Friday, August 12, 2016

Gen Con #49, 2016: How big is too big for a convention?

First Impressions…

The residents of Indianapolis have every reason to think that GenCon attendees are some of the dumbest sheep around.

This was the most visibly diverse GC ever.

The vendor hall grew to monstrous proportions.

Attendance was flat, but Thursday was mayhem.

The Debut of The Dwarvenaut

The Charity Auction was a smashing success.

Has Gen Con gotten too big?

Now some details…

GenCon attendees, for the most part, are some of either the most rude, or dumbest, pedestrians ever. The lights in Indy are really simple; a white icon of a person walking or an orange hand with a countdown in seconds. When the white icon comes on, you walk. When the orange hand comes up it means DO NOT START ACROSS NOW; the countdown is to alert those already in the crosswalk how much time they have left before the light changes so GET THE HELL OUT OF THE CROSSWALK! Well, not for GC attendees, apparently, who lumbered out into the crosswalks halfway through the orange countdown and made the long-suffering drivers wait while they plodded across. C’mon, folks! Show some courtesy to your hosts and quit acting like a herd of buffalo.

When Indiana’s benighted Gov. Pence signed a bill last year that basically said it was OK to discriminate in IN for just about any reason, GenCon LLC was the very first to threaten to pull out of Indy. Eventually, Pence’s lackeys convinced him (remember, this is the guy that thinks it is cool to be Trump’s running mate) that Indy might get upset with him to lose the $70 million that GenCon means to Indy, and so allowed the bill to be rescinded.
Never has GenCon been as openly diverse and embracing of everyone as it was this year, proving again that we are all just gamers first. All sorts of costumes draping all sorts of body types, some attendees were just letting it all hang out.

Costumes have become a very big deal. Some of them are amazing and evidence hours of work and lots of dollars spent. Some of them are puzzling, I must admit. But it all seems to be in good fun, for the most part. I can’t help feeling though, that the idea of costumes at GenCon feeds some peoples exhibitionist tendencies. So, Dude in the leather G-string that paraded around for 2 days legally naked (and all the rest of the similarly benighted), save it for your mirror at home. I truly do not care how well you’re ripped; put some damned clothes on. GenCon isn’t Naked City IN (where they have real naked contests). If any female in attendance had shown that much skin, she would have been cited for Public Nudity.

I no longer smoke tobacco, but I still make regular trips to the smoking areas to see old friends and use my vape. It was during a few of these sojourns that I noticed a phenomenon that I do not pretend to understand. Apparently, some of the vapers there are looking for future employment as human smoke-screens; WWII destroyers should have been so efficient. What is with the huge clouds? Isn’t all that juice wasted?

Attendance was pretty flat this year, right around 61K attendees, same as last year. Turnstile numbers (how many attend each day added together over the 4 days) were way up. I think I know why. Thursday was insane; I’m guessing that a whole lot of gamers decided to take the whole four days. I do know that some items at some booths were gone by Friday noon. For the first time ever, I thought to buy a GenCon souvenir; they had a nice messenger bag I liked. They were sold out on Thursday.
Other than a tragic inability to understand traffic rules, the crowd was as well behaved and courteous as you would expect a gathering of gamers to be. I witnessed many acts of kindness and none of boorish behavior.

The vendor hall this year was the largest ever; I believe they may have added about 11 rows when they expanded. I do know that my achy and arthritic knees and ankles gave out the first time at Row 19; I completed my circuit the next day. Artist’s Alley was embroiled in controversy over who got in and who didn’t, including a couple of long-time denizens of the Alley whose work was not accepted this year. My god, has this also become politically corrupted now with petty jealousies and spite?

On a positive note, I was able to pick up three boardgames (Shadows over Camelot, Powergrid Deluxe and a new game that looks quite interesting called Council of Blackthorn) that I think my group might like, as well as a couple of silly card games. I got really lucky on a boardgame I saw coming up for auction after my shift was done; a FASA game I did not have from the series they did on James Clavell’s stuff, called Shogun. I scribbled a Proxy on the bid card and got the game for about 65% of the Proxy. It was much later when I opened it and found it to be un-punched!

Every year there are new vendors at GC, and this year was no exception. There is an ever-increasing number of what I call “non-game” vendors, selling jewelry and knick-knacks as well as esoteric stuff like kilts, steampunk clothing and accessories, mapping software, replica weapons and stuffed animals. These last must be something to do with anime as the majority of them had Asian features. Ah well, I don’t have to understand it for you to have fun.

About a year and a half ago, some film-maker types had the idea that Stefan Pokorny, CEO and mastermind of Dwarven Forge, was an interesting guy. They followed him around for over a year making a documentary about him. They named the movie The Dwarvenaut; it had been shown only a handful of times at film festivals around the country before GenCon, where it debuted to the public.
(Full Disclosure demands that I say up front that I consider Stefan to be both an amazingly talented guy, but better yet, my friend.)
I spent a bunch of time in the DF booth; the crew of ladies that Susy assembled were great to spend time with.
There is a glaring error in the credits of the movie (the post-production clods spelled my name incorrectly), so I was signing copies of the DVD’s and Blu-Rays with the correct spelling. They were specially priced for GC (50% off Amazon’s price) and signed by both Stefan and myself.
The movie is very, very interesting. (I am in it very briefly, and act sort of annoyingly; so, no ego in this recommendation.) Stefan is an amazingly talented artist capable of producing Fine Art as well as amazing sculptures of castles and caverns and dungeons and monsters and the like. The Blu-Ray has some extra stuff much more interesting to us gamers, like a 15 minute documentary on GaryCon and more. Treat yourself and pick one up.

Last year, the Charity Auction raked in about $12K; we smoked that figure this year with over $17K. Cardhalla raises a hefty chunk, and the people at Mayfair Games donate a hefty chunk of cash each year. Frank and I got them rolling and fired up the first hour and the rest of them ran with it. I still get a great deal of pleasure working in the Charity Auction. Next year we will have Twinkies again (inside auction reference for those in the know).

The question now is this: has GenCon gotten TOO big? The Best Four Days in Gaming (as they like to style themselves) may be getting too big for its own good. They had a record number of ticketed events this year. Those events were spread all over hell and gone. Just about every downtown hotel, with the exception of The Conrad, had games running somewhere. The convention spilled over into the Lucas Oil Center this year, making for a venue that is very spread out.
My first GenCon was in ’74; a couple hundred of us crammed into a non-air conditioned venue in August. The air was redolent and we all sweat through it together; the shared experience bonded us. The sweat is still there in Indy, while the venue has superior ventilation, it is still a daunting proposition. Sadly, I have heard a lot of gamers over the past year say that they just weren’t feeling Indy anymore. Particularly in the Midwest, we have several very viable smaller cons that are growing. Two that stand out in my mind are Gary Con and Gamehole Con, both in WI, one in March and the other in November. (Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge my pledge to Gary's offspring to support GaryCon, as long as I am physically able, that I made upon his death.)
Everything changes with time but the mountains, or so the old saying goes. I know that there are enormous game conventions (or shows) in Europe that dwarf GenCon. I cannot wrap my head around what they must be like.
The “fun” I seek when I go to GenCon is no longer gaming related, at least not in the way it once was. My enjoyment comes from seeing old friends, looking at new products and working the crowd in the Auction. I no longer get to play games at GenCon. I am fortunate in that I get to attend several cons each year as a Guest; at these events (TotalCon, GaryCon, NTRPGCon and Gamehole Con) I get to play games with strangers and friends; that is what game cons have always been about for me.


  1. What happened with Artists' Alley?

    1. From what I gathered, there was a bunch of drama on who would be on the jury. Then, one or more long-time members were not selected. Much decrying of "politics".

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. If you have ever been to a large city everyone uses the crosswalks like that. It's nothing new. Chicago, NY, LA, etc.

  3. This is just ny opinion but, as cons get bigger they have to change. People may not be feeling Indy, though the truth is the Con is just different than they remember. The growth is a double edged sword. It shows that gaming and game culture is being accepted more and more. 61,000 people is a number unthinkable in years past. However the greater numbers mean that the con is less personable. Gone are the days of the Con of 70s when it seemed more like a few dozen of your friends were out for a good time and gaming. I think it is best to accept Gencon for what it is becoming and look for that more personal feeling at smaller cons like Gary Con.

    As for the flat numbers... who knows could be the election. Could be something blowback on Pence. Could be Gencon has reached maximum appeal as it currently stands. Won't know until next year, though I am interested to find out.

  4. Dude, speaking as a year-round resident, I can confirm that native Indianapolis residents gleefully pay just as little attention to the timing of the lights as the Gen Con gamers you observed. The difference is they tend to come in bunches of just a couple at a time, and don't tend to delay traffic to the extent the Gen Con stampedes do. (Perhaps this sort of behavior is endemic to any large city; I don't know. Indy's the only large city in which I've lived, and they sure do it a lot here.)

    The problem isn't the crowds' willful disregard for the traffic lights. It's the crowds' numbers. And you're going to get that with any large downtown event, be they role-playing game fans or NCAA basketball fans.

  5. Oh, and if Gen Con has gotten "too big," what're they supposed to do about it? The number of cities who can support such a huge event as well as Indianapolis can are remarkably few. I attended BookExpo America in Chicago a few months back, and it was handicapped by being located miles away from practically any hotel accommodation space. Indianapolis at least has a pretty big number of hotels close by, for those lucky enough to get accommodations (or canny enough to reserve their rooms super-early).

    Gen Con will have exactly the same problems no matter where you try to hold it, and probably even more of them anywhere but Indy.

  6. The worst thing I encountered were people walking in the great hall: walking against the flow of traffic, stopping in the middle of the aisle, waiting to look at a table, but being in the flow of traffic, etc. It's almost lije we need signs, "walk to your right," "move out of traffic if you need to stop" and most importantly, "be courteous to wheelchairs, strollers, etc."

    The number of times we were held up, cut off, or had to instruct others to let a wheelchair through was crazy.

  7. The worst thing I encountered were people walking in the great hall: walking against the flow of traffic, stopping in the middle of the aisle, waiting to look at a table, but being in the flow of traffic, etc. It's almost lije we need signs, "walk to your right," "move out of traffic if you need to stop" and most importantly, "be courteous to wheelchairs, strollers, etc."

    The number of times we were held up, cut off, or had to instruct others to let a wheelchair through was crazy.