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Author Topic: Sad GenCon  (Read 5644 times)
lumpley
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« on: September 03, 2004, 12:41:27 PM »

I have never seen so many unhappy people in one place as at GenCon.

What's up with that? You look at the people passing by and they frown all the time! Exhibitors, customers, everybody. Maybe one person in ten looks happy. I can't imagine that I'm the only one who noticed.

Even at the Forge booth, which was overall an island of joy, there were people who didn't seem to be having any fun.

Is it something we can talk about constructively here?

-Vincent
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ffilz
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« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2004, 01:11:06 PM »

Well, I could think of a variety of reasons people would be sad. I suspect many people have their bubble burst by GenCon. It's supposed to be the crown jewel of RPG cons in their mind, and then they get there, and the lines are too long, the dealers hall so big they get exhausted, they can't find the game they want to play, everything costs to much, etc. Oh, and then they get sick. Oh, and if you don't like crowds...

I think the size of the dealers room alone could cause a sad look. The size of the dealers room left me feeling exhausted after making the rounds.

I'm not sure what one could do to change it. I think most of the causes are all just features of a huge convention.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2004, 01:22:50 PM »

I think maybe a lot of gamers were unhappy before they got to GenCon, and GenCon didn't do anything to change that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2004, 02:52:32 PM »

Hiya,

As usual when it comes to role-playing and fun, I like to distinguish among these groups of people ...

People whose social lives include role-playing among other things

People whose social lives do not include role-playing, but they might like it if they tried it, or might like it now, with the wider variety available

People who do not have much social lives to speak of, and find in role-playing an activity in which they can pseudo-socialize (i.e. buying camaraderie  through shared consumerism, "huddling" as opposing to enjoying one another's company)

Unfortunately, the term "gamer" includes both the first and the third sets of people, who really have very little in common.

The sadness you're talking about, Vincent, seems to me to be a genuine and rather tragic state of mind in the third set, many of whom have come to GenCon in order to feel included and as if they belong. Most of the social cues used in this group are "automatic ins," such as references to certain pop culture motifs, a lot of laughter that's meant to show how included "we" are together (and rings false to me as an observer), and (oddly) arguing in order to fit in.

Since nothing about social status, inclusion, and camaraderie is automatic, these behaviors create a kind of semi-togetherness which does nothing to dispel the sadness. I think several features of classic GenCon activity - the staying up all night to develop a feverish hazed mental state, the paying to role-play (!!!), and haring off to buy whatever has the biggest booth surrounding it - are all compensatory.

I find it astounding that some folks wander up to the Forge booth (a hive of frenetic commercial activity, obvious enthusiastic role-playing, etc) and slink away, feeling personally excluded because they see other people having fun. This doesn't happen often enough to register on the Forge participants' radar, partly because our "scanning" antennae are set to find people who look semi-engaged in the booth already. Nor is it a problem for the commerce and promotion at the booth, obviously; we had a hard time serving all the customers as it stood.

But since the behavior gets a mention on the forums once in a while, usually from someone who did it, it's worth considering. What would a "perfect booth" look like to a person who feels excluded upon seeing the Forge booth as it is? Frankly, I don't think there's an answer. I think that this mind-set is incapable of constructing a genuinely satisfying social interaction - they're wandering around hoping it sort of swoops in and "gets" them someday (or will be found in the pages of Yet Another Hot Game), but what "it" is, is beyond them.

This is definitely sad. It's not a problem I think we can solve. I'm learning very profoundly that Adept Press' target market is actually the second set of people I listed, via members of the first set, and I think most of the games at the booth are similar.

Best,
Ron
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Blankshield
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« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2004, 03:10:20 PM »

There is also a factor of sheer scope that many people (esp., I suspect, people in Ron's third catagory) find intimidating.  As in "Holy crap, there's a lot of people here that I don't know from Adam."

I'm not sure it's "fixable" at all, and I'm pretty darn sure it's outside my responsibilities.  If Joe ConAttendee cannot even muster enough social chutzpah to show interest in what he's interested in.... bluntly, and perhaps rudely, he's not my problem.  If he's not willing to seem interested, I have no way of seperating him from the people I have *no* right to bother: the genuinely uninterested.  I deem it a lesser social offense to slight the "must appear aloof to retain my geek status" than to pester the uninterested.

James
(yeep.  I think I segued into a minor rant.  Sorry 'bout that.)
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2004, 03:15:18 PM »

I dunno.

I mean, I was pretty sad at GenCon, especially when I had nothing to do (away from the booth) for reasons which had nothing to do with my gaming life being sad.  Part of it was the total overwhelmingness of it all, especially when combined with jetlag.  Part of it was also "wait, this is it?  This is the biggest gaming con, the ultimate gaming gathering, the 'four best days in gaming?'  Shit, it's just like my little college con, but scaled up."

yrs--
--Ben
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ffilz
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2004, 04:18:30 PM »

Hmm, Ron's three groups of players is interesting, though I would almost say a person could find themselves in any of the three groups depending on circumstances. You might be a fairly healthy member of group 1 at home, but you arrive at GenCon, none of your buddies are there, and most of the folks are group 3 all the time. You could easily slip into group 3. Or you could be really into Bunnies and Burrows at home, but not really other games. You show up to GenCon, and no one's playing B&B, so you almost fit into group 2 (and get coaxed back into group 1 when you discover someone running Fudge Bunnies).

I notice most of us keyed on the size of the con. It can make one feel really lost.

If the Forge wanted to do anything to improve it's capability to attract group 2 people, it would be to figure out how better to say to the world "we're different!" I'm not sure I would have invested time in the Forge booth if I Chris and James hadn't mentioned it last year (and even this year, I only gave it a quick pass until Chris suggested I check out Universalis). Now I know it will be more on my radar in the future.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2004, 04:34:19 PM »

Hello,

Frank, you wrote,

Quote
If the Forge wanted to do anything to improve it's capability to attract group 2 people, it would be to figure out how better to say to the world "we're different!"


We're there already. Hell, man, I started this in 2001 with the Adept Press booth, based on two observations: (1) many people responded positively to actual decent social interaction with them as they passed the booth, as well as to observing the fun interactions among ourselves within the booth; (2) CCG demonstrations, being short and sharp and focused on demonstrating how the game is fun, sell games hand over fist.

If there's one thing we already know, it's that the Forge booth is "different." Word of mouth and actual fun experiences of play do the rest - you yourself are a case in point.

Best,
Ron
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JSDiamond
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2004, 05:01:46 PM »

IMO any perceived lack of fun had more to do with world current events including (but not limited to) Iraq, the elections, and the price of gas as it relates to the economy.  No matter how sequestered we think members of this great hobby are, no matter which group we fall into as individuals, we still live in the world and those things matter to each of us to some degree.  It's in the back of our minds at least.

I do not believe it's the size of the convention.  A 'crown jewel' of anything is supposed to be the biggest, loudest and most crowded.  

No, consciously or unconsciously, with so much going on people are waiting to internally sigh with relief that *something* gets resolved --that the world turns a page finally on one of those things.

Wait until after November.  Things will pick up.
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JSDiamond
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2004, 07:15:13 PM »

Hey Frank,

I agree that we want to get the word out that "we're different".

Problem is there's only two ways to do that.

1) Marketing.  But marketing costs money and most consumers are already well trained to not believe it.

2) Grass Roots word of mouth.  You have first hand experience about how effective and believable this is.  Problem is its slow.  It takes time to build enough critical mass to get noticed this way.

But as Ron said and the numbers I posted earlier show its working.  We served ALOT more people at GenCon 2004 than at 2003, and while I don't have numbers for it, I know from being there that 2003 was bigger than 2002.  No doubt 2005 will be bigger yet.

Folks like you will make that happen, not only because you now are one person who will make a point to stop by the booth (as I said, the booth has really become a destination for alot of people) but because everyone you play with whom you introduce a Forge game to (like Universalis...yesss we likes it when yous introduce others to Universalis...) has now had their awareness raised as well.


Not to put too fine a point on it, but you (and others like you) are the reason the Forge has the success it does.  

You hear about us.  You're skeptical.  You decide to give it a shot and find out.  You like what you see.  And now you're a regular participant.

That's the formula.  I wish I knew of a quicker one, but it seems to be one that works.
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ffilz
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2004, 08:08:05 PM »

True, and as always, word of mouth is the best way to get new customers. I don't remember if it was done last year, but the "indie booths" map this year was another way to build up word of mouth references.

Of course don't give me too much credit yet for introducing others to Universalis (heck, I haven't even really introduced myself to it yet).

As far as the greater world putting a damper on GenCon: I seriously doubt that's a factor. Outside world can put a damper on things if something big happens just before or during the event, but that wasn't the case this year.

Yes, the crown jewel is supposed to be big and crowded, but I think that just exposes Ron's group 3 folks in spades. They realize how insignificant their little mostly dysfunctional gaming group is, especially when they see other folks having a grand old time.

And people get all sorts of bubbles burst. Their idol of an author or designer turns out to be a jerk, or he's actually just a normal sort of guy, and gets tired after talking to hundreds of fans. The scenario they slaved over for a con module and had so much fun playtesting with their buddies fell flat. They've mopped the floor with every magic player in their home town, and lose the first round of the tournament.

Then there's those of us who realize a big event isn't all shiny and pretty, that it has some big ugly warts. So we focus on what we need to have fun. I was sick as a dog for part of GenCon, and there were all sorts of lumps with the games I ran. But I'm not swearing off of GenCon. I'm thinking about how to take care of myself better for next year and to have more fun. On Sunday, I decided to spend some quality time in the dealers room. I sat down for a demo of a board game that I probably will never buy, but it was fun and cool. I came to the Forge booth for a demo, and left with a cool game I hadn't thought about, and some cool ideas for my next campaign. Next year I'll try and do some more demos throughout the weekend (and I'll look for a chance to play Universalis, especially if I haven't managed to play it before then).

Frank
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Frank Filz
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2004, 08:43:19 PM »

Me, I failed to get my game to the Con - that brought a bit o' sadness.  And sure, Iraq, politics, the economy . . .

But I want to point at the gap (or at least, the perceived gap) between what gamers think RPGs should be, and what they are.  Hell, even CCGs and etc. fall prey to this - it's supposed to be like Magic at it's very height, all the time!  RPGs are supposed to be like D&D was when D&D was (they think) King of the World, all the time.

Instead, there'll all niche hobbies.  External boost to self-value from participatin' in 'em?  Only in the most clasically-geek, we're the fringe-elite sense.  For most, seeing the gap between reality and what-should-be is very saddening.

Now, internal boost to self-worth?  If you accept the current niche status and realize man, how cool - me and my friends get a lot out of this stuff?  HUGE, happy-happy-joyjoy.  For me, the Forge, RPG Theory, the booth . . . it's all about moving to that internal-boost mode.  Which maybe someday will lead to an external thing, but if not - it's OK.

I think for a certain number of gamers - for me, at one point in my life - it's NOT OK that their hobby is what it is.  And for some, that leads to an enduring sadness.  If it weren't for the Forge (that is, all you wonderful people. present and past) and some other excellent roleplayers (maybe I should say, excellent people who happen to be roleplayers) I've met, I'd probably be out of the hobby to avoid falling into that trap.  Glad it didn't come to that.

Gordon
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Chris_Chambers
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« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2004, 11:20:03 PM »

As a person who had spent most of their time in the exhibitors hall, I had a blast.  More to the point that I didn't fall into the trap that I did last year, and found a lot of people doing, rushing from one scheduled game to another.  I actually spent the whole con demo-ing games.  I think I only went to two scheduled events, maybe three, the entire time.  I picked up three new games, and met great people.  The only thing that sucks is I got sick on Sunday, and haven't got over it completly yet.

The only real way I saw that the booth may direct more people in, was if there was more space.  I walked by on several occasions and couldn't make it through due to people crowded in front.  But I also understand the draw backs of more space, more $.
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jdagna
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« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2004, 11:51:27 PM »

First off, I don't think there were quite so many sad people.  I would say less than a quarter of population were really sad-looking to me, with maybe another quarter obviously not having fun at that moment (but the dealer's hall is the place to go when you don't have anything else you really want to do, so I expect some of that).

Much of the sadness and not-funness stems from simple physical factors.  Most people arrived poorly rested and slept little during the con - it's impossible to be jumping up and down in joy through jet lag and three hours of sleep.  (And eating a diet of White Castle, Mountain Dew and coffees with six shots of espresso added - the literal diet of someone who shared my hotel room).

Another whole bunch of people were obviously out of shape and not used to having to walk very much.  That can sap fun out of anything - just ask my wife who has foot pain when she walks or stands for very long (and just ask me how much fun it is for me when she's hurting).  

I do think there's another big source of sadness for the people who clearly were just plain sad.  I think a lot of role-players live vicariously through their characters and tend to envision the character as a part of themselves.  When it's just yourself and your gaming group, you can get away with this.  When you're surrounded by 20,000 strangers, you're suddenly faced with being just yourself, and I'm sure this is the reason so many people will eagerly spend hours telling you about their character.  They desperately want you to see them the way they see themselves, through the lens of an imaginary role.  

But still, I think the tired and sad people were a minority.  Overall, I left with the impression of a lot of people who had a really good time.
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Justin Dagna
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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2004, 03:00:18 AM »

I was about to make a post stating something to the extent of "let's not jump to judge others by the kind of face they wore in the dealer's hall, but Justin summarized this more succicntly:

Quote from: jdagna
I would say less than a quarter of population were really sad-looking to me, with maybe another quarter obviously not having fun at that moment (but the dealer's hall is the place to go when you don't have anything else you really want to do, so I expect some of that).


Me too.  I'd say LESS than 1/4 looked "sad".  Mostly it was:
1) Being Overwhelmed
2) Weariness (MLWGenCon, anyone?)
3) Being Overwhelmed, again

I know that I didn't look happy my first run through the dealer's hall. There were people everywhere, literally every booth has something to catch my eye or purse. Taking it all in was so much that it took literally 1-2 walkthroughs to come to my senses.  Kinda like World War II but with RPGs, colorful collectible games, demo screens for XBOX titles, chainmail loincloths and bootleg DVDs instead of Nazis and Bloodshed.

Quote
Much of the sadness and not-funness stems from simple physical factors.  Most people arrived poorly rested and slept little during the con - it's impossible to be jumping up and down in joy through jet lag and three hours of sleep.


Agreed here, too.

For me, seeing them in the habitat that they came to the con for, that is the D&D table or Card Tourneys... that will be the real judge.  I know for a fact that some of the people wandering around will look, and *be*, sad while playing Their Games for the reasons that Ron suggested (I remember my first two GenCons back in Milwaukee, and I can certainly say that I was unhappy at times, even playing my favored games). But I think that, for the most part, we're downplaying Weariness and Being Overwhelmed as factors.

Quote
I do think there's another big source of sadness for the people who clearly were just plain sad...


Hmmmm. For me, that's stretching things a bit there. :)  But yeah, I don't deny that it happens.  But I doubt it makes an impact on Vince's perceived Sadness.

Quote
But still, I think the tired and sad people were a minority.  Overall, I left with the impression of a lot of people who had a really good time.


Me too. Just because people were overwhelmed, or didn't take well to having people jumping in their face with fliers, even if their one-liners were witty, doesn't mean that "GenCon is filled with Sad, Unhappy Gamers slowly becoming alienated and disollusioned with their hobby."

But I must say, the folks that were receptive, gave the Hall a once-through, and turned on their "human interaction" switch?  They were a blast to be around, and the ones that stopped by our booth certainly had a kickass time.

EDIT:

I remembered one thing that I wanted to share:
I didn't get a lot of sleep.  However, I never felt all that completely tired, even while running demos in front of dozens of people. Then I remembered:

For the Con-Goer, the First Event Session (RPGs or otherwise) every day begins at 8:00AM.  The END of the Last Session is usually 11:45PM. So the folks that get to GenCon to do some hardcore scheduled gaming were literally awake 2 hours before me, and probably went to bed later than me*, and hop into the dealer's hall in the one or two downtime slots.  If some of those people were running games as GM, and spent some time preparing... you can get an idea of the amount of rest they'd be getting.

That, friends, is weariness.

* Even though I'd bet money that my gaming this year, even in 15/30 minute shots, was more satisfying. Just speaking from my own personal experience with GenCon.

-Andy
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