The rise of the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle has been pretty spectacular. It’s gone from something small to an event that tops 60,000 people in just a few years. Then they did it again in Boston, pulling in similar numbers after just two years of PAX East. The focus is on video games, but there has always been a tabletop gaming element as well and this has continued to grow. This past year I was on a panel called The Evolution of RPGs with Richard Garfield, John Tynes, and Keith Baker and the turnout was huge. We had over 400 people in the room and they turned people away. A far cry most from RPG related seminars that I’m on.
So clearly, Penny Arcade is doing some things right and both of their shows have become events for geeks of all sorts. This inevitably leads to comparisons, like the Origins vs. GenCon debates that have gone on for 30 years. Until PAX came on the scene, GenCon was the biggest game show in America (though both are still outdone by Spiel in Essen in Germany). GenCon is in some ways the opposite of PAX. It is firmly a tabletop gaming show, but there is a video game presence as well. While there was some fear that the move from its home in Milwaukee to Indianapolis would spoil the show’s special alchemy, that did not end up being the case. GenCon is more successful than ever, bringing in 30,000 gamers and acting as the yearly cornerstone of the tabletop game industry.
I am thus somewhat perplexed when I hear rumblings of doom and gloom for GenCon because of PAX. I see people asserting that GenCon needs to learn from PAX or it will be left by the wayside. Or that Gencon panders to the base while PAX is more inclusive. It’s like because there is a different show that draws more people, somehow GenCon is diminished despite the fact that it is bigger than ever. I have to say, I don’t get it.
To me GenCon and PAX are both great shows that are different. They overlap in some areas, but each has different strengths and different core audiences. I see no reason why both cannot continue to thrive. The biggest factor that may have made them competitors—geography—is not in play. GenCon is in the Midwest and the PAX shows are on the coasts.
For Green Ronin GenCon is indispensable. Our sales there dwarf those of any other convention and it is also one of major marketing efforts of the year. PAX I always have a good time at, but it has been less awesome for business. I’d have to say that we haven’t figured out the best way for GR to take advantage of it yet. We’ve tried a few different ways (last year Sandstorm sold our stuff and hosted demos in their room, for example) but none of them have been satisfactory. We have been reluctant to go for the full on booth because our experience at shows like San Diego Comic Con made us wary. That show has huge attendance but it didn’t translate into sales good enough to justify us continuing to get a booth after a several year stint. I’d like to see if we can do PAX better this year, particularly with our Dragon Age RPG (which should have a natural audience there).
If I have a point here, it’s that we shouldn’t be wringing our hands because we have three big, successful game shows in America; we should be celebrating it.
Originally published on LiveJournal on March 20, 2011.