FEAR AND LOATHING IN COLOGNE
Earlier this month I flew to Gamescom in Cologne to wave the Fluid flag about. It was hot, hectic and awesome.
A phone chat with our Digital Director Andrew from the predictably purple lobby/bar of the Stansted Hilton the night before my 7am departure chucked up an interesting idea...
‘Record your experiences and share the hacks you come across that first time visitors will be glad to know.’ He said.
I sipped a £4 glass of coke and thought to myself, ‘perfect. This will make some great content.’
It would have as well, had I not failed.
In an attempt to make lemonade, I thought I would chart my meandered wanderings through Cologne and the show to explain why I failed in getting it right the first time. Even if I can’t reveal any good hacks, I could at least share some expectations with first time goers. Maybe I can ever offer a crap hack or two.
It’s also an excuse to go all gonzo.
The night before…
5.50pm arrive at Stansted.
I have a room booked at the Hilton Stansted. It’s overpriced like everything south of Watford. Website pics make it look wholly accommodating at least. On the phone a bubbly receptionist tells me the hotel is absolutely on the airport complex. It isn’t. I drive to the airport and am in the wrong place.
It's 4 miles away from the airport. I drive there, park up, smoke a cigarette, check in, smile at the receptionist, smile at the room, have a shower, get my shizzle together for the days ahead and chill out in the bar.
Chat with boss, return to room, watch hilarious cop comedy with Will Ferrell and Mark Whalberg. Didn’t catch the name, am still searching.
Sort of hack: If your unfamiliar with Stansted, It’s really big and apparently a hotel 4 miles down the motorway qualifies as ‘the airport complex.’
Open my eyes and scramble for my phone to check I haven’t overslept. I haven’t. One shower and one 3 quid shuttle to the terminal later, I’m waiting for a flight.
Sat on plane. I don’t like flying so my headphones are on and loud. I’m attempting a kind of astral projection to a place more comforting than a jet engine tin can 1 mile off the ground. I then realize that I am surrounded by youngsters, gamers and industry types. There is a distinct absence of babies crying.
Sort of hack 2: If you are going out there to meet new biz contacts, don’t miss a trick at any leg of the journey. The airplane was as good a place to start networking as any.
9, 10 (ish am. Not sure.)
Land, wake up and get off plane. Get looked up and down by a German Polizei on passport control. He looks about 12. He decides I pose no threat to German society and lets me enter Cologne. He should probably get more practice spotting wronguns but my intentions are noble.
Head outside. Cologne is hot. Like, Florida hot. Grab a cab, tell the cabbie the name of the hotel and get bumped for 5 euros.
(The journey from Cologne airport to central cologne is about 35 euros I later learned, the cabbie was happy to take advantage of my naivety and charge me an exorbitant 40 euros, I almost contacted the consulate).
10.30 (ish) am.
Arrive at the Mercure and get checked in. Step outside and borrow a lighter off of some dude. Turns out he is the maker of the worlds most downloaded mobile game. We share some business-centric small talk and swap cards. I soon realise that like the plane, the hotel is full of nothing but Gamescomers of various persuasions.
Change my T shirt, splash my face, grab some cards and start stomping toward the show. It’s at this point I realize I bought the wrong footwear.
Genuine hack: Take trainers. Definitely take trainers.
I am still circling the exhibition center. Finding the entrance isn’t as easy as it should be. I finally find it and join the clearing queue, ticket in hand. The queue to get in on day 1 takes about 30 minutes, it gets much, much worse thereafter.
Hack: The entrance is through a subway on the north side of the bridge (if you are staying over the river) it’s not obvious, look out for a purple and blue plaque on the subway wall directing you. Don’t burn unnecessary calories but traversing the length of the Rhine trying to find the entrance like I did.
I’m in. This place is really big. Too big. I grab a map, I grab a latte, I check my meeting schedule and get to work…
After a few shaken hands and a bit of back slapping I am halfway through day one. I deliberately didn’t over book myself for the first day and couldn’t be more glad that I didn’t.
Hack: Take it easy on day one if it's your first time. It takes a bit of time to get the lie of the land. Vast isn’t the word for this, it looks like Narnia on mephedrone.
Rest of the day…
I play a few games, I finish my meetings, I chat with the comms and event girls on the UKIE stand because they are being lovely to everyone and I am starting to feel like a loner. I find out where everyone drinks each evening and forge ambitions to get the number off one of the UKIE girls (a specific one, I wasn’t that lonely.)
Hack: Where everyone drinks of an evening is an Irish pub outside the Cathederal called the Corkonian. This is also a critical place to do some invaluable networking.
I get back to hotel covered in flight and exhibition sweat. It’s a particularly strong brand of oily discomfort. I am overjoyed to find the hotel pool.
I bought no swimming shorts. I use black boxers. Luckily no one is around to see said black boxers get a bit huggy.
One swim and dinner later, I’m knackered. I think better of going drinking and potter about the room for an hour or so before climbing into bed with the aim of shaking of any yawns for what promises to be a taxing 48 hours ahead.
Wake up and pat myself on the back for not going out on the lash and sleeping like a dead man for 10 hours instead.
Shower, put on clothes, BIG hotel breakfast. Back to the show.
I have 14 meetings booked today and any slip up would throw the whole thing out of whack. Even with 45 minutes to spare before my first meeting, I arrive at the center and suddenly find that it’s gong to be a close call. The crowds have become somewhat engorged.
I join the back of a clearing queue in a huge hangar type waiting room. I must have been there with about 5/6 thousand other people and it’s one giant cue. F***, I think.
I turn around, elbow my way out and try again from the entrance. Mercifully I learn I was in the wrong place and having validated my ticket the day before, the wave of a lanyard is enough to get me instant access to the trade zone through the South entrance. I am going to make my first meeting. Just.
Hack: Get your ticket and pass sorted on day one. It will save you hours and hours of displeasure.
I am keeping up with the meeting schedule just about, but it’s not easy. People are not where they said they were going to be when they said they were going to be there. Neither am I. It’s no-ones fault, just the nature of the show. It’s too big, too busy and too interesting to stick religiously to a plan. Good news is, we now have a couple of briefs to discuss and some follows up to action.
Hack: Make sure you have the mobile telephone numbers of everyone you have a meeting with, don’t rely on people just being there at an agreed time. They probably won’t be and neither will you.
I’m hungry so I find a restaurant in the complex. I order a Shnitzel (standard) with pepper sauce, a few chips, spinach, apple juice and a some cheese cake thing.
28 euros. F*** I think, for the 2nd time that day.
Hack: Don’t be a total loser and take a packed lunch necessarily, but do be aware that you may be scrubbing pans in the back if you don’t prepare for some pretty opportunistic food pricing.
Meetings all attended for the day! Boom. The UKIE is having a drinks reception thing. I go there. I grab the first alcoholic thing I see and sip away whilst chatting to a wicked guy who had built his own agency/design studio up in Liverpool. We share some common interests and the show begins to come into it’s own.
Hack: Keep it light. The best networking I did out there was when discussing everything except hard-line work (industry yes, but not jobs). Don’t be a try-hard, just go with the genuine intention of meeting cool people and you probably will.
I have had my 2nd swim and am determined to find the Corkonian and do some post show networking. I splash on some Hugo Boss and plod down the bank of the river with springy determination. Things would not go to plan.
Despite been given directions and being in the midst of the many bars at the foot of Cologne’s rather stunning cathedral, I don’t know where I am going and I can’t find this place. It became frustrating.
A weather beaten, wayward homeless man asks me for some change, I ask him for some directions because i'm feinding for a bubbly refreshments. He looks at me judgmentally. I find that ironic. Neither of us can help one another anyway.
Slightly disgruntled at my own failings I start heading back to the hotel, not least because I am on my own and getting lost. The only saving grace for the evening was seeing how banging Cologne can be on the night. Next year I will get this right!, I think.
Hack: Don’t assume you will just find any given spot by yourself in the city. The good people of Cologne don’t speak much English, it’s a pretty confusing, busy place and frankly, you won’t.
Packed up, another big breakfast and out the door for the last time before heading home. Today may perhaps be the best day.
I have about another 6/7 meetings on but in light of me handling twice the amount yesterday I’m not concerned.
Having attended all but one scheduled meeting, I decide I wouldn’t be much of a comms/ new business professional if I didn’t take full advantage of those in attendance at the trade zone with whom I have yet to converse.
I begin approaching stands, confessing to being a complete walk up looking for new biz for Fluid. No one minds at all, I collect 40 odd business cards in a couple of hours and share our work with countless people. Unlike other shows, this kind of behavior is not looked down upon.
Hack: Don’t be shy! Especially if your networking, people are sound so take full advantage.
After my last scheduled meeting, I am in the VIP Press booth of Ubisoft playing a new level of AC Syndicate whilst been given a personal walk through by the level designer. This is sick.
Hack: Sorry I have no advice as to how to make this happen for you, right place, right time and a bit of charm is all.
I have walked miles and miles over the last few days and am now at the airport waiting for my flight. There is nothing to do at Cologne airport. I am counting floor tiles.
A friendly looking guy with a Mad Catz T-shirt on walks directly up to me and fist bumps me. I am a little confused but think; 'maybe there is still a bit of business to be done'.
Turns out he is the PR Director for Mad Catz and former presenter of Gamesworld. It’s only Big Boy Barry! F*** I think, for the third and last time on the trip.
We have a good chat, discuss an idea we share for a new brand of video game review show and of course swap cards.
After a late night flight I land in the UK and pelt down the motorway toward home. Upon arrival in native Brum, I sleep and sleep.