Going to GenCon (Part 2: Day 1)

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.

You might want to check out my overview of my trip to GenCon if you haven’t already, since I don’t want to duplicate a bunch of content from it here.

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.

Going to GenCon (Part 1: Overview and Travel)

I went to GenCon for the first time this year, and it was an absolute blast. It was an amazing three days for me (I wasn’t able to stay for the convention on Sunday for a variety of reasons), and my only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay longer.

For my readers who don’t usually read my gaming content, I’ll start with a brief explanation.

GenCon is a yearly convention specifically targeted at tabletop gaming; it has a strong focus on Dungeons and Dragons and similar games, though pretty much anything that isn’t played on a PC or console (and a handful of things that are) features prominently.

It’s also sort of a general nerd culture convention, owing to the target demographic as much as anything else. People dress up in costumes as their favorite characters, hang out and play games until the wee hours of the morning, and generally get together to commiserate and follow trends.

As a game designer, I was there as an exhibitor for Degenesis, a game with some upcoming products that I’ve worked on. What that meant was that I stood in a booth from 10-6 (with a couple breaks; there were four of us and we only really needed two people), trying to sell games to people.

It was a great experience, barring the fact that I almost lost my voice a couple times. GenCon takes place in Indianapolis, where apparently everything opens late and closes early (including the CVS by the hotel I was staying at), though other than that it was a fantastic place to be.

It’s the first time I’ve gone to a convention as an industry insider, and it was great. I got to meet people (I’ll talk about this more when I get to it), and it went really well. I also got a couple leads on potential work, which will have to wait until I’ve done the work I’m currently working on, but means that going there and hanging out with people will definitely pay off for me in the long run if I can turn the time I spent at GenCon into the connections that mean more work and a higher profile in the future.

It was also my only recent time traveling by airline other than Southwest Airlines. As someone living in the Southwestern United States, I’ve been spoiled by the fact that our local airline has consistently positive experiences in my book, with low fees and painless customer service.

I flew out to Indianapolis on American Airlines. They’d overbooked the flight (fun) but fortunately enough people took vouchers so that I didn’t get bumped off my flight. If there’s one lesson to take from it, my impression is that American Airlines will treat you like a peasant if you don’t give them money, and the upgrades you need to get treated how a paying customer should be treated are not cheap.

I flew back on Delta Airlines. Other than the fact that my flight from Indianapolis to Phoenix had a connection in Detroit, I have no complaints with them. I was on a similarly basic ticket, but they were a lot friendlier and more on the ball. Admittedly, some of this might be the Phoenix ground-crew versus the Indianapolis and Detroit ground-crews; I’ve heard those are actually airport rather than airline employees though I haven’t looked it up to verify it so take that with a grain of salt. In any case, Delta felt more on the ball on both flights (with much friendlier attendants) and the only sign I was traveling super-cheap was how long I waited to board the plane (which I was able to do without incident, since neither leg of the flight was over-booked).

I was staying at a Hilton hotel a couple blocks from the convention center. It was nice. I don’t have a lot of criteria for hotels; it was clean, the room was stocked with towels, prices were exorbitant for almost everything at the hotel (there was actually a pizza room service deal that may have been less than atrocious, though there were definitely better dining options around). It had that peculiar hotel feel of stepping off the elevator and immediately stepping into a labyrinth of beige.