18 August 2013 | 28 Comments
Up until this past May, I had never been to a game convention. I have no great explanation of why that’s the case other than (a) I’m an introvert, (b) I have people to play games with on a regular basis here in St. Louis, and (c) I didn’t know what I was missing.
However, even before I attended Geekway to the West and Diecon, two small conventions in the greater St. Louis area, this past spring and summer, I had signed up to attend Gen Con. It’s the biggest gaming convention in the US, drawing over 40,000 people a year, and basically everyone told me that I needed to attend it.
So Alan (my business partner) and I headed out to Gen Con on Friday with two friends and plenty of Stonemaier Games t-shirts for all of us. We didn’t have a plan other than to wander around and figure out how we could best utilize Gen Con in the future if we continue to grow. We had no booth, no scheduled events, and only a few meetings scheduled.
I wanted to share my experiences with you from the perspective of someone (me) who had absolutely no idea what to expect from Gen Con and what you can learn from my mistakes and successes (mostly mistakes) this past weekend. I’ll post a bunch of photos at the end of the entry.
The Top 10 Things You Should Know About Gen Con if You Know Nothing About Gen Con
- It’s massive. The other two conventions I’ve attended had about 800 attendees. Gen Con has 40,000+, and it takes up the entire Indianapolis Convention Center and most of the surrounding hotels. There is nothing small and intimate about it. However, you can make it feel smaller and more intimate by finding your niche and sticking with it. What I discovered a little too late is that many indie publishers and designers hang out in a certain area of Hall D (I don’t know the exact name for this area, which has a bunch of purple tables, but if someone knows, please let us know). If that’s a good fit for you, just hang out there the whole weekend.
- It’s mentally exhausting. I’m an introvert, so being around a ton of people all the time and having to be “on” the entire time is a mental wipeout for me. Given how many people you encounter at all times at Gen Con, I bet it gets exhausting even for the highest of extroverts too. Not only that, but people stay up really late to play games. I’m 32, which isn’t that old, but I need my sleep. It’s tough to make a good impression when you’re really tired.
- It’s physically exhausting. If you wander around aimlessly for most of the weekend like I did, your entire body will hurt. That’s another reason to stick to one place for a while. Again, this convention is massive. It takes a good 15 minutes to walk from one end of the convention center to the other. Our hotel was in the Marriott block of hotels east of the convention center, and in hindsight, I should have gone with the Westin, which is directly across from the convention center. That way you’re not wasting 30 minutes if you forget something in the hotel room. Also, bring TONS of water. I drank water constantly and I was still dehydrated the entire time.
- The face time is amazing. I’ve spent the last year corresponding with hundreds of Kickstarter backers, bloggers, podcasters, reviewers, designers, artists, publishers, distributors, and manufacturers. Everything has been online. So it was incredibly rewarding to finally meet some of these people (and new people as well). Sometimes I forget how important it is for a relationship to actually meet someone face to face, shake their hand, and look them in the eye. Or hug them. Some of the most invaluable time I spent at Gen Con was in the artist section of the exhibit hall. I connected with at least 6 artists that I’d love to work with in the future if my core artists aren’t available.
- Connecting with specific people is challenging. I scheduled a few meetings in advance of the weekend, which was really helpful. But I left everything us up in the air. As the convention approached, I connected with more and more people who I wanted to see at the convention, and it presented an interesting challenge. I know a lot of these people on Twitter, and some of them have my phone number, so there was tons of texting and tweeting to figure out where and when to meet up. The problem with that is (a) I didn’t want to spend Gen Con looking at my phone, and (b) I was always on the move. I think a booth or a set area would have solved this problem, because people could have just come to me, and they would have always known where to find me.
- The question of the booth. This is the big question for a small publisher like Stonemaier. Is it worth spending $2,800-$4,000 on a booth? We’re still debating it, honestly. In terms of the numbers, no, it doesn’t make sense. There are other ways to sell games in a more profitable way. But I think there’s also very little chance that you would lose money if you created a great booth. Also, the exposure is incredible. So many people can sit down and play your games if you have the space for it. I didn’t see the Greater Than Games booth (that should say something to you–I spent about 12 hours wandering around the main exhibit hall, and I still didn’t see all of it), but I heard that they had a great setup for playing the games and getting rewards for playing games. The TMG booth was awesome too…really, so many of the booths had an awesome presence. Even smaller publishers like Blank Wall Games had a really nice space and a good way for people to meet them face to face.
- Jumbo games are awesome. Giant versions of games always seemed like a novelty to me…until now. Now I realize how awesome they are. I want jumbo versions of Viticulture and Euphoria. Not just for the tactile nature of them, but also because they’re perfect for explaining the game to a big group of people.
- You will be in the minority if you’re not in costume. This probably isn’t true, but it felt like it at times. The key point here is: If you want to dress up as literally anything (game related or otherwise), do it. I’ve never been big into Halloween, an dressing up doesn’t overly excite me, but if you enjoy it, here’s your chance to not just wear a costume for a day, but for up to four days. You will be treated like a celebrity if you dress up. People will want to take pictures of you and with you. Strangers will talk to you. You might end up singing in a Star Trek-Star Wars crossover band. Anything is possible if you wear a costume at Gen Con.
- Designer’s delight. I love talking about game design and brainstorming ideas. If you do too, Gen Con is heaven. This is a place where people absolutely love to talk about games. I came away from Gen Con with three ideas that are already beyond the fledgling stage. There’s a decent chance you’ll see at least one of them come to fruition in 2014. (At the same time, I should note that Gen Con is a great reminder of how many games already exist. I only want to add new games to that space if they can add something new and unique to the gaming experience.)
- Gamer’s delight. Last but certainly not least, Gen Con is a gamer’s paradise. If you want to play games for 4 days straight without stopping, you can. Play a variety of games, play the same game, play unpublished prototypes…it’s up to you. In the exhibition hall, at most booths you can sit down at an open seat and have someone teach you a game. In other areas you’ll need to sign up for events in advance. In halls C, D, and E, there’s plenty of table space that you can use (there are literally thousands of tables at this event), but you’ll just want to make sure that the table isn’t reserved for a specific company or event. The games I ended up playing were: an unpublished prototype, Trains, Council of Verona, an unpublished prototype, and Euphoria. Honestly, I didn’t play nearly as many games as I would have liked.
Here are some photos from Gen Con 2013: