rAge feels like an expo that lost its way

For many years, any member of the multitude of geek/nerd communities knew that in order to meet “your people” you had to attend rAge.

The Really Awesome Gaming Expo, as it was once known, was the highlight of the year for gamers, cosplayers, boardgame players, artists and others. It was a way to get eyes on some of the latest games and a chance to shop for merchandise, art, and those candied nuts everybody seems to love so much.

In recent years however, rAge has become something else. We know the pandemic changed things, but rAge hasn’t felt like it did since before the pandemic locked us in our homes.

Starting with games, rAge hasn’t been a way to play or see new games for many years now. The last game we here at Hypertext got an early look at while at rAge was Ghost Recon Wildlands which launched in 2017.

Instead, rAge is now a way to play esports titles or AAA titles that are months old on consoles and PCs. For some this may be adequate, but we miss the lines to get a glimpse at God of War or the latest Skyrim re-release.

Granted, this is likely due to the way the games industry has evolved over the years. The likes of E3 being dead in the water and publishers choosing to broadcast their own announcements rather than being present at trade shows means the days of early looks and hands-on with forthcoming titles are over. This then, isn’t rAge’s fault, but it should consider other ways to engage players.

South Africa has an emerging game development scene and while some studios are present at rAge, they tend to be huddled into tiny booths that don’t spark much interest from passers by. We’d love to see the organisers investing more in making local game developers stand out a bit more on the show floor. We understand exhibitors need to build their own stand, but a rotation of local devs on one massive stand would be fantastic to see and help prop up the gaming side of rAge.

Speaking of exhibitors, that list appears to be getting smaller every year. Evetech, a massive technology retailer was nowhere to be seen at rAge this year. That is a worrying sign as Evetech and other retailers were once prime reasons to visit rAge given the sales one could find. Not even 10 years ago we were hearing stories of folks who arrived at the NAG LAN empty handed and built a PC at the LAN thanks to the sales rAge inspired.

At last week’s event the best sales we saw were at the Artist’s Alley (more on that in a bit) and that is concerning given that retailers aren’t putting their wares on sale at the event anymore. This could be due to the ever-worsening economy of course but we saw no shortage of sales at Comic Con Africa a few months ago.

We also just have to ask, who is vetting the exhibitors? For the second year in a row we’ve seen exhibitors selling edibles to the public and we have to wonder just how legal that is. Another stand we saw was just an empty white space with a few console games for sale. It just all feels like a mish-mash of anybody the organisers could find to fill two halls rAge now spans at the Gallagher Convention Centre.

The Artist’s Alley for 2023 was tiny. In years gone by, this space was cramped and loaded with people but last week, there was ample space just very few exhibitors. We’re not suggesting that artists and hobbyists must exhibit at rAge but its telling that they have chosen not to be present at this expo. The reasons could include the cost of exhibiting, the fact that there is little interest in the show and that rAge may no longer be profitable for these businesses.

It’s all just very concerning.

So how do rAge organisers fix this?

For starters we’re going to suggest rAge move away from December as the time to host this show. The end of the year is chaotic and any money folks have left after Black Friday is going towards gifts and not expos.

We’ve already mentioned that games should be more of a highlight and not only esports.

Finally, make it more affordable for exhibitors to attend rAge. We know rAge works with Legion Events to bring the Artist’s Alley to life but perhaps it should expand this to include others.

Then there is the matter of attendance. There needs to be more than an ever-shrinking LAN and a handful of sales for folks to enjoy. Comic Con Africa brings celebrities and creators from abroad over for the event. Granted, Comic Con Africa has the prestigious Comic Con brand behind it but there is nothing stopping rAge from doing the same thing. Well, nothing aside from money.

We want rAge to get better and that’s why we’re so critical of this year’s show. Perhaps the organisers can workshop ideas and even draw suggestions from the public ahead of rAge 2024. We’re not asking for the show to go back to the old days but we do think it’s time for rAge to reinvent itself or risk fading into obscurity and eventually nothingness.


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