9 Observations from Not Attending Gen Con 2019

1 August 2019 | 13 Comments

Typically I would write a blog post about Gen Con, the largest tabletop game convention in the US, after the convention (like this one from 2018). But for the first time in 7 years, I’m not there.

Why? Well, it’s an experiment. Some of you longtime readers have encouraged me to delegate more, so instead of attending the convention this year, I’m experimenting with full delegation to Meeplesource and a Stonemaier volunteer team to plan and run a big booth with lots of demo tables. Instead of spending 150+ hours of my time planning and attending the convention, other people are doing it for me. Stonemaier Games is still involved financially, but not nearly at the level of the last few years.

How’s it going? Great! I never particularly enjoyed planning for Gen Con, so it’s been wonderful to have people like Cynthia and Derian do it instead. And while I’ve enjoyed aspects of the convention (particularly the people), as an introvert I’m greatly enjoying working alone in my home office.

What are we missing out on? Not much, particularly since Meeplesource is selling our products and volunteers are showing people what those products are. The main sacrifice is face time with a variety of people (media, partners, volunteers, fans, and designers). While face time is better than connecting virtually, I’m at peace with it given my everpresent availability on social media.

Don’t we miss the atmosphere? Gen Con, admittedly, is a haven for tabletop games. There’s so much to see and do, and the excitement is palpable. It’s also a good way to put your finger on the pulse of the industry. However, I’m working constantly at Gen Con. There’s no time for me to walk around and soak in the atmosphere (and if I did, it would be far more cost- and time-effective to simply follow the convention on social media, which I’m doing).

Do people care that I’m not there? A lot of people attend Gen Con, and 99.99% of people don’t care that I’m not there. I have gotten a number of messages from people over the last few weeks asking if I’ll be there, and I appreciate the interest in my attendance.

What are we doing instead? Well, one of the perks I’ve discovered is that Stonemaier-related communications (private and public) has been very quiet this week. The eyes of the industry are on Gen Con. So I’ve had lots of time for design and creative work this week, which is great.

How does it impact our release schedule? Over the past few years, I’ve felt the pressure to have something shiny and new to show off at Gen Con. I totally respect companies who do that, just as we’ve done in the past. But I don’t want to work around someone else’s schedule. I generally want to spread out our releases and launch them when they’re ready, not rush a product (production, shipping, or otherwise) just to have it ready for a small group of people in Indianapolis by early August. While I’m sure Meeplesource wouldn’t have minded having a new product, I think they’ll do just fine with our other 2019 releases (Wingspan, the Euphoria expansion, and the Scythe modular board).

Why not announce Codename: Clay during Gen Con? It’s no secret that there is a new Stonemaier game in the works. Many companies use Gen Con to announce new products. That’s fun, but it also means it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle–it’s hard to stand out when everyone’s talking. So I’m waiting until after Gen Con (August 7) to announce the name of the new game, the theme, designer, and box art, followed by daily design diaries detailing exactly what the game is. If you’re curious, you can sign up for our enewsletter here.

Will we do this again next year? I don’t know–we’ll see! It’s just an experiment, so I’ll talk with Meeplesource after the convention to see what they think.

In the off-chance you’re reading this while at Gen Con, I highly recommend stopping by the Meeplesource/Stonemaier booth. Several of our designers are there, including Elizabeth (Wingspan), Hoby (My Little Scythe), and Ryan (The Rise of Fenris). Natalia, the lead artist for Wingspan, will also be at the booth on Saturday.

In your industry, have you every skipped a major convention? How did it go? What do you think about our decision not to attend Gen Con this year?

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13 Comments on “9 Observations from Not Attending Gen Con 2019

  1. I don’t think its an issue you not being there yourself Jamey, in the end Stonemaier games was represented. It would be very different if you’d been advertised as attending or something so there might have been people who missed the chance to meet you. As it is, when I attend conventions for Gaslands with the designer people are kind of surprised that the actual writing teams do cons. I think they hugely overestimate how big of a deal we actually are.

  2. This was the second year in a row that I didn’t go (after ~5 straight years never missing it) and it was easier this second time than it was last year. Sure, there were a lot of things that I miss about it, but I’m just not sure it’s worth the time and financial investment. A lot of what you get from it is brand recognition and personal connections that are so hard to quantify. It’s hard to know if it’s “worth it.” But what I do know is that I enjoyed not having the stress of planning and executing the adventure and I put the time I would have spent preparing for it to good use.

    We partnered with Albino Dragon at Gen Con this year where they showed off one of our upcoming games in their booth, which worked out well. They just started offering that service to anyone at various conventions, which might be a good option for others who are reading this who want to try a convention-skipping experiment as well.

  3. The booth was great. I was happy to see Wingspan still flying off the shelves. While I would have lived to say hi I totally get why not going for you had to feel a little awesome. GenCon is huge and when I first started going (only 4 years ago) I was a kid in candy shop but I already find myself looking for smaller conventions. The biggest appeal to me for GenCon now is that it is in the summer. As a teacher it is really hard to find conventions during the year that I can actually get to without taking time off work (which I won’t do).

  4. Personally I think a lot of time and money is wasted by companies going to conventions every year, money that would be better spent on advertising. I’d rather see you spend your resources sponsoring a game week at Game Goblins in Little Rock, Arkansas or any other great game store. THE guest list from SM is awesome. That group will do way more promotion than you could on your own. I hope some day to have a game company and one of the things I’m looking at is sending the designer around to stores to meet folks and sell and sign games much the way a book author would.

    1. Kevin,

      My company has done it both ways…doing demo nights for our first title in 3 major metro areas( Chicago, St Louis and Indianapolis) at different stores in each area and mainly using conventions as a marketing tool for our second release.

      We definitely saw more of an uptick from the convention model than what I’d call the barnstorming model. You get more bang for your buck at conventions because more people will be there than at game stores.

      However, I think the best way to market your games would be to do both but that would be very time consuming. The difficulty, at least for my company, is I have a full time job and my friend is a stay-at-home dad with 3 young kids so we simply do not have the time to travel to a lot of different game stores across the country.

      1. I can attest to the fact that your volunteer
        representitaves were knowledgable and professional. We play Viticulture with one of them and it was excellent. You were well represented by them.

  5. I haven’t skipped my own non-profits convention because I am working it, not an option. But we are much more modest, these days maybe 600+, probably peaked at 1,700+.

    There are other conferences (cons) in my field that I miss, but that is a budget issue of my program. It is a great way to network and form a community. Our area is adoption from foster care in the US and Canada, and being able to network is as important as the education that attendees get. I was able in my workshop to connect with two state people and we have calls next week to try and look at how they can change their programs to help support more families and children.

    At someone else’s conference, after my workshop, a family need help in her state and county (near where that conference was) I was able to connect her with super parent that I knew for 16 years in her own community.

  6. Over the years I have attended many technology conventions, some with hundreds of thousands of attendees, as well as hosting my own traveling convention in Europe, US, South America, Australia and Asia.

    For me and my company, over the years a convention will grow, attracting more and more people, until it reaches a tipping point, where the press of people is just so great that real work becomes nearly impossible.

    GenCon for many has reached this point. Where the benefit of being present personally is are overwhelmed by the crush of events and activities.

    And with today’s instant communications and especially your personal omni-presence on social media, the people you would have met are already in contact with you. And the ability to have meaningful conversations is greatly reduced.

    What is now happening is a natural evolution, as more and more regional and specialty conventions begin to grow, each addressing their individual audiences. These, like Geekway to the West, or the World Boardgaming Championships last week in Pennsylvania will continue to grow and attract an audience that wants higher quality personal time rather than standing in a booth as random people wander by.

    1. Richard: Thanks for sharing your perspective on how conventions grow and evolve over time. Geekway to the West is really neat because it had such small, humble roots (I think the first one was held in someone’s home). So it didn’t start as this big commercial thing, and it’s maintained that feeling as it’s grown (even though it does now have a booth area).

  7. I’m curious to see if not going pays off in the long run since you can stay caught up on Stonemaier stuff without the distraction of Gen Con.

    I know, at least for me, I wish I was there all 4 days, but I had to choose between going to Gen Con the whole time or using the time off to go to Spiel. I think I made the right choice and it definitely feels different getting the 30,000 feet view of Gen Con thru social media instead of being there. At least the rest of Team Elf Creek is there all 4 days to demo our titles.

    Thanks for the blog!

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