It was a last-minute stroke of dumb luck that led to me attending Gamescom 2023. Xbox Fanfest is always held in different locations globally, and this year it coincided with Gamescom in Cologne Germany.
There’re always thousands of entrants for a limited number of tickets, so I never dreamed that I’d end up attending. Sure enough, the ticket announcement deadline came, and I didn’t receive an email. However, the week before the event, an attendee dropped out, and my husband managed to get 2 tickets from the waiting list!
It was a mad rush trying to organize travel, but it was too exciting of an opportunity to miss. After scrambling for last-minute flights and hotels, we were on our way to what was sure to be an incredible gaming experience.
We had previously attended the London Xbox Fanfest in 2019, and it remains one of my all-time favorite events, so I was beyond excited to go to the 2023 showcase.
As I expected, the event was spectacular with an awesome range of activities to get involved with. Gamescom 2023 was an unforgettable experience, so read on to find out exactly what it was like!
My Xbox at Gamescom 2023 Highlights
- Most anticipated games – Cocoon, Mineko’s Night Market, Lightyear Frontier
- Favorite piece of merch – The Xbox Fanfest mousepad
- Best booth area – Ara: History Untold
- Coolest photo opportunity – Starfield space suit
- Favorite game demo from the rest of the convention – Paleo Pines
Getting to the Event
The way these tickets work is that all Xbox users have the opportunity to sign up for Fanfest ahead of time. Then, a selection of fans are chosen at random to attend the event. Those people get a few weeks’ notice to book flights, hotels, etc.
Xbox only gives you tickets for the Fanfest event itself, you have to buy travel and accommodation separately, as well as any tickets to the Gamescom event. However, they also have a waiting list, which was where my husband was put.
When we got offered the tickets, there was only a week to go until the event itself. By this point, the prices were extortionate, and all the good flights had gone. We ended up flying out and arriving with only an hour or so of time to get to the hotel, drop off our bags, get changed for the event, and then quickly grab an Uber to the venue.
The flight back was even worse, as it was at 7am, so I was suuuper tired. It was then a challenge to find whereabouts the event was happening as the email was in German, and the convention center was massive with no signs for the Xbox event.
When we did find it, the queue system was a nightmare. It was moving ridiculously slowly, and everyone had to manually check in with an attendant at the desk, of which there were only 4 for probably about 1,000 attendees, and they’d only opened the desk 45 minutes before the event.
And then, for some bizarre reason, even once you were checked in, they didn’t let you go straight through and instead waited for everyone to be done, which overran. The event was supposed to be 8-11, but by the time people were actually being let in, it was already 8:30.
Honestly, although I enjoyed the event itself, the organizing was a bit of a failure, and I’d like to see more efficiency at future events. I’m not sure why it was this bad seeing as it was much better at Fanfest 2019. I also think the event should’ve been at least 4-5 hours, given how much there was to do.
Overwhelmed by Choice
When I eventually got inside, I didn’t know where to look first. There was so much going on! The entire event was only scheduled to last 3 hours, and we’d already wasted nearly half an hour just getting in, so I didn’t want to miss anything.
I decided to start at the beginning, which was a merch table right near the entrance. Every attendee was entitled to a merch bag, so I made sure to get mine early in case they ran out.
Initially, my plan was to walk around the whole Xbox area (surprisingly large considering it was just one small portion of everything that Gamescom had to offer) and scout out some booths that I’d like to check out.
Unfortunately, that plan was almost immediately derailed when I walked past the ID@Xbox stand and saw that they had a demo for Cocoon. I’ll talk more about that in the next section, but suffice it to say, I RAN over to it, no thoughts, just running.
When I managed to tear myself away from all the awesome indie demos, I had a look around at some of the other booths on offer. There were so many upcoming games, and with a tight time limit as well as some short queues, I had to be really picky.
I saw a demo for Jusant, which I knew I had to play, having become enamored with it during the latest Xbox showcase. They also had a demo for Dungeons 4, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to play; a shame since I loved Dungeons 3.
They had impressive setups for some of the larger games such as Ara: History Untold, Towerborne, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. There was a huge theater room for Starfield, but I didn’t go in, since I knew I was going to play the game on release anyway, so I didn’t see the point in spending time watching a preview.
I found out afterward that there had been an opportunity to meet Phil Spencer, but I hadn’t realized whilst I was there, so I missed out on the chance to talk to him.
They had several food areas, but sadly not much in the way of vegan food. I didn’t fancy a plain pretzel, so I sustained myself on an absolute mountain of potato wedges.
I discovered afterward that there had been vegan burgers that weren’t advertised on the menu, so that was a tad disappointing. There were drinks, too, but the soft drinks ran out really early, so all that was left was wine, which I didn’t want since I’m teetotal.
This was the big thing for me. For any of you unaware, ID@Xbox is Xbox’s in-house indie publishing team. They team up with indie developers and help them by providing budget and publicity. They’ve worked with so many awesome titles, and this year they were celebrating 10 years since the project was initiated.
There was a booth area with loads of playable demos. The best thing was that most people were busy with the larger games, meaning that the queues were really short. You just had to line up and let them know what game you wanted to play.
Most of the time you could get straight on as a lot of the demos were empty, but you were rarely waiting more than 10-15 minutes.
I’m going to talk a bit more about my favorites in a moment, but here is the full list of games present:
- Botany Manor
- Island of Winds
- Mineko’s Night Market
- Little Kitty, Big City
- Dead Pets Unleashed
- Thirsty Suitors
- Lightyear Frontier
- Stumble Guys
- Head Bangers: Rhythm Royale
- Lamplighters League
- SteamWorld Build
- Another Crab’s Treasure
Mineko’s Night Market
If I had to choose one highlight from my entire trip, this would be it. I’ve had this one on my radar for years, I think it was initially supposed to be released in 2021, but it kept getting pushed back. It’s finally coming out at the end of September 2023 on Switch (although people on other consoles need to wait until October), so not much longer now!
This indie adventure game has absolutely adorable graphics, and honestly, that’s the main thing that drew me to this title in the first place. However, based on the demo, Mineko’s Night Market follows up by having excellent gameplay to accompany the cute visuals.
There’s plenty to do, and in the demo alone, I found myself embarking on side quests, collecting materials, and crafting.
The main quest in the demo revolves around the shady agents who have started cropping up around town. Their appearance coincided with the disappearance of all the local cats, and it’s your job to come to the rescue!
You embark on a stealthy mission where you sneak around, dodging the agents’ flashlights, and freeing all the trapped cats. There’s somewhat of a puzzle aspect, and it doesn’t feel boring or slow in any way. I cannot wait to play the full game.
I really wish I could’ve had more time with this one, but sadly it was one of the more popular demos, and I was hurried along after about 15 minutes or so. However, even that short amount of time was enough for me to realize that this was going to be a must-play; I’m so excited for the full release.
The movement is delightfully smooth, your character responds to your every slight shift of the analog stick. The speed is perfect, neither too fast nor too slow.
I felt like I was gliding through the world around me, which it’s worth mentioning, is absolutely stunning. The colors are gorgeously vibrant, and the asset designs merge seamlessly with each other, creating a world that truly feels alive.
I was able to explore the world as a human, but the best part came after I repaired my mech. It’s this huge metal suit that you can climb into, and it expands so many possibilities. You can harvest materials from things like trees or boulders, using your mech to your advantage. Overall, this game was one of the best demos I’ve played.
I am a huge fan of puzzle games, and Cocoon looks set to be an excellent one. The graphics are superb, and they really set the scene for this intriguing sci-fiesque theme.
The demo was a great insight into what we can expect from the full game. I get the sense that it’ll be relatively short (I’d guess somewhere between 6-10 hours) as there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of lore, but I could be completely wrong.
I loved the level of difficulty of the puzzles. They were challenging enough to make me feel smart, but I didn’t ever feel stuck or like I wanted to give up. They really require you to use your head and pay attention to your surroundings. Deciding what to interact with and when is key to getting through the game.
I’ve played around with a few management sims in the past, but I always end up becoming overwhelmed. Still, I enjoy the genre, even though I never end up sticking with the games.
SteamWorld Build looks set to be an excellent addition to the genre, and the demo offered a great opportunity to see what this game brings to the table. I really liked the user interface, it was easy to follow.
You could select your starting location from several different settings. I chose Fossil Park as I had been playing Paleo Pines earlier in the day, and had dinosaurs on my brain. It starts out very modest, with a big empty stretch of land, but you’re quickly able to populate it and get a little city going.
I really liked how helpful the tutorial was. There were plenty of mechanics available to the player, but everything was explained really well, so I didn’t feel out of my depth.
You can set up machines to process different materials like wood, and you can build worker homes. The workers will help out with the processes, and you’ll start earning money passively, which can then be used to buy new upgrades. Pretty soon, your empty piece of land becomes the beginning of a bustling city.
Little Kitty, Big City
I hadn’t heard of this title before coming to Gamescom, but I’m so glad I saw it. I had only recently finished playing Stray, so I was excited to play another game from the perspective of a cat.
The graphics are rudimentary, to put it lightly, but given the small budget of indie games, I try to be lenient when it comes to visuals. As long as the game doesn’t look bad, I can excuse a lot, and I’d say that Little Kitty, Big City has a charm that goes beyond the need for flashy graphics.
The demo gives you an insight into what the game will be about, namely, various kitty hijinks. You explore the city, jumping over ledges, crawling under walls, and figuring out ways to get past obstacles.
You also cause one hell of a mess. In the demo alone, you end up smashing things, breaking into homes, and even getting colorful pawprints over a painting-in-progress. Although this will likely fly under the radar, and I doubt it’ll receive any accolades, it’s a cute title that will undoubtedly be a lot of fun to play.
Other ID@Xbox Games
The above were the main titles that I played, but there were plenty of others in the ID@Xbox area that I had a bit of a go of. Botany Manor was a slow-paced game involving cataloging plants and helping them grow to their full potential.
I only got a few minutes on this one sadly, but it seemed pretty interesting, and the kind of casual game I could play when I fancied relaxing.
Thirsty Suitors is an upcoming narrative-driven adventure game where you get to do some epic skating combos. Again, my playtime on this was short as I played this towards the end of the day, so the staff were being overly punctual.
Still, I enjoyed what I experienced. The movement was smooth, and the characterization intrigued me. I’m looking forward to playing more once the full game is released.
Naiad is a cute but basic game where you play as a mermaid floating through the water and completing quests. It’s not immediately apparent what the purpose is, only that you’ve gotta keep going forward.
The movement controls are simplistic and a little boring, and I don’t think there are enough mechanics to keep it interesting. Even the quests are very straightforward and don’t require any brain power. Still, I only played the demo, so maybe the full game will be more interesting.
Finally, I played Dead Pets Unleashed, and that was a huge mistake. I didn’t know anything about the game in advance, only that it had a cool purple banner above the booth, which was good enough to convince me to play. Bad idea. Straight away, the vibes were totally off for me. The characters are horrible people who you don’t feel inclined to root for.
You start out as a hungover 30-year-old who’s refusing to pay back the money you owe to your friend. Everyone is really rude to each other. And then the first minigame involves you having to wash an exceptionally gross and dirty adult toy.
At this point, I stepped out, as I wouldn’t even want to play that in the privacy of my own home, let alone with people watching me. A definite pass, but no judgment for people who are into that style of more adult game.
As well as the ID@Xbox titles, I was able to go to the booths for a few other upcoming games. One that really caught my attention was Jusant. It didn’t have any fancy props like the others, it was just a demo booth, but I was thrilled anyway.
I had seen the trailer for it during the latest Xbox showcase and was keen to learn more. The trailer had been frustratingly vague, but everything I had seen suggested it was right up my alley.
Sure enough, Jusant was first and foremost about realistic climbing gameplay. Instead of just pressing a button to climb like in most games, it was a really involved experience. You had to move one hand at a time, stretching out and choosing the direction.
It took a while to get the hang of it, and at first, I felt like I was playing QWOP (my fellow millennials will know the exquisite pain of that game). But once I’d become accustomed to the movement, it was excellent. I do climbing in my free time, and I can honestly say that Jusant got it just right. My only worry is that the full game may feel repetitive, but that remains to be seen.
I also felt compelled to check out Ara: History Untold. The booth for that was gorgeous, a huge set built with pillars that gave the appearance of ancient architecture.
They didn’t have a playable demo, but they had a really detailed preview where one of their team played the game in front of an audience, and we could call out suggestions of what to do.
It was a truly interactive experience that gave a good idea of what to expect from the game. It’s very similar to the Civilization games, and a few of the team actually worked on Civ 5. It stands out as its own thing, though, and looks set to be a must-play for strategy fans.
There was also an area for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, the upcoming expansion of the popular sci-fi game. There were some fun props for it, including a motorcycle that people could pose on.
It was very busy with queues and closed about an hour before closing time, meaning many visitors missed out. However, the demo itself was awesome and captured everything special about the base game.
They were very secretive, and the demo area was shrouded behind a curtain, with strict enforcement about not taking photos inside the area. Stay tuned to this site for my upcoming preview of this demo.
To make the event feel more exclusive and in the moment, Xbox were running a photo challenge. Everyone was given a card at the start, and you had to get 4 stamps by visiting all of the special photo opportunities around the event.
But the kicker was they didn’t actually tell you where they were, you had to figure it out on your own. Once you had all of them, you signed your username on the card and put it in the ballot box.
It was really exciting discovering all the areas, and the photos themselves were cool too. There’d be a prop, and they had special green-screen-style machines that would add a backdrop to the picture so you could see yourself and the prop, but nothing else behind you.
The games that had photo opportunities were Forza, Sea of Thieves, Towerborne, and Starfield. The Starfield one was the coolest as you got to step into an awesome spacesuit, but the line was really long, so I was waiting a while.
At the end of the event, there was an ending ceremony. During this, 4 winners were drawn from the ballot box to win a selection of prizes. These included an Xbox Series X, a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, Starfield merch, and gift cards for the Xbox Gear Shop. Sadly I didn’t win anything, but it was exciting to be present for it all the same.
The Rest of Gamescom
I’d had such fun during the Xbox event, and 3 hours just didn’t feel like long enough. The plan had been to explore Cologne on day 2 of our trip since we were leaving so early the next day and wouldn’t get another chance, but I admit I felt a pang of regret thinking about all the games I was missing out on.
Therefore, I was delighted when I awoke on day 2 to hear my husband announcing that he was gonna buy Gamescom tickets for us both.
I have been to many conventions in my life, but never have I been inside a building as large as the Koelnmesse Congress Center. It just kept going and going! I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the event.
Even though the building was ginormous, every room was packed full of games and activities. It was also packed full of people, I cannot begin to describe how crowded it was. This was the Thursday before the event even properly kicked off, so I dread to think how busy it was on the Saturday.
Trying to decide where to go was a challenge when we only had one day and were surrounded by so many possibilities. However, I knew where my heart lay, so I headed straight to their dedicated indie section.
I got to play demos for several upcoming titles, as the queues were only 5-15 minutes long for most of them. There was also a stamp card where you could get a free soft drink by playing 6 participating games, so I got that after a couple of hours of playing.
There were several awesome titles in the indie area, but the one that stood out the most to me was Paleo Pines. We’d actually been talking about it on the Indie Game Culture Podcast the week before I left, so I was really excited to get to play it in person.
The dinosaurs were super cute, and the attendant, Yazz, was able to use her developer cheat codes to spawn any dinosaur I liked. I chose a stegosaurus with purple plates along its back.
The gameplay was fun, and I loved wandering around exploring the world, and discovering new dinosaurs. It’s a farming/ ranching sim, but there’s plenty to do. Yazz was absolutely wonderful, and I’ll soon be uploading an interview that I conducted with her.
When I finally left the indie area to explore the rest of the show, I headed down to the Nintendo area. They had several game demos, but most of them had long queues, so instead I went to what was undeniably the best set build of the entire show – an Animal Crossing: New Horizons-themed camp!
I was queueing up for a photo with Tom Nook and Isabelle, but sadly they both left right before it was due to be my turn, and I didn’t want to wait half an hour for their next appearance. I was still able to get a photo with the camp, though, and there were even tool props to hold!
Despite being a convention for gaming, there was a large area of one of the halls dedicated to Netflix. They had impressive set builds for a few of their shows, including Stranger Things, The Witcher, and Squid Game. By this point, it was nearly the end of the day, so I didn’t have much time to stop and take pictures.
But I did take a couple of photos with the Squid Game guards because how often does an opportunity like that present itself? After that, I wandered around the rest of the show, trying to take in as much as I possibly could before it was eventually time to leave.
Question: How Do You Get Tickets to Xbox Fanfest?
Answer: Xbox Fanfest is a celebration of Xbox, and although the online activities are open to everyone who signs up, the in-person events are an exclusive experience.
Everyone is welcome to enter the draw via their Xbox event, and a lucky few will be selected randomly. You can’t buy tickets for it, but if you win it, then entry is completely free (although you still pay your own travel fees).
Question: Where was Gamescom 2023?
Answer: Gamescom 2023 was held in Cologne, Germany at the Koelnmesse Congress Center. The huge venue played host to over 320,000 people between the 23rd and 27th of August.
Question: Were there any Indie Games at Gamescom 2023?
Answer: Yes! Although Gamescom attracts a lot of attention from fans of triple-A games, it’s also an opportunity for indie developers to exhibit their new titles. Gamescom 2023 had an entire area dedicated solely to indie games, as well as a few demo spots in other areas such as the Nintendo zone or the Xbox zone.
Overall, Xbox Fanfest 2023 was a really fun time, and I’m grateful to have had the chance to play so many incredible titles. Whilst the experience was certainly stressful due to the short notice and poor queue management, I’m still really glad I went.
Xbox fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming months, and even people on other platforms will have access to most of these games.
Gamescom was awesome too, certainly the largest event I’ve ever been to. For anyone considering going in the future, I’d recommend being aware of how much time you will spend queuing.
It’s definitely better for indie games, the larger titles had queues ranging from about half an hour to 2 hours. It’s also going to be packed, as Gamescom keeps growing year on year. It’s not a good event to attend if you have a fear of crowds.
Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into what you can expect from a large gaming event. Keep your eye on Indie Game Culture for even more content from the event in the coming days and weeks, including previews and interviews!