Gen Con 2020: The Looming Specter of Cancellation

by Mike Brodeur Published 5/1/2020

We do indeed live in interesting times.  To simply refer to them as turbulent is grossly inaccurate.  The current times are potentially catastrophic, at least some are espousing the idea.  Me?  No fucking clue…

All I know is that my world took a gut punch.  It’s not like I’m on the floor in the fetal.  I’m on my feet, though still a bit shaken.  None of us know what the world will look like in six months.  How could we?  Well, here at the Influence Foundation we deployed our most potent assets.  Up to, and including, our fabled Divination Division!

The Divination Department deployed a robust recipe of: traditional journalism, a dash North Korean espionage doctrine, esoteric ritual methods, and a pinch of techno-paganism have led us to a number of astonishing conclusions.  However, the focus of this article is the potential cancellation of Gen Con 2020.  Note that I did not imply rescheduling.  We here at The Foundation do not believe that is a viable option for the majority of the businesses involved.  

Gen Con means a lot to the fans.  The show provides an opportunity for the tribe to congregate in mass, to celebrate its love of the hobby.  I mean show.  Gen Con is a glut with spectacle.  Whatever aspect of the hobby that may be.  We game, we commune, we reenergize long-distance relationships.  We are exposed to games and concepts that we likely would not have been exposed to otherwise.  The collective’s new hotness, perhaps?  A unique personal passion?  A special thing that we can only find there.

We consume…

We consume books, art, games, toy soldiers, t-shirts, costume bits, blades, etc.  Some of these things are frivolous garbage that we don’t need, which we may never use.  Some will stay near and dear for a long time.  Selling us these products is necessary to the livelihood of the vendors offering them.  This is how they pay their mortgages and feed their kids.  This IS their job.  Not the volunteers, but the people actually drawing a paycheck from the company named on the booth’s banner.  For the average fan attendee, not having the event will blow, but whatever.  What does no Gen Con this year mean for industry professionals?

Set aside, for the purposes of this article, the impact no Gen Con would have on the larger picture that is Indianapolis.  Forget hotels, restaurants, bars, and the Red Garter.

A cancelled Gen Con means no opportunity to put products directly into the hands of the end user.  The benefits are many.  For starters, no distributor and/or FLGS taking a cut.  The vendor can sell you product at a discount on SRP (Suggested Retail Price) and still make a greater profit than selling the same item through the Status Quo’s tiered system.  Coincidentally, Gen Con is the place where many companies release new products significant to their respective brands.  For many consumers it’s a place where you get access to that one special thing, or company for that matter.  It is an opportunity for companies and creators to proselytize their brand, for fostering relationships with hobbyists, and to make some extra cash.  And to party.  A lot of drinking.  Despite the silver lining of unimpaired liver function, the situation is more dire. 

Friendly Local Game Stores are not doing business as usual.  It’s been brought to the attention of The Influence Foundation that many gaming retailers are branching out into online sales for the first time.  Is that enough to keep them afloat?  Is it too little too late for the lot?  That’s a different article.  What if they don’t get all those big new releases from Gen Con because there is no show this year? 

Many distributors are not operational, and word is that none is operating at full efficiency.  The few still actively shipping product are running out of stock.  Alliance Distribution, in particular, is in a strange state of flux right now.  They have very close-knit ties to Diamond Comics Distributor and all their COVID baggage.  Asmodee broke up with Alliance and started dating ACD Distribution.  That has to chafe the old billfold.  

What about The Next Big Shiny?  If there is a Gen Con this year, will vendors have new product?  Shit, will they have restocked product?  Is product even being manufactured?  How long will it take to reach stores?  Will product make it to normal channels?  Will Asmodee (this includes ACD) and Games Workshop be reserving stock for themselves to sell direct online?  What kind of deals will Amazon and Miniature Market work out?  Oh, I forgot Barnes & Noble, Target, and Walmart.  You think your FLGS is getting Catan in time for the Holiday Shopping Season before gods and titans?

The uncertainty is the real pill.  No one knows anything for sure.  I reached out to the Indianapolis Convention Center, and spoke with some helpful people that had no information to disclose. Meaning I got the impression that no one knew much of anything regarding cancellation or rescheduling of Gen Con 2020.  I did get a nice quote from Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Chris Gahl:

“We’ve proudly hosted Gen Con since 2003, an annual event that has grown in size as the city has grown. Gen Con’s 2019 event generated more than $74 million in economic impact over its four days, with more than 70,000 attendees from more than 40 countries.  We work with Gen Con’s team nearly weekly year-round to ensure each-and-every year is healthy and growing. We’ve stayed in constant communication with Gen Con’s leadership team specific to the current crisis. What’s paramount for Indy is the health of our residents, visitors, and the long-term health of Gen Con.”

This is essentially the same thing I got from the Marketing Department of the Indianapolis Convention Center.  Not verbatim, but damn close.   

Yet very little information is being disseminated about the event itself.  As of yesterday, Gen Con event registration has been delayed, as has the release of the event catalog.  I was, however, able to give them $134.30 of my boss’s money for a 4-Day Badge plus shipping this afternoon, 90 days out.  Here’s a link to Gen Con’s current COVID-19 statement

Beside the inspired art of The Influence Foundation: Divination Division’s very own remote viewer and quite talented artist, Nina Marlotte (above), several whispers from the Outside have been transcribed, secured, and translated.  Check the sidebars.

Whatever happens, I will be in downtown Indianapolis July 30th through August 2nd, 2020.  I have to see this for myself.

A Tale as Old as Time: Industry vs. Press

by Mike Brodeur Published 4/23/2020

This being my first article I feel obligated to provide you, dear reader, with some background.  I love gaming.  Not digital.  I love the real deal, analog.  Tabletop. RPGs, miniatures wargaming, board, and card.  I love the industry.  It has paid my bills for the better part of my adulthood.  The hobby has been an essential factor in my happiness since I was a kid.  I love it so much I quit my very stable job as the Miniature Market Retail Superstore Event Coordinator to strike out on my lonesome as a gaming journalist. 

My trip to the GAMA Expo in Reno, NV was my first time at the show since 2015 when I was elected to the Retail Board.  I stepped down several months later, but that is a tale for a different venue. The show had changed.  The organization had changed.  Both just enough that the event was exciting yet comfortable.  Publishers, retailers, designers, manufacturers, distributors, pretty much anyone involved in the life of a game except for the end consumer.  Even product reviewers and press. 

You see, when you go to consumer facing shows it’s all about you, the consumer.  The new hotness direct to you, no waiting.  No pesky three tier distribution system. Discounts to the end consumer and higher profit margins for the game company.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would do it too.  (If I were a publisher I would absolutely go to cons and sell directly to the end consumer.  But I do have a firm understanding of the value that the FLGS [Friendly Local Game Store] brings to a products life cycle.)  Consumer facing shows are not the kind of places where industry professionals have the time to talk to the likes of me.  GAMA is a business to business expo.  Not Bilderberg shit, simply time to focus on industry business with other industry professionals.  It’s an opportunity to network, and to let your hair down.  It’s a great show and a valuable organization.  If you are an industry professional and not a member of GAMA you should inquire.  (No, GAMA is not compensating me for my endorsement.)  Despite the looming specter of COVID-19, keeping in mind that this was early March, my encounters at the expo this year where plentiful and pleasant. 

I did have one bizarre exchange, however, with the OP.  Usaopoly.  Late afternoon, in the exhibit hall, I had already taken a quite a few pictures and stuck my voice recorder in a number of industry faces.  I stepped in front of the OP booth, camera and mono-pod at the ready.  Before I could focus on anything, a young woman hastily approached insisting that I may not take any pictures of the booth.  I found it odd, but complied.  Why come to an industry trade show, set up an obviously professional and well executed marketing display, and not want some free press?  Whatever, no worries.

Then she demanded to see my camera.

“Okay,” I thought.  “How do I play this?”  Fuck it, roll over and don’t make a scene.

I assured her that I had not taken any pictures of their booth.  (Which I had not, but the next day sources inside The Influence foundation where able to secure a large number.  Both of the booth and the offending sales rep.)  I declined to show her my camera and walked away.  I know, what a bitch, right?  Not her, me!  If I walked away from that confrontation what kind of integrity do I possess to pursue a story? 

You see, I let my prejudice cloud my judgement.  When I think of the great gaming companies the OP does not come to mind. I view them like carpetbaggers.  Not legit members of the tribe, but corporatist whores min-maxing profits.  It turns out I may well be mistaken.  When I reached out to the OP for comment, they were professional and super cool.  Fuck.

This is the explanation I received from the OP’s Senior Marketing Manager, Jake Davis:

” Without going to deep into the weeds here, we are unique in several ways that limits any photos that can be taken at the show. Due to so many licensors we work with, we don’t always have final approval to have items photographed. We get special permission from licensors to show to retailers only. We let them know we will not have any photos taken of the booth to ensure we will have something for our sales team to sell and for retailers to view while at the show. And since some things are not final, we need to put a mandate for no photos for the whole booth to ensure nothing gets leaked online before we either have final approval or have even announced ourselves. Believe me, we would love to have everything photographed, but we need to be careful with so many big licensors to ensure nothing gets out before it is supposed to. It creates a lot of problems when this happens.”

Not the conspiracy of Sanchezian proportion I had envisioned. (Though they do have Bob Ross Monopoly… that makes me feel the wiggins.  Seriously, who’s the strumpet?  The deceased Mr. Ross or his estate?)

My natural inclination is to argue and throw bombs.  I have a cork board littered in photos, festooned with push-pins, and bound by the insinuations of red yarn.  My white board is bloated with questions for these interlopers, the OP.  I mean come on, what a douchey moniker!  My instinct was to see them as “other,” not legitimate kin.  Surely, I cannot be the only person that felt this way. 

I had been out of direct industry contact for too long.  I found myself falling into a rooky retailer trap.  I let my preference and prejudice influence what I thought was necessary product for the true end consumer.  The people whom I deemed as bonafide members of our analog gaming federation.  We all make judgement calls about what does and does not fit our brand, but I lost sight of the target audience.  Their target audience.  Plus, I got butt-hurt that I am not a part of it.

The OP has licenses ranging from Rick & Morty, to Dragonball Z, to Toy Story.  Sure, they slap some cool ones on games that I consider shit (Monopoly and Talisman to name two).  They also publish truly worthwhile license and design combinations.  For example, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle (a co-op deck building game, which according to the OP website has a second edition coming soon).  I may not care for many, and own even fewer OP titles, but they have a place in the hobby.  Whether that is providing exposure to the uninitiated or crushing the market with the occasional hit.  I’d wager this makes them worth a second look, or at least a slightly tempered and more rational approach than I was originally inspired toward.

Usaopoly is no more or less a part of this industry than they choose to be.  Just like the rest of us I suppose.

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