For #RPGaDAY2015, there’s this thing in small print: “Feel free to post something different if you don’t have an RPG that matches the description.” Given the difficulty I am having coming up with 500 words to determine what an “accessory” is ((Today’s real topic: What is your favorite RPG accessory?)) and why it doesn’t seem to cover supplements, plus that in my Last Year posts, everyone is currently at Gen Con 2014, I’m going to grab onto that and talk about Gen Con. Specifically, Should I Attend Gen Con in the Future?

Gen Con 2015, Day 1: Opening of the Exhibit Hall, courtesy of Gen Con Indy’s facebook page.

I have been privately debating that question over the past few months. This morning, I think I’ve made up my mind. No, I won’t be attending Gen Con again, unless it’s with a company. ((Or, unless it’s a vacation with the family. But there’s many other places I’d rather visit with a family than Indianapolis in August.))

I’ve been to three or four Gen Cons, primarily for networking, and I’ve always found it difficult to connect with people at the show. There’s a list of people and companies I want to talk to, but I can somewhat reliably find them only at the Exhibit Hall, where I am acutely aware that the time I take up with someone at a booth is time they aren’t selling product to customers. Each year, the hall gets packed with more and more people, so that’s fewer and fewer chances I get to interact with people I want to look at for mentoring or work. It’s difficult to meet people outside of hall hours as well, because the people I want to meet are meeting up with old friends that they don’t get to see except once a year and who wants to devote time to a complete stranger?

I didn’t attend this year, which is a shame, because this would have been the first year where I’ve finally broken through with layout. I’d be recognized by a much larger group of people in the industry than in years prior. In theory, I would have been able to actually network outside the hall hours. But is it worth it?

…and this was an image from Gen Con 2012, the last year I attended. I was actually at the booth directly behind and one space down from whomever took this photo. (Image from — click through to visit their site.)

ken and robinThis morning, I’m listening to the first segment of the most recent podcast of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, and Ken Hite is talking about how this the first year he didn’t get a chance to walk the dealer hall because it was so busy. ((The relevant stuff is around the 14:00 – 20:00 minute mark. I couldn’t see how to embed the player here.)) ((Translation: Almost no time for freelancers like me to talk to established professionals or the people that I need to talk to.)) Robin Laws says that in previous years of the convention, you could wander halls at a quiet time and introduce yourself to others, but now there simply is none of that quiet time where that can happen: “The chances of being able to strike up the casual interaction on which so much networking in any field is based is going to be reduced because at night, when we have a chance to sit down and unwind, we’re going to be with our tightest homies and not seem to be… approachable.” ((Although the Diana Jones Award is a great place to be, but with the move to the new place — the old place closed — it’s way too loud to jump into conversations. Plus, most of the times I’ve been there, it’s difficult to get into those groups because people sit at tables with their professional colleagues and there’s limited seating. It’s very awkward to have that casual interaction Robin speaks of when you’re the only one standing at the edge of a booth that’s packed with people who have known each other for longer than the two minutes you’ve known them. Intimidating, even. Even if they are great people and are happy to see you, the physicality of the social setting subtley tells you that you’re not part of that group.))

And then Ken agrees, suggesting that this is a time when people might want to look at creators’ and contacts’ convention schedules outside of Gen Con. Gen Con is more for boothwork, playing demos, and living the gamer life 24/7. But it’s no longer the best for networking and freelancers. Maybe it should shift to another convention, he suggests: “I hate to say it, because Gen Con used to be great one-stop shopping for freelancers… I would find it amazing if a freelancer was able to get two words of quality time, edgewise, with a busy booth owner.

If folks like Robin Laws and Ken Hite are saying it’s rough for someone who is going to Gen Con to find work, yeah, maybe it’s time to try someplace else.

Earlier this year, I was discussing possible Origins and Gen Con plans ((I didn’t attend either, due to various reasons.)) with some people on twitter. Origins seems to be a much lower-stress level convention. There’s time to talk to gaming industry professionals. There’s the Big Bar on 2.

Gen Con is expensive if you’re doing it solo. Not the convention, with a four-day pass coming in around $80, but travel expenses, lodging, food. For 2014, Ron Blessing and I (and hopefully his wife, Vern) were going to do This Just In…From Gen Con. ((TJI 2014 didn’t happen for a number of reasons. Some of them are in this post from last year.)) In preparation for the trip, we looked at what the cost of attending the show was, and how much we would have to raise in sponsorship. About $1100 for the hotel room ((The room rate included internet access for Wednesday through Sunday, flying out Monday morning)) and between $400-600 for plane tickets. Plus transport between airport and hotel. Food: budget in maybe $30 for food a day. That’s a lot for just one person to go, looking for work, even if the cost of lodging was split three ways. ((Which I’ve done before, but two different hotels on two different trips wound up charging my card for the full amount instead of splitting it three ways like they were supposed to.)) Do I really get $1500 worth of work from attending Gen Con, meeting people for moments, and handing out business cards? Would I have gotten work without fronting a third of a thousand dollars, plane tickets, and eating lunch and dinner out for four days straight? Probably. Maybe.

But now that I’m established in the hobby games market — and worked on two ENnie-award winning products this year — is Gen Con neccessary for me, going on my own?

I can only come up with “not really”.

I’m looking at Origins 2016 for next year for me-time. For Gen Con 2016, if I attend, I’ll be there as part of a group effort and you’ll probably see me working at a booth. If things work out.

1 Comment

  • Thomas

    Oh, also in that video from Gen Con, starting at about 9 seconds in, over on the left, you can see Matt from Shut Up & Sit Down in a black and white striped shirt. They’re filming a segment for the site that shows him being swept away into the hall by the opening rush of the convention. After their shot cuts, you can see him actually trying to force his way back through the crowds in this clip.

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