There’s a good reason that Gen Con remains my favorite convention – it is welcoming to all levels of gamers, and stubbornly unpretentious. I’m so glad I got to experience it from an exhibitor’s perspective, and bring my friend Holly Conrad along for the ride!
I just flew home from Gen Con 2015, and boy, are my arms tired!
Gen Con dredges up a ton of emotions for me. While everyone else is busy talking about this year’s (awesome!) show, I can’t think about this year’s show without also thinking about my very first Gen Con. After all, that’s where I met the person I’d eventually work for, as well as so many others who have become lasting friends.
Bikers in downtown Indianapolis during my first Gen Con
Don’t know what Gen Con is? Don’t worry – I didn’t either, three years ago, when I attended for the very first time. For the uninitiated, Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming convention in North America (in 2014, over 56,000 people attended!), and it’s where people come to geek out over board games, card games, role-playing games…you get the idea.
My first visit to Gen Con was a last-minute thing arranged by my bosses at the time. Back then, I was the marketing director at Geek & Sundry, a YouTube entertainment company that was fresh off the rather unexpected success of TableTop, a show about board games hosted by Wil Wheaton. With the overnight success of TableTop, and Gen Con being the biggest tabletop gaming show in North America…well, you can see why they were so keen to be represented there.
My trip to Gen Con was arranged last-minute, and I was dreading it with every fiber of my being. After planning Geek & Sundry’s activities at the inaugural VidCon (which is a great show, if you’re 15 years old) and the stress juggernaut that is San Diego Comic-Con, the last thing I wanted to do was go to another convention. But, the ticket was already booked, so off to Indiana I went.
I was to meet up with producer Boyan “Bo” Radakovich – an incredibly passionate tabletop gaming advocate I had met only once prior, during a serious 3-hour long affair planning for what would become International TableTop Day – and assist him in any way possible with his mission of forging relationships with game companies, as well as scouting games for future episodes of TableTop. I was so nervous at the idea that I nearly stayed in the hotel room my first day there. Once people found out how little I knew about tabletop gaming, would they take it out on the show? How would I even know what games were good enough for Tabletop?
I was so dumb.
Bo made me feel at home instantly – no small feat considering he had to talk me down amidst throngs of tens of thousands of adoring TableTop fans. Bo taught me that while some of the games looked intimidating, the people behind them were anything but, introducing me to many of the nicest people I have ever met. More than that, he made sure I knew what tabletop gaming was all about. In between meetings with game companies, he would explain to me the games, designers, and relationships that were key to the success of both TableTop and the tabletop industry, and he never once made me feel stupid for not knowing these things already.
(To this day, I have not met a more enthusiastic advocate for tabletop gaming than Bo. He was a true guiding light through the darkness and insanity of the TV production process, and I can definitively say that we would not have had a show if not for him and his tireless efforts. He might not have been the face of the show, but to me and so many others that worked behind the scenes, he was its heart.)
Learning about tabletop gaming on my feet at Gen Con was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and it was a decisive turning point for me in the way I deal with people. I met so many people through TableTop – on-air talent, fans, designers, business people, journalists – and my experiences from my very first Gen Con have shaped the way I’ve dealt with each and every one of them since.
Here are the three things my first Gen Con taught me:
Be kind to everybody.
I have to get this one out of the way first, because it is the most important. As my friend Holly Conrad told me at Gen Con this year, “You don’t know what anyone is going through, and it’s not hard to just be nice to people.” She’s obviously right. It doesn’t matter who they are or how successful people seem, everyone is struggling with something. I have seen employees from “rival” companies be adversarial with one another simply because their companies compete in the same space, which seems so backwards to me – at the end of the day, you just never know how people will impact your life. For example, I met Rob Merickel at my first Gen Con when he was pitching Tokaido to be on TableTop, and now I work for him. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened if either of us had been a jerk, like if he’d made me feel dumb for not knowing who Antoine Bauza was at the time, or if I’d shot down Tokaido for the show (which would have been a mistake, since it’s an excellent game that was destined to be TableTop’s Season 3 debut episode)!
Some people are only interested in what you can do for them.
This was a very hard lesson for me to learn, post-Geek & Sundry. Once I had quit Geek & Sundry and no longer had access to Felicia Day or Wil Wheaton, a lot of people who were previously nice on the surface stopped responding to texts, or unfollowed me on Twitter, or did things that I can only classify as “dick moves.” At the time, I was devastated, but now I am grateful to have learned firsthand how low people can sink when they don’t think you’re important. It’s a reminder that is always at the back of my mind, and being a little bit more cautious has helped me immeasurably in business (and life!) since. (Plus, it also helps me remember the first point of being kind no matter what.)
Some people are genuinely good people.
Hold on to these people and never let go. I would never name names for the previous point, because even jerks have feelings, but I am ecstatic to be able to give you this little list of great people I met at my first Gen Con who have proven to be wonderful human beings since:
Caylie Sadin, a TableTop fan who has become one of my favorite people – as well as an excellent writer
Andrew Hackard and Phil Reed of Steve Jackson Games, who always make me feel welcome and included no matter what
My friends Josh “Cash Money” Cash, Matthew Duhan, Aaron Smith, and Michael Laundry, who I didn’t even see this year but made my first Gen Con so awesome that we’ve all been Facebook friends since
Me, Cash Money, & Bo
Andrew & Phil
Me & Michael
This year’s Gen Con was quite different. I’m no longer a layperson, and my experience was that of an exhibitor rather than a mouth-agape newcomer. (My official wrap-up for this year will be on the official Passport Game Studios blog and everything!) Still, the points above are principles I applied to every interaction I had this year – and will for every year to come.