Saturday, August 8, 2015

How big is too big? Gaming Cons today

I am fortunate in that I get to go to seven cons every year. I start in Feb. at TotalCon, then CincyCon followed by GaryCon followed by Nexus, then NorTex then GenCon and wrap up with Gamehole Con in Nov in Madison WI. Every one of these cons has a certain vibe to it and is special in its own way.

The biggest, by a very wide margin, is GenCon with 61K attendees this year. The smallest con I go to is NorTex—the North Texas Role Playing Game Convention,aka NTRPGCon, with an attendance of about 350. (Full disclosure: They all put me up and some either reimburse for gas or send me plane tickets while some even give me meal money. I would not know how to go about appearance fees; I would be too embarrassed.)

NTRPGCon has about 10 attendees for every industry guest; Doug Rhea, the mastermind behind it, likes it that way. It is far and away the most laidback con of all the ones I attend, enabling wonderful conversations and interactions between all sorts of people, famous or not. It has an intense vibe of fraternity.

GaryCon has The Old Guard, a loosely defined group of former TSR staffers, that gets together each year at the con. As senior member, I am assembling them all at once for a group photo next con, before our ranks have too much more time to shrink. GaryCon is in Lake Geneva, birthplace of FRPG’s and has a sort of “pilgrimage to the source” aura surrounding it. Once there, it has a distinctively old school vibe of just a bunch of us gamers getting together to game. If you left your backpack out on The Virtual Porch in the morning, it would still be there, untouched, many hours later. It has that feel from the old days of “we’re all in this together”.

Nexus is struggling to find its niche; it is changing dates again for a better fit but seems to show some promise. I hope it gets past its teething pains.

CincyCon is my local con; 30 years ago we drew thousands, but not nearly so many nowadays. I want to see it get better and am trying out different things with them.

This will be my first time at Gamehole. Everything I have heard about it augurs well for its continued growth; being in early Nov. gives them an edge in that not much in the way of gaming goes on in Nov.

TotalCon is unique in that it has a long history, has had more than its fair share of ups and downs and takes over a very large Holiday Inn complex completely. Further, they have had a program embracing the children for longer than any other con I know of.

GenCon is just too damned big. Admittedly, I don’t game at GenCon-I work the Auction. But lots of my friends do game there and it seems that theirs’ is a mixed reaction this year. With venues scattered about downtown, and events such as True Dungeon having meticulous time requirements, I think a bit of dashing here and there is required a bit too often. GenCon is beginning to feel like that first week at college where you dash about like a headless chicken.

Then there is the commercial side of cons. All of the cons I attend have vendor areas; vendor table rentals and booth rentals constitute a meaningful portion of revenues. TotalCon and GaryCon have relatively small vendor rooms, although GaryCon’s may expand with the new venue. CincyCon has a smallish area and NorTex restricts their booths to the perimeter of a large open area. The point is, the smaller cons see the vendor area as an adjunct to the total experience of the con.

It seems to me that the driving purpose, the raison d’ĂȘtre of GenCon seems to be the Dealer Hall and the vendors. I have already complained bitterly elsewhere about the abusive way the floor-plan was derived--solely for the benefit of the vendors and to the detriment of the gamers, in my opinion.
GenCon used to be, and to a lesser extent Origins, the date we at which we aimed for new releases; it was the single largest confluence of that many gamers. There was but a fraction of the companies back in the 70’s and 80’s that there are now. I cannot imagine the pressure to succeed, to make or break your company, if it all depends upon the splash you make at GenCon. It is extremely likely that several great games or products get lost in the blizzard of releases every year because they did not spend a lot on the box or were overshadowed in their booth area by one of the mega-booths or any number of other good reasons. How can Joe Figamo, who has his entire life savings wrapped up in the best new game idea in decades, hope to compete with the smoke and mirrors of one of the big companies in his modest little booth with modest graphics and just a couple of products? He will be lost in the tumult. The next great “strange” game (just as D&D was certainly strange in ’74) may die at birth.

As for myself, I will continue to work the Auction as long as they will have me. If not for my involvement in the Auction, I would not attend any more. In no way, shape or form do I recognize today the first con I attended in ’74. In itself, that is neither good nor bad; I just don’t like what it has become, and I have all the other cons I go to that can feed my gaming need.


  1. Wow. You nailed the Gencon description. At times I feel like I'm at work and running late for my next patient or meeting. This year we took. A much more relaxed approach and it was 100 times better. Time relaxing at the auction, pick up games with friends, and time to eat and sleep!

  2. Are you planning on checking our CinCityCon, it has gotten great reviews and is in Cincinnati.