i70 – Is Insomnia even a gaming festival anymore?

by MaddOx
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The Insomnia Gaming Festival has become a bit of a staple for us folk at FULLSYNC over the years. We’ve not missed a single one since like i61 when we were invited as guests of eBuyer, except for those that were cancelled by COVID-19. And Easter weekend saw us attending the latest event, i70.

Now, a couple of events back, we talked about how the event had become a little disappointing. Although, we wrote our poor experience off at i68 which was the first event since COVID-19. We knew that many people were still worried about the pandemic and so fewer people would likely attend, and that included exhibitors.

However, that decline has been witnessed at every event since as well, and it looks to us that it’s just going to continue on that downward trend. Not because it isn’t well-organised or because you don’t have a good time there, but because the event is changing and i70 was just further evidence of that.

Gaming on the decline

This is a gaming festival. We are a gaming website. We expect games. And to an extent we got some.

As always, the indie game section was rife with upcoming talent and interesting games, and there were some new faces there this time after seeing multiple repeat developers at the last two events which was nice to see how their games were developing, but it was sad that more upcoming indie developers weren’t given a chance to showcase their games. In particular, we really enjoyed checking out Septagram Games’ Mobbers, a rogue-lite dungeon shooter that we smashed through the demo of.

Insomnia Gaming Festival - i70 Indie Gaming section

There was also the i70 tabletop zone, which is always great to see newcomers and experienced gamers trying their hands at new board games. Although, it now seems more of a sales floor where you get free trials of these games, where in the past, we’ve actually seen and chatted to many of the developers of the games on show like back at i61 when we chatted to the guys at London Board Games about their game, The Football Game.

However, after that, there was a small family games zone and a retro section with a bunch of arcade classics. But next to that, it was all tournaments you had to sign up for, for games that have been out for ages. Except for a couple of titles on the Cyberpower PC bus which showed little about Cyberpower PC and what it offers, just a handful of new games, one of which didn’t even work.

And then the AAA titles, or ‘title’ rather. There was Park Beyond from Bandai Namco, with a confusing tutorial that didn’t leave us wanting more but we did appreciate the free 2-for-1 voucher for Thorpe Park using the promo code ParkBeyond23.

But after that, there was nothing. No big Sony or Microsoft areas. Nintendo was there but again, it was pretty much just all about tournaments on Mario Kart and Splatoon. There were no real big upcoming releases for us to get a sneak peek at. And we know why, because why fork out thousands in a spot at an event when you can host digital showcases for free on Twitch and YouTube.

i70 is now about content creators and streamers…and selling people things they don’t need

Everywhere you looked, there were giant video boards partnered with TikTok, showing some of the streamers who would be appearing over the weekend. Then many of the booths around the event also had streaming stations set up for streamers to display their talents and showcase what they were doing to their audiences.

The talks and shows? Heavily tailored to streamers and content creators as well. And when it came to Q&A time, well, it felt like questions weren’t genuine and they were being given a weak pitch so they could just knock them out of the park like they were hitting a home run in baseball. That’s not to say that some of the talks weren’t informative, there was a great one about doing charity streams, aimed at streamers who thought they weren’t big enough to do them. Because ultimately, even if you get one donation, that’s one more than a charity would’ve had if you hadn’t done the stream.

And of course, there were plenty of charities around as well to also target streamers and get their names out there. The Guide Dog folks were there as always, which is great because who doesn’t love a snuggle with a pup. SpecialEffect were there to demonstrate the great work they do for gamers who may be differently abled and unable to use typical controllers and accessories to play games. And a new charity that appeared was Cats Protection, who we stopped to chat about what they did, the way the industry has evolved and how streaming has become a new revenue source for them.

It was actually a great chat we had with Cats Protection about their Pawsome Players promo. We’ll do a whole different article on that soon though.

Insomnia Gaming Festival - i70 Cats Protection charity stand

Back to the whole content creator and streamer thing though. Yeah, the whole event was just tailored to them. I know a lot of people meet up with friends they have made online from streaming, and there are Discord parties that get together as well. But it’s as clear as day that this is the way the event is heading. It’s becoming more of a TwitchCon competitor than it is a gaming festival.

Sure, there were some interesting meet and greets and events that weren’t tailored to content creators and streamers, like how you could meet the amazing Doug Cockle who is famous for voicing Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher games. But over the many events we have been to, it’s things like this that have begun to decline, with fewer opportunities for gamers, and it is moving into a whole other sector of the industry.

Even the marketplace has very little to do with gaming. Sure, there were small stalls, and we mean small, from the likes of Gioteck and even SureFire had a stand showcasing their peripherals too, some of which we’d already reviewed. We also won a free tee from Shockbyte, a company which allows you to buy dedicated servers for your games. But after that, it was all swords, anime posters, glass Pokeballs, and Lounge Kicks (giant slippers). None of it really gaming-related, although much of it looked cool, and I maybe spent more than I should’ve on some bits. But my point is, the gaming element is dying.

What did i70 do well?

It wasn’t all bad, and we actually had an ok time for our i70 weekend. The general layout of i70 was actually much better than i69 too, it felt more spacious, less cramped and enclosed. And besides the marketplace which was quite cramped, it was easy to find whatever stall you were looking for.

The Saturday was definitely much busier than Easter Sunday, and so the second day gave us more time to chat with people. Although on Saturday we met up with an old online acquaintance you may know as Yeti Grips, who now has a new YouTube channel where he goes on the hunt looking for retro video games. It was great to finally meet Michael in person, and that is one of the special things about i70 and Insomnia in general, it’s a great chance to meet up with lots of like-minded individuals and make new friends. You can check out his video from the event below:

The esports side of things at i70 was great again as well. You had The Goose House who was there with Red Bull on their own stage, playing against members of the public. There was also a side stage where we caught a couple of games where the likes of the Army were taking on Keele University in the smaller competitions but were still great fun to watch. And then the main stage, which had a whole host of content across the entire weekend, although the breaks in between did sometimes go on a bit too long. Sure, it gives time for you to go do other things, but if esports is your jam, you want it non-stop.

Insomnia Gaming Festival - i70 esports stage

We’ve already touched upon the indie gaming and tabletop sections at i70 as well, but they were probably the highlights for us because they were the only sections that felt like they belonged there and did the event justice. The family gaming zone is worth another mention as well because, for a couple of years, it has felt like the event was being targeted at younger kids with nothing but Minecraft and Fortnite for miles to see, and then the obvious stands with V-Bucks on sale where children could pester their parents. But this seemed more like a time when families could come together and game for fun instead.

I also really liked the charity section, which again we have talked about already. But it was done in a better way where people aren’t shaking buckets, and it was more about education. Teaching you what they do, what they plan to do and how any gamer can help out good causes, and the impact that you can have on making a difference to others, whether they be humans or animals.

What i70 needed to get back on track

You may have got the impression this article was all about slating this event. And it’s not, we did have some nice things to say too. But our criticisms wouldn’t be fair without ways that i70 could’ve been improved upon. And in some ways, it was better than i69, but i70 still felt as if it was heading on that downward spiral.

So, what could be done to get Insomnia back to being a GAMING festival?

  • More shows based around gaming – Talks from developers and other members behind the games. Doesn’t have to be big reveals like at E3 and stuff like that, but it’s great to get that insight into these things at events like i70.
  • More games – i70 was really lacking on this front, and as we mentioned, developers are more likely to do their own online launches now. But, make it more appealing for them to attend, and they will come back to events like i70.
  • Tone down the tournaments – While we all like a bit of friendly competition, half the games available in bigger areas are all tournament-based. You have to register to join, then wait around to play, and with queues and stuff many people don’t turn back up. So tone it down.
  • Bring back the festival feel and add some variety – At one time, there was live music at Insomnia. They also had extra displays like robot wars and drone racing. While maybe not all gaming related, it still added to the experience and made it feel more festival-like. But that feeling has long gone. And there is now a lack of variety as i70 was all tailored to streaming.
  • Make it more affordable – Ticket prices are on the up, but what was on show at i70 was on the decline. People are struggling to make ends meet. Many of the items in the marketplace are inflated and cheaper elsewhere. Stop pricing gamers out of attending gaming events.

Closing thoughts on i70

So, yeah. The general gist of it all, the event is in decline, and i70 didn’t feel like a gaming festival. It is more tailored toward streamers and content creators. Great if you enjoy those things, and we’ve nothing against anyone that enjoys all of that. But when you go to a gaming event, you expect to be able to game. And that’s just not the case any more.

We gave Insomnia the benefit after lockdown with its first two events. But by i70 we were expecting bigger and better. And we didn’t get it. That’s not to say it can’t get back to the days when it was a good weekend out. But the way it is heading, there is a big massive shift in what type of event this is. And I wasn’t the only person there who shared that sentiment.

Only time will tell if they take feedback on board and make this event great again. Maybe one voice can’t change things for the better. But, until i71 which has been announced for September this year, later in the calendar than usual, I guess there is only one way of finding out, and that is to head back to see if it returns to its former glory, or if it continues spiralling down to the point where it ends up rebranding as an entirely different event.

Fancy checking out more coverage of events like i70, then click right here.

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