Top 10 Things You Should Know About Gen Con

14 August 2017

In a few days I’ll embark upon my 5th Gen Con, a huge gaming convention in Indianapolis. Just in case you’re attending for the first time, I thought I’d revisit and update a post I wrote back in 2013 about what you should know about Gen Con if you–like 2013 Jamey–know nothing about Gen Con. A lot of this will apply to attendees of any big convention or conference, not just Gen Con specifically.

  1. Use the event system. Many big conventions use an event system to organize all the various activities available, both for the attendees and the people who run the events. These can range from a 30-minute game demo to a lengthy tournament. You’ll need specific tickets for some of these events and generic tickets for others–the people running the events need these tickets to show Gen Con that people actually attended their event.
  2. There’s more than just the exhibit hall. Have you ever been to Las Vegas? It’s an overwhelming crush of colors, lights, sounds, and people. The exhibit hall at Gen Con is like Vegas. There’s so much to see and do and buy, which is great, but you may not realize how overwhelmed you are by it until you take a break. Fortunately, there’s a ton of stuff to do outside of the exhibit hall.
  3. Don’t rely solely on your phone. You never know when you’re going to have bad reception on your phone, so if you have a schedule, print it out in advance (make sure it’s in EST, the local time of Indianapolis). Also, don’t spend the convention trying to coordinate meetups with various people. If you do, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at your phone instead of enjoying the thing you’re doing right now. Just schedule stuff in advance and otherwise go with the flow.
  4. Have a home base. At some point early on in the convention, you’re probably going to find a public place where you feel really comfortable. It could be anywhere, so be aware of it when it happens. You really won’t have much time during the day to go back to your hotel room, so having a home base can be great both for your mental health and to help people find you.
  5. Be aware of the people around you. I think there’s somewhere around 75,000 people attending Gen Con this year. That’s a lot of people, even for such a big convention center and surrounding area. So if you’re walking along a crowded hallway, don’t suddenly stop in your tracks. Don’t impede the traffic of hundreds of people to take a photo. And please be aware of your personal hygiene–you might not notice it, but it really does negatively impact the experience of others if you don’t shower every day.
  6. Try these things to avoid “con crud” (i.e., getting sick). I do several things to avoid getting sick at the convention amidst all the handshaking and crowds: (1) I keep  a bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer handy, (2) I pop a vitamin C pill each morning, (3) I drink a ton of water, (4) I get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, (5) I try to take sunshine breaks (it’s easy to just stay inside with no access to windows for hours and hours). You might see people offering fist-bumps instead of handshakes–that’s another way to avoid spreading so many germs.
  7. Introduce yourself as if the person knows nothing about you, even if they do. In a sea of people whose brains are working overtime to place names to faces, it’s super helpful, even if you just e-mailed with the person that morning. For examples, instead of walking up to someone and saying, “Hi, it’s me!”, say, “Hi, I’m Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. We e-mailed earlier about prototype creation.” Seriously. Super helpful.
  8. If you want to dress up as literally anything, this is the place to do it. Gen Con is like a 4-day Halloween for adults (if you want it to be). You may 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–it’s a great conversation piece.
  9. Volunteer. It’s probably too later for to sign up to volunteer this year, but if there’s a company or product you love, volunteering can be a very fulfilling experience at Gen Con. I find this is particularly true for my fellow introverts–sometimes it helps our social anxiety to have a job to do at a specific place and time.
  10. Schedule meetings at least 1 month in advance. I’ve heard from so many people over the last 2 weeks asking if they can meet to pitch a game, discuss a partnership, or get an interview. However, all of my 55 meeting slots have been filled for wees (I use a scheduling app called Setmore). So if you really want to meet with someone, don’t wait until the last minute.

If you’re looking to say hi at Gen Con, feel free to drop by our open game nights in convention center room 121 from 8:00-11:00 on Thurs/Fri/Saturday. It’s a ticketed event, so table priority will go to those with tickets. You can buy Stonemaier products at the booth we’re sharing with Meeplesource (2656). All of my meetings and meals for Gen Con are booked. I’d also recommend checking out this great panel of bloggers and this great Kickstarter panel (I’m not on either of them).

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8 Comments on “Top 10 Things You Should Know About Gen Con

  1. Thank you for all the tips! This will be my first GenCon, so also looking at your tips from the past years was helpful. Hopefully at GenCon 2018 I may be able to show a prototype of a game myself. But this year I am going for the fun of it, and demoing games for a couple different game companies for most of the time. All tips help to make the most of the experience and also to not get exhausted from so much going on!

  2. 15th Gen Con for me. Vendors will really like you if you can pay cash to the nearest dollar. Sometimes, vendor will reduce the cost of items because they aren’t having to let a CC company skim off the top. Don’t expect it, but it is a nice surprise.
    Remember that many of the people manning the demo spots and booth are volunteers, doing it for the love of the game. They don’t deserve to get pilloried for a gaffe or misstatement. Just remember Wil Wheaton’s law.

  3. Thanks for the tips, Jamey! This is my second Gen con, but first as a designer. I’m thrilled at the prospect of making dozens of new acquaintances and greatly expanding my network!

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