GenCon: More than a geekfest 

Gamers, creators interact

Gamers, creators interact

There was, of course, a conflict to resolve. This is nothing new in the world of gaming, where rules interpretations are in the mind of the beholder. It is even more commonplace when a new game is involved, as it was in this instance. The game was Hecatomb, a heavily promoted release from Wizards of the Coast that features five-sided cards printed on clear plastic.

One of the many judges walking the floor in the card-gaming area walked over, examined the scenario, re-read the rulebook and offered an opinion that was clearly tentative based on the uncertain tenor of his voice.

Just then, a stranger wandered by, noticed the dilemma, studied briefly and quickly rendered an authoritative no-doubt ruling.

“I’m not sure about that,” said the judge, once again looking into the rulebook. “It says here …”

“You can trust me,” said the stranger. “I’m one of the designers.”

He was indeed: Nick Niess, one of the many that participated in the creation and testing of Hecatomb.

Therein lies the essence of Gen Con Indy. It is one of the few places in the world where those who create and those who play games come face-to-face, producing a rare symbiosis between the worlds of supply and demand.

Somewhere around 30,000 attended Gen Con Indy 2005, which ran Aug. 18-21 at the Indiana Convention Center. It is regarded as something of a geekfest by those who see only the pictures of ornate costumes of wizards, warriors, storm-troopers or goth minions and assume this is something akin to a members-only event for a club they don’t want to join.

In truth, those who wear their gaming allegiances constitute only a sliver of the patronage. There also is significant family participation, with parent-child duos prevalent. You can wield a sword in the True Dungeon, or you can flaunt your vocabulary in Scrabble. In the miniatures room, Babe Ruth and Nolan Ryan do battle (in MLB SportsClix, a baseball strategy game) next to Batman and the Fantastic Four (in HeroClix, a conflict between comic-book heroes).

For such a huge event, it is an unusually open and welcoming environment. As soon as a gamer sits down and picks up the dice, there is a friend on the other side of the table.

Gen Con Indy offered more than 5,000 gaming-related events, including tournaments for board, card, role-playing and live-action role-playing games. There also are a number of seminars and workshops focusing on offering assistance in many areas, from painting miniatures to game creation, development and marketing.

The brainchild of Peter Adkison, the former CEO and founder of Wizards of the Coast (the company behind the wildly popular Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons titles), Gen Con is in its 38th year. What began as a gathering of friends in Lake Geneva, Wis. — spawning the name: Gen (Geneva) Con (Convention) — has grown into a worldwide event with shows in Europe and California as well as Indianapolis.

There are times, however, when it appears the growth has outpaced the event, for there were some notable and obvious problems. Other than the generic signage in the Convention Center, directions to the various gaming areas were non-existent. For an event spread throughout such a massive structure, that is a major flaw that makes things daunting for newcomers.

There were also noticeable and frustrating shortages in supply for some of the new and most popular products. When a consumer has to stand in line for more than a half-hour simply to enter a store, only to eventually learn the product he or she was seeking sold out long before, something is wrong. The companies may be operating under the false pretense they are creating demand when, in fact, they are manufacturing anger and frustration.

These were, however, exceptions noticeable because they stood out in an otherwise well-run event, staffed largely by volunteers that were unfailingly friendly and helpful and orchestrated by a creative organization.

Gamers easily feel disenfranchised, because theirs is a hobby that meanders away from the mainstream. Gen Con not only gives them a place to gather, it empowers them with direct access to the companies they support.

As director of internet marketing for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, Conrad Brunner is responsible for the company’s three Web sites, including Pacers.com. The former Indianapolis News and Star reporter has been an avid gamer since purchasing his first Strat-o-matic Baseball selector set in 1969.

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