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From Con to Con: 2011 Edition

2011 proved to be an interesting year for me at GenCon. Normally, I have large blocks of time to hit the dealer hall or meet people. This year, my schedule was crammed, not the least because I only chose to attend 3 days without cutting back on my usual number of events.

As a Gnomie, this was a special con. We won our second silver ENnie (I have it on pretty good authority that we were going to take the gold before a Halfling voting bloc tipped the scales) and debuted the hard copies of Masks! On a personal note, I was especially thrilled that I was a much better contributor at the Gnome Stew seminar this time around, rather than wobbling in and grunting like a zombie extra.

On a personal front, it was my first Con as the official Victoriana line developer for Cubicle 7 (which meant I spent a lot of time running events for it) and I got to see two of my freelancing projects, DC Adventures: Heroes & Villains, Vol. 1 and Paris Gothique, in print for the first time.

Since I’ve covered a lot of bases in previous installments, I thought I’d just cover a few notes and observations this time around:

1. Don’t expect things to be the same year to year. It seems that downtown Indy is always building something, and businesses come and go (I still miss a Cajun restaurant that came and went in a single year). Inside the con, the hot games this year, or even the past several years, may be hardly a blip this time around, while others rise to take their place in prominence on the floor.

I know this is horribly anecdotal, but from my perspective the presence and influence of Dungeons & Dragons (and, by extension, WOTC) seemed very diminished this year. Now, I didn’t play in any D&D events so I had no reason to go upstairs and see the tables, but their spot in the Dealer’s Hall was against the back wall and primarily promoted Neverwinter Nights. Judging by the products displayed at various tables third party support had really dried up, and all of the gamers I talked to that called themselves “fantasy gamers” (admittedly a small number) were playing Pathfinder.

That said WOTC’s presence was much more prominent than White Wolf, who used to be one of the “big companies” in the room. They were limited to sharing a small table with another company and the only reason I know that is because I looked them up in the GenCon guide. They were far removed from the rest of the RPG companies sans Green Ronin, who also had a crappy floor location.

On a more personal level I stayed at the Marriott Downtown this time, which I thought was quite the housing reg coup. Unfortunately, the Dealer’s Hall and the food court was moved further inside the Convention Center. Also, while Crown Plaza and Union Station used to be out-of-the-way, they were now the closest event-hosting hotels, along with the Omni, to the Dealer’s Hall. Marriott threw up another hotel as well and this one, while connected via Skywalk, is now the furthest event-hosting hotel.

On top of that, all of my events were scheduled at the Omni, so I actually had to go further in the morning to get to my events than when I was booked at the Hilton.

2. Rather than get generic tickets, check the GenCon website for open events and purchase them outright. The site is continually updated (although the GenCon app seemed slower) and you’re more likely to get in a game. The best times for generics (again, anecdotally) are early in the morning or late in the evening.

3. This one deserves its own article (guess what topic my next article will cover!) but if you’re running a game anticipate that shy, introverted players can often be as difficult to manage as a loud, obnoxious player.

4. Listen to your players and treat every event as a playtest if you are running it more than once. One of them questioned something in the adventure and I found myself agreeing with him so I adjusted things accordingly for the rest of the events. Also, my first event group inadvertently solved several problems I’d been struggling with for the final act and this made things run more smoothly and elegantly than I’d thought possible.

5. Sometimes you inadvertently turn off a GM or other players with your demeanor without even realizing it. I know one person who played in an event and left feeling that it was an excellent adventure and a great time was had by all, only for me to overhear the GM later complaining that said player was extremely difficult and almost derailed the event.

That’s it for now. If you were at GenCon how was your experiences? Did you find anything different, for good or ill, between this year and previous visits? Did you learn anything new?

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "From Con to Con: 2011 Edition"

#1 Comment By lucinian On August 9, 2011 @ 6:20 am

The Wizards booth has definitely been shrinking the past few years. They’ve moved most of their demo stuff (like this year’s Legend of Drizzt demo) into the Sagamore ballroom upstairs (and require tickets). I would suggest that the booth is similar in size to 2010’s booth, but much smaller than 2008 and before.

The biggest change over the years has been the removal of the retail store aspect from the WotC booth. In some ways, this is a sign of corporate maturity; conventions typically aren’t about volume sales for the big boys, they’re about marketing. Let the retailers get their profits on the convention floor, that sort of thing.

That said, event participation in the Sagamore was up this year by almost 20%. Part of that could be attributed to Game Day, but certainly not all of it.

White Wolf, on the other hand, is indeed in the middle of a huge identity crisis. They listened too closely to the minority of very vocal critics demanding a return to the Old World of Darkness, and are trying to figure out what to do. Whether they pull out of it or not remains to be seen. It doesn’t help that CCP (the company who bought White Wolf) seems to be mismanaging the RPG products, and that organized play is also in disarray.

#2 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On August 9, 2011 @ 6:52 am

This was my first Gen Con, and I was *shocked* by the minimal presence that WotC and White Wolf had in the exhibit hall.

The Sagamore ballroom looked busy, though, and WotC’s two panels that I attended had full and enthusiastic turnouts, even if I’d expected larger venues for them. :S

#3 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On August 9, 2011 @ 9:35 am

@lucinian I remember (anecdotally) WOTC’s presence being minimal last year as well. I’d be curious to see how they’ve trended since 2007 (my first con) just to see how my perceptions fit the reality.

I was only in the Sagamore once (2007) and that was to play the then-new Star Wars Saga Edition. I remember it being pretty packed back then and WOTC’s presence in the Dealer’s Room was huge (with the 4e announcement hovering everywhere).

I’m glad to hear that they’re doing well though. To be honest I’ve been more surprised by White Wolf’s almost non-presence than anything else (although expectations were low after last year’s “bar and lounge” set-up).

#4 Comment By Volcarthe On August 9, 2011 @ 10:51 am

WW/CCP is more in the process of their World of Darkness MMO right now, I’d wager.

And I somehow doubt that oWoD fans were the minority compared to nWoD.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 10, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

Sorry I missed Gen Con this year; I was curious as to the proportion of companies supporting 4E vs PF.

Also, I suspect WotC isn’t pushing 4E at Gen Con. Hopefully (for them and us), they’re thinking outside the box and trying to recruit new gamers. I think this is one of the things 4E does best – attract new blood.

I stayed at the Omni my first Gen Con. Starbucks and cigar bar are big plusses, but you can stuff more folks into an Embassy room.

#6 Comment By Roxysteve On August 11, 2011 @ 10:05 am

Well we *are* in a recession (economists will argue about the definition of the term, but money is tight, people are out of work and savings are evaporating and that is my definition after having seen it all before back in the 70s).

Looking forward with great anticipation to your article regarding introverted players. One of my regular campaigns has such a player and I’m eager to provide whatever help I can to enrich his game experience (while admitting he may need nothing more – just because a person isn’t talking all the time doesn’t mean he isn’t enjoying himself).

White Wolf seems to be self-immolating. It’s a shame. My LFGS is WoD-heavy, with an eager consumer base that has stopped buying because they are spooked by the “no more print products” stance. Don’t “do” WoD myself, but the print products for the line seem awesome – and I don’t use that word lightly.

D&D 4E has been well promoted by WoC, but I agree with your observation that many of the potential audience for it have gone with Pathfinder because they (and I) like the 3.5.Pathfinder D20 engine. Having brushed up against D&D 4e (briefly, at a con, and I’m playing Gamma World which I’m told uses a stripped-down 4e engine) I would say that I found the mechanics of 3.5 easier to assimilate (after years away from D&D; the last time I played regularly before that the books were kept in a small, white box). Also, I hate the cards.

Thanks for your article, Walt.

#7 Pingback By Science fiction games at GenCon 2011 | Gene's Worlds On August 18, 2011 @ 11:29 am

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