audio company] Max Media have been absolutely brilliant, I also like the groovy little Foxtel speakers on display, and Ice TV. It's a great opportunity to see some different products.

PCW: It certainly is. Thanks for the chat, Peter.

PB: No problem, enjoy the rest of the show.

The eGames Expo 2009 is running from Friday 30 October, to Sunday 1 November. For more information, visit the eGames Expo website.

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