The first day at GenCon was an experience bordering on something religious. I’ve had religious experiences, so I can tell you that it’s not quite there, but there is a reason why I’ve heard people describe a trip to GenCon as the nerd’s equivalent of the Hajj.
The convention center is unassuming when you approach it on foot, but it’s really massive once you get inside. I blame some of this on the landscaping; it feels kind of small at first because there’s some sidewalk and courtyard space around it, but you don’t realize that it occupies a 2×2 (or maybe more like 2×3) space on the grid layout of the city, compared to its nearest neighbors.
The result is that you step into the exhibition floor and it’s absolutely massive. I first arrived with the guy who was running our booth about an hour before general admission on the first day, and it’s like stepping into a cavern, if caverns were gigantic and had banners hanging from their ceilings to tell you where to go.
The best part of GenCon for me was getting to meet people that you only hear of otherwise. The very first day of GenCon I was walking around prior to everything starting and I passed Mike Pondsmith at the R Talsorian Games booth (their booth was not far from ours), and I immediately had a small fanboy attack.
Mike Pondsmith is the creator of Cyberpunk (along with other games), and although I’ve never actually played any of his games I have followed his work. His writings on cyberpunk and how to handle punk themes in storytelling were incredibly influential and helped shape me as a writer, now that I’m doing freelancing I can say that a lot of the quality of my writing came from his points on how cyberpunk forced characters to ask questions about not just what they should do, but what they need to do.
I also saw a few other people and things that I wasn’t very familiar with, so that was fun too. The booth I was at was shared between Studio 2’s various publishers, which also did stuff with Shadows of Esteren and Vermin 2047, plus another game (Fateforged?) which I have problems remembering.
Most fun, I was right across the aisle from FASA. FASA published Earthdawn, Shadowrun, and Battletech back in the day (a.k.a. my childhood), though they currently only have rights to Earthdawn (and a few of their own more recent titles). I didn’t do a lot of stuff with them on the first day, but it was a real mind-blowing experience.
Our booth’s immediate neighbor was the Delta Green booth. I liked Delta Green back when I was a game reviewer, but I haven’t checked out the newer edition and didn’t feel a strong pull to, though it was cool to be next to a great game and be able to comment on it.
Other than that, it was all pretty cool. Mitchell Wallace, of Penny for a Tale, and I went and grabbed lunch, and we talked a little about the games industry and his podcast.
One thing I learned fairly quickly on: prepare to lose your voice at GenCon if you’re exhibiting or doing stuff in any way. Not only is it loud on the show floor, but there’s also a lot of excitement in the air. It’s such a great positive experience that one doesn’t notice it, but if you don’t have water and cough drops you can really quickly do a number on your throat.
I used to be a schoolteacher, for crying out loud, and I was basically whispering by 11:30, only an hour and a half after the show opened. Fortunately, I was able to get most of my voice back. I felt like I was getting horribly ill because of how sore my throat was, but nothing came of it.
On the first day we didn’t have many sales. This is something of a simplification; a lot of people came and talked, and a decent chunk of those people bought a game, it just wasn’t the same conversion rate as later days. A lot of the people who came back and bought Degenesis on Friday or Saturday showed up on that first day.
I didn’t do anything special after the first day at the convention. I did a little writing and went to bed, so that was boring, but I was also pretty tired given the travel and I won’t whine and moan about it. It was what it was.