Sunday, July 12, 2009

Comparing video game and non-electronic game conferences

Some people might be interested in the contrasts between video game conferences and non-electronic game conferences. In this case I'm drawing primarily from Origins Game Fair (Columbus, OH) and Triangle Game Conference (TGC) (Raleigh, NC).

TGC is a relatively small, new conference, somewhere over 700 attending this inaugural year, but almost all of those people are either industry professionals or students who want to be in the industry. There is virtually no game playing at the conference.

Among the 10,000-15,000 at Origins, most are consumers, gamers, although there are plenty of industry professionals. (The variance in attendance reflects the effects of the recession: 15,000 two years ago, 10,000 this year.) Playing games is a big reason for people to attend.

At Origins the focus is playing games just for the heck of it, with a few prize tournaments such as the U.S. Yu-Gi-Oh championship. At TGC the focus is giving and receiving information about video game development. This reflects the non-technological nature of non-electronic game development and publishing, and the highly technological nature of video game publishing. Non-electronic games is a much smaller industry than video games, even though we can point to one freelance designer who makes over a million dollars a year (Reiner Knizia) and one huge American company (Hasbro and its subsidiaries) along with some very large German companies. Yet one of the larger American companies, Fantasy Flight Games, has smaller annual revenues than the budget of many AAA list video games.

As a consumer-oriented affair, Origins charges just $60 for up to five days (and free to teachers), though playing in many of the games and attending the historical seminars is an additional cost per event. Game playing at Origins fall into categories, boardgames, role-playing games (including "LARP", live action role-playing), collectible card games, and miniatures games. There are also seminars at Origins, many about history, many about games. TGC was $100 per day, $25 per day to students, for a two day meeting. Origins also has a $10 ticket for people who just want to go through the vendor hall and art show.

I can't say how much deal-making might occur at a conference such as TGC, but one of the reasons for a professional designer to attend Origins is to talk with, and perhaps demo a game to, publishers. I personally don't feel a need to travel 500 miles just to play games, but evidently many people do.

Origins is also more celebrity-oriented than TGC. There are several guests of honor who conduct events during the week, and the venerable "Origins Awards" are voted on and awarded to the best games in various categories. Yet there's very little of the "rock star" or hero worship I've heard happens at GDC, but which I did not see at TGC.

There are smaller conferences comparable in size to TGC, such as the six day World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, PA (1,500 attendees) and four-day PrezCon in Charlottesville, VA (4-500). Families often attend these events. These affairs are even more consumer-oriented in the form of organized tournaments, with few seminars and not many vendors. The tournaments are for bragging rights only (plaques awarded for best players) rather than prize money; there are also team competitions and other competition-oriented features. An award is given to best tournament referee ("GM"). There are about 125 tournaments at WBC, in both board and card games (most of them extending over several days). These can vary from simple games like "Liar's Dice" to big 4-5 hour contests such as my game "Britannia," to epics that take 6 hours and more to play (e.g. Advanced Civilization--the boardgame that preceded the computer game). Both conventions are board and card game oriented, with virtually no RPGs or CCGs.

In the unlikely event that video game production comes to use standardized methods, perhaps the conferences will become more consumer-oriented.

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