We attended GenCon in Indianapolis with Mesa Mundi. Mesa Mundi had a booth setup in the vendor room where they had two Monolith touch screens and a Microsoft PixelSense screen. They also had a table in the exhibit hall with another touch screen where attendees could come for hour long games on the table. We spent most of our time in the exhibit hall running games of Hansa Teutonica, Bio Infiltrators and the rest of our touch games. I enjoyed the convention and really liked watching people playing Hansa.
GenCon is one of the largest gaming conventions, drawing about 50,000 people this year. It uses the whole convention center and much of the conference space in the nine adjacent hotels. Most of that space is taken up by people playing board and card games. There were an overwhelming number of games being played at any one time. The event catalog had hundreds of events each hour and there were over 9000 events that they didn’t list because the program book was already 350 pages. The convention ran around the clock with games scheduled even between 2 and 5 am. There were huge rooms dedicated to D&D, Pathfinder and Magic. The largest board game companies had big areas in the exhibit hall with tables for people to play their games. But even that wasn’t enough; there were pick-up games on any free table and even on the floor in the hallways.
It is hard to convey the shear number of people playing games. In this photo you can see maybe 1/4th of the exhibit hall. The exhibit hall had maybe 1/3rd of the total games being played at the convention.
The main focus of the convention is probably role playing games – both table top and live action. Also popular are the highly themed (Ameritrash) games and games with miniatures:
At PAX, we spent most of our time in the Mesa Mundi booth playing our short and simple games with people who walked up and describing the technology. At GenCon, we spent very little time in the booth and the majority of our time in the gaming room. Due to some technical difficulties, we had twice as many time slots to cover as we had expected; and since it was a last minute change, those time slots hadn’t been advertised to the attendees and were lightly attended. So GenCon ended up being less intense and busy than PAX was.
GenCon also had a different atmosphere than PAX. The audience at GenCon is older and seemed more serious. There seemed to be less excitement and energy, but more focus and planning. Many of the attendees had pre-scheduled their time and signed up for the games they wanted to play. PAX seemed more free form and less regimented. I would also say that PAX was better run. There seemed to be fewer problems and a lot more volunteers/staff at PAX. The GenCon audience is probably a bit more likely to buy a touch table, and we spoke to several people who owned one already.
Like at PAX, having a big marketing budget makes a huge difference. The big companies were using space in the vendor room to demo their latest games and Mayfair brought in huge versions of their classic Catan games. On the other end of the spectrum, Hansa Teutonica, still ranked #56 on BoardGameGeek.com, was only being played at our table.
There were some interesting attractions at GenCon. They had 15 battletech virtual reality pods setup in one of the main hallways with a screen where you could watch the battle. There was also an area where attendees could build elaborate card houses called Cardhalla. They used donated Magic the Gathering cards, and raised money by letting people knock it down by throwing change at the cards. There was also a Cthulhu and Ninja Turtle made of balloons.
We came away from PAX with lots of ideas to improve our existing games and ideas for brand new games. We were energized and motivated by the excitement of the people who came to the booth. GenCon didn’t provide nearly as many new ideas/feedback and we ended up mentally exhausted. I don’t know if it was because of the different atmosphere, not being in the main booth as much, or just because it was our second convention. On the plus side, at GenCon we got to meet a lot more people who shared our vision of table-top games on the touch screen. Most of our Hansa players immediately saw the benefits to having a computer version where you could still sit around the table, face to face, with your friends.
There are lots more pictures in the gallery.