Play NYC is a bit of an enigma in the ever-growing scene of gaming conventions. In essence, once could refer to it as the E3 of indie gaming, or the Gamescom of small development teams. Crammed into the Terminal 5 Theater in downtown Manhattan, the event organizers managed to pack as many live demos, presenters and a fully decked out stage for livestreaming the event and doing interviews. With three levels of new, unique games developed by solo devs or small teams (both analog and digital), Play NYC was the ideal gaming convention for those who do not have the coveted press access required by big name conventions such as E3.
The most jarring difference is the almost non-existent presence of big-name publishers and developers, most of the premier games coming from small teams who have worked with larger developers in the past, releasing their own games on Steam or mobile platforms, or 100% solo-driven efforts that produced incredibly innovative or postmodern twists on established genres, even the long forgotten adventure game made a comeback from a solo indie developer.
Many of these titles, such as the rather popular Pet the Pup at the Party, were all displayed in stellar fashion with all developers and representatives on deck, communicating with both press and guests in a laid-back yet professional manner, not having their expressive energies cordoned off by the looming presence of strict marketing and high-level business protocol. Here, the developers and presenters could be themselves as they interacted with interested parties, and not a single one needed any booth babes.
An unexpected surprise was the small but strong showing of analog games, primarily card games, and expansions on the traditional board game model. In an urban twist on Cards Against Humanity was the popular Ultimate Clap Back insult game. Instead of coming up with the most sinister responses to a game of fill-in-the-blank, UCB has players slinging insults and countering them with the ultimate response: the clap back. I got to play it myself, and it is definitely one of the strongest social bonding games I’ve played. Why? Because it will make you laugh, and shrug off the stigma of receiving an insult in the name of fun. Admittedly, I spent more time on this game than I did with others on the first day of the convention, and even made some new friends. How’s that for a social gaming experience?
Despite all of the games on display, it was clear that VR titles were the absolute stars of the show. From simple yet highly addictive puzzle games to full on monster combat simulators, the efforts put forth by developers at Play NYC in regards to VR absolutely killed it, showcasing games that outclassed many VR games that have been released already. A shining example of this was Tin Moon Studios CubeWorks, an innovative twist on puzzle games utilizing VR effectively. Though the direction seems simple with having to match sides of a cube together, this game had a consistent line around it during the entire weekend. Given that Tin Moon Studios is staffed by former associates to Naughty Dog, it comes as no surprise.
Among the smaller exhibits such as re-releases of classic arcade games for the homebrew Dreamcast market (yes, It’s still thriving) and the ever-present classic games vendor at the center-left of the entrance, Play NYC was smaller in scale compared to larger shows, but the heart and community aspect of gaming was alive and well.