Sunday, September 19, 2021

I Think GenCon is Not Worth It (Attend Your Local Con!)


I Think GenCon is Not Worth It (Attend Your Local Con!)
If you didn't already know, this weekend is GenCon 2021..and Origins 2021 is (roughly) in a couple weeks. Now I've been seeing pictures and gamer observations on Facebook and the like and it seems a bit like GenCon 2021 is a bit of a ghost town. Evidently attendance is capped at "half".....never felt like there was an attendance limit in the past, so half of "standing room only" is still a metric-buttload of people walking around.

I know that COVID-19/20/21D or whatever the current flu-scare is puts a dent in attendance, but moving the convention out of the summer (technically it is still summer...for like 3 days) and very much into the school year can't help with attendance either. It'll be harder for families to attend and moving this big con hurts other conventions. It's pretty obvious that Origins is trying to work around GenCon, and surely there are other conventions that are getting screwed over by the "Big Boys" moving their dates around.

Yes, I know that GenCon is a business and needs to make money, but it feels like...to me...that they are pushing their weight around a bit, to the detriment of others, something they've done for years to a lesser extent.

Now clearly I'm kind of biased against GenCon here, so I'm certain that I see a bit of the negative aspects of this move, but this bias has been earned, so bear with me.

Having spent a few years as a convention tournament organizer for both Origins and GenCon who also volunteered at a exhibitor booth, I got to see a little bit behind the curtain. From my experience, and perspective, Origins cares about gamers and GenCon cares about making money. 

Origins: Every year I'd have Origins staff check in on my group and make sure everything was going well. They helped me treat GMs a a valuable resource and the staff seemed to be passionate volunteers. Plenty of hotel space available unless you just had to have a room in one of the attached hotels, which I wouldn't recommend unless you want to wait forever on/in elevators for just an "ok" room.

GenCon: Having our tables double-booked was a regular event. The staff seemed to be employees and if I saw them it was for them to verify we all had badges and event tickets. Tickets and badges were all the seemed to care about. Good luck getting lodging at any nearby hotel and registering for games is an exercise in frustration.

As the years ticked by working the booth and talking to other vendors I saw a disturbing trend: many publishers have to make a decision between attending GenCon or Origins. Some of this was due to shifting dates, but lot was due to the expense of attending GenCon and since it was growing every year if you had to pick one, GenCon seemed to be it.

Now as far as the "big" cons go I'm clearly a fan of Origins, but really it's the smaller local conventions that have my attention these days. I'd rather spend a $1000 at North Texas RPG and have a great weekend experience than spend $1000 at GenCon which maybe gets me to Indy and a night or two of hotel (but no badge or event tickets!)

This year there are like 16 September conventions, not counting GenCon & Origins. Two events that would have been during GenCon were cancelled. In 2017 there were 21 conventions during Spetember. In 2018 & 2019 there were 27 conventions during September. Now some of the difference could be COVID related, but there were more cancelled events this year. Looking back over the last several years, no table-top gaming conventions shared time with GenCon.....until this year where there were two, with one being cancelled.

I know it isn't a deep-delve in the data and just a high-level pass, but anecdotally it seemed that GenCon moving to a later date is affecting smaller gaming conventions, and not for the better. Not a fan.....

GenCon 2021 had 1312 RPG games listed, while Origins 2021 has roughly half that at 616 RPG games listed. Now both sound like a lot, but in GenCon's case it looks like roughly half of those RPG events are D&D 5th Edition (Origins far less as a percentage). Since I'm guessing that the majority of the Tavern patrons are OSR fans, this info might be relevant.

TL;DR- If you "have" to attend a big con, check out Origins, but I'd rather go to a smaller local convention.


  1. I went fishing instead of attending Gen Con this year, and I've been going to Gen Con since 2004 (earlier, too, in the 90s). Didn't catch much, but it was still a better weekend than dealing with Gen Con.

  2. I am really not a fan of this commentary, though you do acknowledge your bias and that you did not do a deep dive, and your POV is yours to share. Mine is somewhat different; not more accurate or better, but definitely a counter position.

    GenCon long ago announced a temporary move this year to September in an effort to get ahead (or behind?) Covid after the carnage of 2020, which at the time experts were saying should be done by this fall. They knew this would impact attendance because of school, but they also wanted to get people there safely with what was supposed to be after Covid. Origins, being historically a June convention in my experience probably did the same (though they have explored different dates over recent years, so I am not sure where they stand). I quit attending Origins some years ago because when it was early June my kids were still in school. Given it is cheaper and I have friends in town, I would have definitely gone if the kids could come.

    GenCon is a business and is trying to adjust to conditions as best they can like everyone else, and no company is out there saying "I can't move to this date because it will hurt my competition." I am grateful that they ran the online version again this year so my daughter and I could participate. Same for how companies make choices on attending shows - my business sector has to make same decisions based on budgets, and we opt for the same big shows because more clients there, more ability to meet people per dollar spent. I used to go to GenCon for same reason - to meet game companies I knew and see them once a year.

    Also, having lived in Columbus in the past for quite awhile, I went to a number of Origins in addition to 7 GenCons. Origins was always horribly organized in my past experience. It was definitely smaller (and has decreased in size quite a bit some years since then), but it was definitely the con for companies to try out new games, and was easier to get around. So I see that appeal for some people - GenCon's crowds and difficulty to get in games of choice can be a turn off. But GenCon also provides a much wider range of games, and my kids and I go to try new things and see new games on the exhibitor's floor.

    So to me, Con selection is about individual choice. But they all have to pay the bills.

    1. Everyone with half a brain knows this virus (in whatever form) will always be with us. Covid will inevitably spike in the fall and winter. The spring and summer months will always see fewer cases.

  3. When it comes to gaming conventions, less is more. Yesterday, I noticed an article online that described GenCon as a "boardgame and TTRPG convention". Not sure if that phrasing is new, but it stood out to me. Boardgames got top billing? If I'm attending a con, I want it to be focused on roleplaying games.

    1. Boardgames are pretty popular right now. I’ve actually been having more fun these days playing board games like dead of winter and betrayal at house on the hill and talisman with two other people over the group of five I’m running DND for currently. and the boardgames I tend to like generally, intentionally or not, promote bringing role-playing elements into how you approach them. I think it was Steve Jackson who once said all board games are role-playing games.

  4. https://twitter.com/TriciaSydney/status/1438986849096134659

    They will also witch hunt randoms with no proof of anything. The "community manager" openly questions whether men are actually human beings.


    Welcoming attitude!

    1. Thank you for drawing attention to her and her tweets. I'm raising concerns as I type this.

  5. For around 20 yrs I have been going to large & small conventions. For different conventions I have gone as a gamer, gamemaster, and/or as an exhibitor. I have enjoyed every single one.

  6. There was also Gen Con Online which was where Paizo moved its Pathfinder and Starfinder games instead of doing them at Gen Con Indy this year. I really did not like Gen Con moving to September. It has seriously hurt multiple local cons and caused a huge ripple effect hurting many other cons. They need to hold it on their regular weekend next year live or online.

  7. I doubt I would ever go. It's just too big for my tastes.

    I did big cons as a kid. I am not as impressed now.

    My main goal is to hang out with my gamer friends from all over once a year and talk gamer crap.

    I will be at Gary Con and any other small to medium sized cons I can get to.


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