Gen Con just keeps on growing. Last year's attendance of 49,058 unique visitors set a new record — which will stand until this weekend, when the gaming convention is expected to draw over 50,000, according to Gen Con's Jake Theis. And to make space for all those attendees, Gen Con will, for the first time, be taking over the entirety of the Indiana Convention Center, all 1,300,000 square feet of it.
But there's more, says Theis, who emphasizes that the "scale of Gen Con will be tremendous this year." The convention is partnering with twelve local hotels on gaming events and programming. He counts more than 14,000 "unique gaming events" that will take place during the convention.
Reasons for Gen Con's success? Theis can offer two, one of which is awfully flattering. "Gaming is an international phenomenon, so we have attendees that come from all 50 states and 32 countries. And I think the secondary reason is that Indianapolis has been so great in embracing the convention. More than a third of our attendance base is coming from the state of Indiana, and the number of people from Indiana attending each year keeps rising."
Not that Gen Con has sat back and reaped the rewards after planting roots in Indy. Theis says the organization, whose headquarters is in Seattle, has actively tried to partner with local organizations, including non-profits like Gleaners Food Bank, the beneficiary of Saturday's outdoor Cones of Dunshire game — and for-profits like Sun King, brewer of Gen Con 2014's signature beer, Froth of Khan (which was, incidentally, named by Gen Con supporters, who chose the title in an online poll over Power Grind Ale, Undead Elixir and Javamancer).
And Gen Con is assiduous about making sure there's something for everything, or as Theis puts it, "making sure that we have a portfolio of events that are exciting for all segments of the customer base. Each year, we're looking to come up with new family programming, more digital programming, more late-night events."
One thing that's expanded in the recent past to meet customer demand is Gen Con's Writer's Symposium, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. "Authors in the speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy and western industries have known about it for years," he says. "But I think it's becoming more and more mainstream." Theis points out that at least four New York Times bestselling authors will take part this year, leading workshops and signing books.
So what's the best way for a newbie to get on the bandwagon? Theis offers two points of entry. Those with kids are encouraged to attend Sunday's Family Fun Day, which offers loss leader pricing to a family of four ($30 total for four passes, against $50 for an individual one-day badge), on a day when Gen Con steps up its family-friendly offerings, including the Family Fun Pavilion, featuring exhibits and demos geared toward kids, and the Training Grounds, designed to introduce kids 4 to 12 to gaming.
And then for those without kids and/or money, the best place to get started is Georgia Street, where Gen Con will open up for action Wednesday night from 6 p.m. with live music by the Star Trek-themed rock band Five Year Mission and indie songwriter Sarah Donner, plus the tapping of the official beer of Gen Con, the aforementioned Froth of Khan. Programming on Georgia Street, which will also be ground zero for food trucks, is free throughout the convention.