Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Initial impressions, Origins Game Fair

Last week I attended Origins in Columbus Ohio for the fourth or fifth time in a row.

Origins changed their name to Origins Game Fair, a very good idea intended to attract a more general clientele. They also instituted a weekend-only $10 admission so that "the unwashed" could come into the exhibit halls and buy something, and watch all the gaming. But the attendance in the vendor hall, except on Saturday, was significantly less than in the past. Even in the gaming halls there seemed to be considerably less going on, despite the Pokemon National Tournament and a record number of events. Last year there were something like 15,000 unique attendees, likely fewer this year.

It's easy to attribute the attendance dropoff to the price of gas. What concerns publishers is whether people will buy fewer games because of gas prices and general uncertainty. Conventional wisdom is that when the economy is poor, people steer their entertainment dollars toward the less expensive (per hour) forms of entertainment, which includes games (especially non-electronic games). One vendor pointed out that games are now cheaper, in comparison with gas and other necessities such as food, than they used to be. But another worried that when it came time to buy a game, a person would need the money for gas.

I go with the conventional wisdom. The people who came to the convention were willing to spend money, it's just that there weren't as many people as in the past.

Nor were there as many exhibitors--or maybe I should say, the exhibits occupied less space--especially the huge exhibits we used to see. Why? Let's speculate.

At a remainder vendor I ran across a box of 12 starter sets (30 chips in each) of Clout Fantasy. Clout was heavily hyped at last year's convention, originated by a company involving Peter Adkison, founder of Wizards of the Coast and owner of GenCon. It is a collectible throwing game. You throw the equivalent of high quality poker chips with color illustrations on them into an area, and rules plus measurements govern what happens. I confess last year I didn't think it would appeal to many people, and this box may well confirm that. Clout starter sets were $14.95 at Thought Hammer (knocked down to $8.97). So my $8 box retailed for $180 at one time. The principal publisher, AEG, used to have enormous layouts at Origins, but had a tiny booth this year.

But this was not as striking as the absence of WizKids for the second year running, after they had brought enormous setups to past Origins. Wizkids made their fame with Mage Knight, HeroClix, and the like. Mage Knight figures were at the same remainder vendor, as well as Navia (chesslike game using collectible figures, also pushed heavily at the convention in the past). I couldn't resist, and bought a dwarven steam behemoth (a tank, more or less) for $4 (original price $34.95 in 2001). There were even some D&D miniatures sets in the lot.

Of course, another vendor had literally thousands of RPG books at $5 apiece. This only confirms what we all knew, that the RPG market is in the pits, though the advent of 4th Edition D&D (which renders all the D20 Third Edition stuff obsolete) may have had something to do with this particular display.

RPG market: Andy Hopp, a guest of honor artist who works in the RPG industry, gave another illustration of the collapse of the RPG market. When he started about seven years ago, he could get around $80 for a black and white illustration in an RPG book. He doesn't work in that segment now, but understands people are lucky to get $10 for the same thing. That's because, outside of the main vendors such as Wizards of the Coast, companies can's sell much RPG material, so they can't pay much for art.

I didn't notice Wizards of the Coast, whether they were there or not.

We had the usual contingent, perhaps more than usual, of little companies with a few new self-published games pushing them at Origins, companies we won't see back next year, as usual, because it won't have been worth the cost/effort. But hope springs eternal in the human breast, as they say.

I didn't investigate, but a game that caught my eye was a spiral array printed on black cloth, with two different colors of dice (not d6) layed out on it. As a result I'm thinking about using dice as pieces for a game, but D6, not the more expensive stuff.

The little companies, the boardgame companies, that have been around for a long time were still there (most of them), but the big companies were not as much in evidence. Perhaps WizKids and Wizards of the Coast will be at GenCon, which is more fantasy-oriented than Origins.

According to the organizers there were 4,527 events at Origins--tournaments, role-playing/miniatures/bardgaming sessions, seminars. One of the oddities of Origins is that you pay quite a hefty fee to get in--up to $70--and then you're charged to play the games, and even some of the seminars that you attend. (This in contrast to WBC, where you pay one fee and then can play in any tournaments, and play anything else.) At Origins there's even a fee for playing in the open boardgaming area. But the result is LOTS of events. I did my usual two free seminars, how to get your game published and how to design a game. (Slides and MP3 recordings here, including also Ian Schreiber's "Game Design for Teachers", I had more than 25 at each session despite choosing slightly odd times (9 AM and 3 PM Saturday). As seminars go, this is very good attendance. Listening to myself, I seem to have been in good form, and I'll use the recordings to help me write the book.

Why did I buy the Clout set? For pieces for prototypes, I get outstandingly made "poker" chips in four colors for two+ cents each, and can ignore the illustrations. But I realized after I'd bought, I can use these for game design "challenges" in class. I'll give student groups a starter set or two, tell them to use one of the three sets of numbers on the chips, and make up a game (most likely with a square board, but that's up to them). Unfortunately, the other set was gone when I thought of this and wanted to buy it as well!

(Oops: added the URL)

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