Sunday, August 13, 2023

When is Enough is Enough (GenCon Rant)?


When is Enough is Enough (GenCon Rant)?
I've mentioned, probably far too often, that in a previous life I served as a tournament/convention organizer for a game company. In that capacity I used to travel to the Origins Game Fair every year and I tried to go to GenCon, but only went 2 or 3 times.

The difference between the two, from an organizer's perspective, was night and day.

Origins would have convention staff come by and make sure the GMs were happy. They'd give us, as a group, convention money that could be doled out as needed for food, drinks (the best bang-for-convention-buck), con badges, and even hotel space (worst bang-for-the-buck). The staff would make sure our tables/room had what was needed and if there was an issue, they made sure we/I knew where to go for assistance. One time, before my tenure, we had a problem player we ejected from our games and the convention just straight-up banned him for a few years. We didn't care if he played elsewhere, just not with us. The convention just figured that if an attendee was an issue with one group, he'd probably be a problem with other groups and didn't want to subject other attendees to the hassle.

GenCon.....ugh. In all the games I organized there I saw the staff away from their designated table once.....ONCE. They clearly didn't care about anything other than getting their paid tickets for events. When I approached the staff table, they literally held out their hand for tickets before I said anything. Our games were scattered all over the place in different buildings, but usually the majority were relatively close and in the same building. I do clearly remember having problems once when they double-booked one of our tables. The other GM showed up early and was rather obstinate about moving.....honestly I think he was bitter because he rarely had players as it was. The convention staff did come by, that one time, to talk to him, but their answer was to have us "work it out" on our own. Really?

I'm sure I've bitched about this before, 'cause these experiences have been seared into my brain. The thing is everybody knows that GenCon is the "big boy" in the room that is gaming conventions, and they have been getting bigger and bigger. I'd argue too big at that, and clearly this growth ....in my opinion... has come at the expense of customer service.....if.

IF you think that the "customer" primarily GenCon attendees. I don't think that GenCon is there to cater to attendees, but to gaming companies/vendors. What I saw seemed to me that it was all about the vendors and I recall far-too-many vendors telling me that they've got resource restrictions, most notably time, and it's getting to the point where they need to pick one summer convention and if they can only do one, it's going to be GenCon.

Now most of my favorite companies do attend both GenCon and Origins, as well as some smaller cons during other times of the year, but in the summer? Well I doubt I'll see any of these guys at NTRPG. 

Photo Courtesy WDW News Today

Now there is a LOT more than just OSR games, hell I'd argue that GenCon is lacking OSR in general, but that's a different argument. I'm just saying there are a lot of non-gaming vendors at the big cons...well non RPG gaming vendors. Cards & cosplay come to mind immediately. So we get a lot of vendors, some/many that only do GenCon in the summer. Because of this they tend to bring out their new and/or limited offers to that dealer room (why not, a huge audience) which just dials up the crush of people trying to get into the dealer's room ASAP to recockulous levels.

Organizational Failures Lead to Dangerous Mob at Opening of Gen Con 2023 and Disney Lorcana Release

GenCon is reporting they've set a new record for attendance at 70,000 unique attendees, and that is a metric shit-ton of people in not that big of an area. That isn't counting vendors and staff! GenCon is saying that their convention is bringing $75M to Indy..........wait, what? That's a bit more than $1K per attendee. That isn't counting money actually spent at the con, getting to the con, or attendance fees.

Now I realize I'm biased, but what I see is a con that is growing to an absurd size and growing away from the core that established it decades ago. It's definitely no longer a RPG con and barely a gaming con these days. If you want to attend you need to get your hotel room in the first 10-15 seconds that the hotel blocks open up (no shit), have a lot of money to burn, and we willing to be crushed to death in the throng of other attendees. Good luck getting assistance if you need any (seriously, you should see those lines!)

Yes, you can literally suffer if you want to get some GenCon dealer's room exclusive (read the WDW News Today article), but you might be too late and doing so undoubtedly will come at the cost of some gaming time.

You're best off supporting a local gaming con, but that's my 2cp. Better bang for the buck. If you want a "big con" experience that has more upside than downside, go to Origins Game Fair.


  1. I worked as a retailer at the last GenCon in Milwaukee. It was getting out of hand back then. When we set up our big booth, the wrestling ring was right across from us. A. WRESTLING. RING. Conventions these days have to adapt to modern society. These big cons had to become media circuses to attract the attendees they needed to be profitable. Smaller cons aren't as expensive, and they don't need the bells and whistles to get the crowd needed. But GenCon as it exists now, as you say, is no longer the convention that we knew and loved. If the gaming industry were to leave it, it more than likely would continue on unabated.

  2. I'm local to Indianapolis. I didn't go this year, and it wasn't even an hard choice. I made that decision last year. The vendors I want to buy stuff from stopped going, the games I want to play are filled within 30 seconds of registration being made available, and at the end of the weekend I was coming away not with a buzz from gaming, but a downer that "there go 4 days I could have been doing something better." There were other reasons as well, but that starts going into non-game territory.

    I would rather try ReaperCon, Adepticon, Garycon, NTRPG. Origins is on my list. Perhaps next year.


    1. Again, I'm biased, but Origins is a great "big con". If you go, don't stay at an on-site hotel (not worth the headache IMO) but and a close local hotel. Definitely check out the North Market for meals and there's a Blick's Art Supply a few blocks away.

  3. I always find these type of opinions interesting. Origins is a great medium size convention and has some decent vendor draws, good value for medium cost. It's a great place to try out a new game. But it is not GenCon. GenCon is the daddy because that is the business it is in. It is an independent for-profit business, and as long as it can get vendors and patrons to attend, good for them. Too big is a relative term. I think they are only too big for Indy, unfortunately (Indy is a great venue city).

    I do wonder how much longer they can adopt and adapt to keep the crowds up, given that people and vendors are now choosing not to participate. It is disappointing that you can't get a good hotel downtown very easily, and it is expensive, but the years I went it was always worth it. I love the vendors floor - main reason I go. No other con does this. Also, most of the companies I have worked with are most likely to be at GenCon.

    1. Clearly it's worthwhile for some, but I don't see the appeal myself. Not anymore....


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