It has been nearly a week since the public address system at the Indiana Convention Center announced the closing of Gen Con 2013. We attended this year’s convention–our first Gen Con ever–not just as a gamers, but also as members of the press. Let me tell you a little about our experience there:
Gen Con is a convention that I have wanted to go to since I was 16 years old and would see the convention announcements in dragon magazine. For those of you who are not initiated into the uber nerdy core of gaming fandom–I earned my place in those ranks the first time I argued with my local game retailer about the merits of the Rebel Alliance B-Wing in West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game–Gen Con is a gaming convention like no other.
The self proclaimed “greatest 4 days in gaming” is a strange admixture of the video game industry’s trade show E3 and the San Diego Comic Con (Comic Con International). Gen Con is a place where the best and the brightest, as well as the not so great and the not so bright (I’m not the discriminating type) in all genres of the “traditional” game industry, be that board gaming, war gaming, tabletop roleplaying, miniatures, card games or stick ball–seriously EVERY game seems to make an appearance–come together to reveal their new products and to discuss our collective hobby.
What distinguishes Gen Con from other industry conventions like E3 is that those who are involved in, or want to be involved in, the gaming industry interface with us–the regular game hobbyists who make up the gaming community. As a result Gen Con has become a convention that is highly participatory.
During my time in Indianapolis it became clear to me that the most important part of the convention was not the D&D Next, the writing, celebrity, or the obligatory “How You Too Can Make Games” panels. Instead it was the hundreds of events, like organized play of “classic” games, beginner introductions to “classic” games, the play of new games, and large scale play testing, that were sponsored by game manufacturers. In fact, we estimated that 60% of the convention floor was given over to gamers actually playing games.
A lot of this was marketing of games and preservation of communities around individual games to be sure; However, what amazed us was the fact that game companies and the individual designers themselves actually seemed to take player input seriously. This is a far cry from the distant panels at San Diego Comic Con staring down at the thousands (only a small portion of which could ask questions or comment). A lot of thought went in to most of these events, and issues that arose through player interaction and during game play were taken note of by game developers. This made Gen Con really stand out to us because not only was community participation necessary for the convention to function, that participation seemed to be largely appreciated by those involved in making and marketing the games. It helped to generate a real feeling of community amongst Gen Con attendees.
Making this convention model work did not seem difficult. Most of the events required nothing of the gamers who wanted to participate in them other than their time, and in some cases a small “fee” in the form of “generic” $2 event tickets. While we personally would have preferred events that were free to the participants (we were testing and demoing their games after all), at a cost of roughly $2 per hour of an event, the actual monetary costs to participate were far from burdensome.
Indeed the biggest objection we encountered to the event structure were persistent complaints that the anti-cheating precautions for card game tournaments required too large an investment in player time. One Magic: The Gathering player, for instance, told Terriblegamers.com and Rentagamemaster.com that the anti-cheating measures, which involved card handouts, swaps, and re-swaps meant that for every hour of actual game time there was 2 hours of prep.
Another complaint we heard a lot was a general bemoaning of the fact that players actually had bodies that had needs other than games. In fact, we were shown a rather gross invention of one person we talked to during a demo of Cryptic Game Labs new board game Leviathans. He had rigged a catheter system feeding a two liter bottle in a backpack by which he could relieve himself without having to get up!While we did participate in a number of these events (we got up to use the restroom), the details of which will be their own articles, we spent the vast majority of our time on the “retail” floor.
The retail floor at Gen Con is an all together different sort of animal than veterans of other conventions like the San Diego Comic Con would be familiar. On its surface the retail floor is recognizable enough. Hundreds of booths are set up for game makers, retailers, and authors to sell their products to the public; However, when we actually approached the booths we were in for a pleasant surprise! Nearly every game industry and author booth was staffed by the people who actually wrote, designed, drew, produced and edited games and books. We were able to meet, and talk with at length, people like Joseph Goodman (Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game), fellow UC Irvine Anteater Brian Cross (Eclipse Phase), Clovis Fremont (Shadows of Esteren), Christopher De La Rosa (Outbreak: Undead), nearly everyone from Flying Buffalo Inc. (Tunnels and Trolls), and many more (most of whom will be subjects of later articles).
This was an amazing experience for us because it allowed us some face time with the people who actually made many of the games we play and love. Thus we were able to spend many an hour picking the brains of the creative talent behind gaming, quizzing them on everything from their relationship with the game community to the reasons behind game design choices.
Never, in my personal experience at least (I cannot speak for the others), have I had the chance to hear so many great stories about the creative process and the history of gaming itself. To be as cliché as I possibly can, it was epic.
In the next few weeks you should expect to hear more from us. We will have a number of articles going into greater detail about our experiences at Gen Con 2013. We have a lot to say about Gen Con itself, the gaming community, trends in gaming, gaming journalism, and our interviews. You will also, of course, expect to see us reviewing a number of things we picked up at Gen Con.
In the meantime we at Terriblegamers.com, Thac0artists.com and Rentagamemaster.com would like to thank all of the people who took the time to talk to us during the convention. This includes (but is not limited to!) all of the people I’ve already listed above, and many more such as Steve Crompton, Col. Lou Zocchi (we love gamescience!), Todd Rowland, Christi Cardenas, Madison Sites, Dough Davidson, Daniel Hughs, Paul Brunson, Rich Paris, Tony Lee, and of course the entire gaming community without which there would be no hobby at all. Especially those of you who actually find yourself reading this! Many, many, many thanks to you all!
(c) Scott Mills