Monday, August 27, 2007

GenCon 2007: Highs and Lows

Well, one week after returning from GenCon I think I have managed to assimilate everything that has gone on enough to post about it lucidly. It was an absolute experience - and yes, I mean that in every way that it can be read. Some parts of it were pure, unadulterated awesome whilst other parts of it were confusing, frustrating and downright painful. So lets take the low road and the high road there and back from GenCon, shall we?

High Road: There's something quite empowering about a road trip, allowing a nice slow build of excitement towards the main event. Apart from a twin/double room mix-up, the arrangements for the journey went perfectly. All of the flights were relatively on time, all of the rooms were decent and not once did we get the 'I'm sorry sir, there's no-one booked under that name' look.

Low Road: Manchester Airport is a dive and their 'food village' is a joke. American Airlines is a very nice airline but in the end their seats are not made for people the width of Andrew and I, not the height of Pete. Eight hours of uncomfortable squirming and in-seat taichi each way made me want to lose weight more than ever. Add to that the ridiculously tight transfer time across O'Hare airport (you would think that two and a half hours would be long enough, wouldn't you?) and it wasn't as easy as we would have liked it to be. Still, a little drama never hurt anyone!

High Road: America is always an amazing place, but it is moreso when the currency has been pummelled into nothingness. £1=$2 makes a massive difference to the purchasing power we had over there. Nothing was too expensive. NOTHING. Want a top of the menu steak dinner? Thats £9. Want an extra round of drinks? Thats £1.50. Want to try that game? Thats just £10 so why not. Even the generic con tickets were only £0.75. Everything was a bargain. Oh, and the weather broke just as we arrived, taking the temperatures down from the humid high 30s to the dry mid 20s. Still hot enough to be pleasant, but not so hot as to be offensive.

Low Road: I shake my head at a country of excess. As many of you are aware, I am not a small person and I quite like my food. However, when I cannot finish a STARTER because it is too substantial, you know that there is something very very wrong. The portion sizes were just ridiculous and we were assure by the waitress that they were not sharing starters and that average mid-west yanks did indeed order a starter, main and dessert. I mean honestly! That explained some of the people we saw at the con. Anywhere when I can be considered average sized has to be a little over-consumed!

High Road: It was great to see all of my CCG buddies again - the Raw Deal players and the RD alumni that have graduated onto other games. I've waxed lyrical in other blog posts about the bittersweet nature of these meetings, but by now I have realised that I think I will be back again and I will see these people again. There was nothing quite like entering the RD room and being greeted so warmly by players despite my long hiatus from the game. I got to eat with Antigoth and Matt Hatcher and Jason Griffey. I got to chat to Zev again and I got to attend an MLX again. It was good times indeed.

Low Road: I'll say it here, publically - Raw Deal is in a whole world of pain at the moment. Seeing the Comic Images 'booth' and the presentation of the World Qualifiers in comparison to the presentations by companies like Sabretooth Games and UDE really underlined that there is something lacking. There was just no big game feeling to the events, no real investment in the games future and no ... heart. It was heart rending really, as the people that were playing were obviously still loving playing the game. I would say that something has to change, but I think it might be too late to turnaround such a dire situation.

High Road: Oh the Exhibitors Hall! It's more than I could ever imagine and then some. Want to see CCGs? New ones? Old ones? Yup. Want to play MMOs? Try the new WoW expansion? Play the amazing Pirates of the Burning Sea? See Age of Conan? Warhammer? Yup, thats all there. Want to try new RPGs? Oh my GOD! So many games. So many fookin games! And so cheap. The only way I can describe it is a shop twice the size of something like Memorabilia at the NEC with loads of demos and boardgames and nachos vendors and ... oh it was brilliant!! I could have happily stayed there for the entire convention. And indeed, I nearly did.

Low Road: Too much, too quickly - and my feet gave up. Despite wearing my very most comfortable shoes, I got a horrid big blister on the bottom of my foot, which became nicely infected. I was wondering why I could only manage to do one or two things and then need to sit down and rest. Not just rest because I was tired - really REST, because I was going to collapse otherwise. Well, I had a nice shivers attack on Sunday night and fevered until Monday morning. In the end I was diagnosed with a soft tissue infection of my toe that was crawling nicely towards my ankle. Nice. Needless to say that if I hadn't been laid low with this malady, I would have managed to do a load more stuff.

High Road: So what did I manage to do? Well, we had a demo of Cold City by the creator Malcolm Craig which really sold us on the game. Andrew and I also had a very nice man from BWHQ show is the ins and outs of Burning Wheel combat - unveiling the simplicity behind a very complicated looking system. I talked with a number of people that I have talked to online - indeed, the best thing I did was write 'You may know me online as Vodkashok' on my badge. I also got interviewed by the Sons of Kryos for their podcast, which was a load of fun. I played some Primetime Adventures which was great.

Low Road: I never really got to grips with Games on Demand, which is actually 'Games when Available'. I never managed to get myself to the Embassy for the evening games sessions. I never really played much at all. I did go out drinking one night which was a total mistake as my illness and a hangover nearly killed me. In the end, this GenCon felt like a scouting mission for a larger, more focused mission in the future. Now I know some of the tricks of the trade - like getting your badge on Wednesday, preordering Generics, getting EVEN MORE COMFORTABLE SHOES and most of all, getting a hotel nearer the venue - I reckon I can get a lot more out of it.

High Road: What else happened? Well, I was there, in the room, when 4th Edition was announced for Dungeons and Dragons. That was kind of cool. I had a very good chat with some of the indie games guys about the ins and outs of self-publishing which was one of my desires for the con anyway. And I had a really really good time. That was the main reason for going - to have fun. And despite my bodies great attempts to make things otherwise, I did. And I will again.

Oh.. and what did I purchase?

A Faery's Tale Deluxe - signed by the writer for the girls
10 Faery's Tale specific dice
GURPS Age of Napoleon - Duty and Honour research material
Giants - an Ashcan of a game of giants and their communities
Burning Wheel: Jihad - Its Dune. Even the BW guys admit it's Dune
Burning Wheel: The Blossoms Are Falling - BW does Bushido
Full Light, Full Steam - oh, it's brilliant. Just brilliant! Better than that!
Cold City Companion - more cold war goodness



Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...dealers room. Did you go to The Ram? That sounded interesting!

And I'd have been there for D&D, if only to get the memory stick. Well, that's not true, a bit like WoW, I always want D&D to be a bit more manageable for me to run.

Unfortunate about the foot drama.


redben said...

At last, been waiting nearly a week for this :)

Glad to hear it went well and you didn't die. I'd be interested to hear the advice you were given on self-publishing.

Vodkashok said...

playtest, playtest, playtest, network and playtest some more. And then some playtesting.

Did I mention playtesting?

Just from being there, you could see that the guys who had worked the internet and the smaller cons beforehand and created a WoM buzz about their game were doing better. Having a really honed and purposeful demo helps as well. Something that shows the essence of the game.

Beyond that it's pretty much what we know. A run of around 200 books is going to sting you for around £1.50 per book-ish. PDF selling can work as well. There are outlets like IPR for print.

Two things struck me as a whole. The first was that there was a horrendous dead zone in the sales market. Stores were literally moving stock at SILLY prices (3 for $10, Buy One Get Three Free, $5 a game book etc) and I bet you can name the lines that were being discounted. GURPS, L5R, Spycraft etc. You see them hogging the shelfspace in every shop you go into. Massive buy-in games with loads of supplements seem to be too much nowadays.

The second thing was the phrase 'different not better'. This is something that I ended up saying quite a lot because for a lot of things we were struck with the problem of 'Thats cool... but why not just use Fate/PTA.' I think that in the face of strong generic systems like that, your game system has to really sync with the subject matter that it matches them - not necessarily surpasses them - and that difference tips the balance.

And the Ram? We only found it on the last day, and to be honest every single eatery we went into was filled with gamers, being gamers and people knowing they were gamers. Even the Denny's next to our hotel - five miles from the Convention Centre and in the middle of the suburbs - was 'con friendly.


redben said...

Playtesting is the only reason my book isn't finished yet.