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[Gamer’s World] Tokyo Game Show 2021: What to Expect as Japan’s Biggest Gaming Expo Goes Hybrid

The public can watch a livestream on the official TGS YouTube channel, while the media will be at the venue for hands-on access and to deliver firsthand impressions of the games.

Daniel Robson

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Courtesy of Tokyo Game Show 2021 (TGS Official Program Keynote: We’ll always have games.)

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Tokyo Game Show 2021 is right around the corner, taking place from September 30 through October 3. The biggest event in Japan’s gaming calendar and celebrating 25 years since its foundation in 1996, TGS will be a chance for gamers around the world to learn about the latest upcoming releases from publishers in Japan and beyond. 

Participants this year include Square Enix, whose various Final Fantasy projects and upcoming action-RPG Forspoken will be undoubted highlights; Koei Tecmo Games, which has hinted at a “secret” new game announcement; and Bandai Namco Entertainment, which has promised updates for its hugely popular Idolmaster and Sword Art Online franchises.

We’ll also get to see the very first gameplay footage of SNK’s King of Fighters 15, new details of Konami’s Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, an untitled new mobile RPG from Sega, Guilty Gear -Strive- updates from Arc System Works, and the reveal of Wanted: Dead, a mysterious new “hardcore third-person shooter/slasher game” from 110 Industries being developed by some of the talents behind Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive.

Nintendo is never present on the Tokyo Game Show floor, and PlayStation is skipping the 2021 event as it has with all other major game expos since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, while both platform holders are official sponsors, do not expect any new announcements from them. 

Meanwhile, Microsoft, whose Xbox platform has been quietly picking up momentum in Japan, will take the opportunity to deliver “a celebration with our Asia community and locally relevant updates.” While they have said fans should not expect any major new global announcements, it will be interesting to see what Xbox has up its sleeve as the only console platform holder with a showcase at TGS 2021 — perhaps updates on its highly lauded cloud-streaming service and a glimpse at the holiday lineup for its fantastic all-you-can-play Game Pass subscription service. 

Microsoft also owns Minecraft, which counts Japan as one of its strongest markets, so an update of some kind during TGS seems likely.

Microsoft will not be the only non-Japanese publisher to hold a showcase during TGS 2021. French giant Ubisoft will focus on its upcoming title Far Cry 6, which stars Breaking Bad actor Giancarlo Esposito as its villain. 

Italy’s 505 Games will show a deep-dive on its highly anticipated made-in-Japan RPG Eiyuden Chronicle, along with other titles developed in Australia and Malaysia. 

Meanwhile, China’s mega-publisher Tencent Games, indie publisher GameraGame, and Genshin Impact publisher miHoYo will represent China’s evermore powerful gaming market.

And before you ask, no, we haven’t heard any indication that FromSoftware’s much awaited Elden Ring will be at TGS 2021. Sorry!

Online, Offline

While TGS is usually held at the cavernous Makuhari Messe venue in Chiba, in 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it took place for the first time as an online-only event, with four days of livestream showcases that were a mixture of game announcements and variety shows — such as a surprisingly deep 60th-anniversary history lesson from Sega.

In 2021, as the pandemic continues, TGS will once again take place as a livestream format. But, unlike last year, there will also be an in-person invitation-only expo, where media outlets and influencers will be able to go hands-on with new games and share their impressions and opinions, just like at a regular pre-COVID game expo. (Sorry, the public will not be allowed in.)

Game expos around the world have struggled during the pandemic, since these are traditionally events that gather tens of thousands (or more) of game industry workers and members of the public in a densely packed, sweaty exhibition center to share game controllers at crowded demo booths. Even in the best of times, a few days at a major gaming expo will send me home with a nasty cold and frayed vocal cords. 

As COVID-19 spread around the world in early 2020, most gaming events were canceled, postponed, or moved online. But in recent months we have been seeing a return to some semblance of normality.

In Shanghai, ChinaJoy — Asia’s largest game expo — was held more or less as usual in the summer of 2020 and 2021, with strict protocols but open to the public. Earlier in September, the community-focused expo PAX West was held in Seattle, Washington, with a public audience and plenty of masks. 

In Japan, the spread of COVID-19 has recently been fueled by the Delta variant, and a state of emergency has been declared in multiple cities in an attempt to control the rise in infections. Still, cases are relatively low compared with other countries, and events have been making a slow comeback. 

The annual indie game showcase BitSummit in Kyoto went ahead in early September 2021 as a hybrid event, just like TGS, with a livestream for the public and a private in-person event where media could try out the latest games from small- and medium-scale indie developers. 

I attended with my team from IGN Japan. We set up a livestream booth inside the venue and broadcast online throughout the show. Although it was a shame that public visitors could not attend and try all of the fantastic games on display, it was a sweet relief to get back to physical events. Aside from the obvious excitement of seeing so many old friends and colleagues after such a long absence from the field, the logistics of covering a physical event are just so much easier and more predictable than a digital event. 

When an event is online only, it’s basically an endless shower of one-way marketing, so it’s difficult to offer first-hand reporting. Having an in-person expo means more direct access to games and the people who make them. Being able to easily play all of the games on display in the expo hall meant we could deliver our honest impressions, meaning higher quality reporting that is more useful for our readers.

Watch from Home

Which brings us back to the Tokyo Game Show. The public-facing portion of the show is a livestream on the official TGS YouTube channel, where game companies will take turns to deliver their showcases over the course of four days from September 30 through October 3. This means game fans can tune in during the period to find updates from their favorite game companies, and each video will be archived so that you can catch up at a later date. 

The full schedule is here, and much of the programming is available in English.

There is even a VR portal site, where you can watch the showcases in a virtual space, along with other special programming.

Sense of Wonder Night, the annual indie-game competition held at TGS, will actually benefit from the shift to online delivery: Like last year, the contest will be held online, where all the world can see the competing lineup of innovative indies.

But that won’t be all. Like last year, many of the major game publishers will also run livestreams on their own official channels throughout the TGS period. For example, while Square Enix has a slot on the official TGS channel at 19:00 JST on October 1, which will include updates on multiple upcoming and recent titles, it will also run an extended series of livestreams on its own channels on October 1-3 that includes individual programs for games such as Forspoken, Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and Final Fantasy 14, plus performances of music from some of its popular franchises.

You’ll also be able to find all the latest updates on IGN! We’ll be covering TGS directly from the show floor, with articles and videos in English as well as a four-day livestream in Japanese. Since this is the first hybrid version of the show, there should be plenty of surprises. I will even be co-hosting an interactive tour of the venue for travel agency HIS, for those who are looking to experience the show floor from the comfort of home.

In recent years, Japan has produced some of the world’s biggest videogame hits, from Animal Crossing to Dark Souls. The Tokyo Game Show will be an opportunity to find out about the Japanese games we’ll be playing for the rest of 2021 and into next year. 

Author: Daniel Robson 

Daniel Robson is chief editor of videogame news site IGN Japan. Read his series Gamer’s World on JAPAN Forward, and find him on Twitter here.

Daniel Robson is a veteran music journalist and Chief Editor of IGN Japan (http://jp.ign.com).