Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesus Saves. Everyone Else Takes Damage.

I am here to report on Friday night at the convention, which is still ongoing.  Before I start, I'd like to describe my frame of mind.  Yesterday, I played in two campaigns, mine and my daughter's, from 11 in the morning until past midnight.  Friday we were at the convention, and then afterwards out for dinner and drinks.  So I am somewhat run down this morning.

As you read what I have to say about the convention, I recognize that words cannot always convey with accuracy the emotion of the writer.  So I would like to say that you should be hearing, not a rant, as is my usual thing, but deep, abiding sadness.  It would be understandable of the gentle reader to try to interpret what I have to say in terms of anger, and I want to be persuasive here.  Friday was a heartbreaking thing.

I don't want to talk about editions, or games, from the perspective of what I would play or not play.  I wasn't very surprised by the usual things ... a degree of standoffishness, the difficulty in getting a stranger to talk, how hard it would have been to have any discourse with people while they were playing.  I've always found that to be true.  To break down those walls, I would have had to be there for the whole weekend, to build up a familiar appearance and then to make friends.  It isn't something that can be done in an evening.

Rather, I want to talk about how the convention has changed, since I find that very relevant, and is the source of my ache.  I don't wish to say that this particular convention reflects what other people have experienced elsewhere - only I was stunned by what I saw.  Before I can explain that, however, I must first give some background as to what things were like 22 years ago.

At that time, the city I still live in a source of about 650,000 people from which local players might attend.  The convention was held in a large downtown hotel tower, and was attended by about 2,500 players at any time.  You paid at the door and from that point forward you could expect to be harrassed by vendors, and to gather quickly the headache that comes from being in a crowded room.  I made reference in my post last thursday about people on microphones ... I remember that there was a constant annoyance of announcements and people searching for people.  Pretty much on the level of a present day Walmart.  And there were booths everywhere.

So now I live in a source of 1.2 million people, in what has long been one of the fastest growing - or THE fastest growing, city in Canada.  The convention has been moved to a fair sized hotel in the retail/industrial district associated with the edge-of-city airport, and was attended by - I'd guess - 225 people.  People might argue a larger number, but I could have easily counted up everyone in the three rooms where the event took place, and I'm subtracting the some 40 people who were there to sell or organize the event.

Of this number, about 150 or 175 were involved in the large 'strategy' room, some of which was set up with computers, most of which included people playing Warhammer.  Nothing new there.   The D&D Room, in the basement, contained at best (here I did count) twenty-nine people, over a two hour period.  I have a picture of the room at, according to my phone, 7:55 p.m.  Please forgive the fuzziness of the picture ... I am a crappy photographer and I was distraught.

So yes, scale was a disappointment.  Needless to say, no one needed to be on a microphone.  I found myself thinking about that old joke - how do you get forty Canadians out of a swimming pool?  Say "could everyone please get out of the swimming pool."  I wondered if I went to the center of the room and started to speak with authority, I could clear the room in orderly fashion with a story that the hotel needed to do a quick search for a lost snake.  But I didn't.

Three of our party arrived early, bought day passes for $25 that were supposed to allow them to participate (the website had advertised $10, but it turned out this only allowed people to 'survey', but not to be involved at all).  However, since all the games were regulated to death, and had to be signed up for a week in advance, it wasn't possible to play anyway.  The weekend pass was $45 ... and we saw no one at the event who did not have one - except us.  They might have been there, but we didn't see them - and there weren't a lot of people to sort through.  After we discovered we couldn't play any games, my amazing and brilliant wife took the organizers to task and had the cost of our passes dropped to the $10 cost advertised on the net.  She is fierce and I love her.

From what we could tell, the organizers were largely outsiders who didn't seem to know what was actually going on - aside from the rules about where to go and how much to pay.  This was the same for the various sellers of things ... offering a rather paltry collection of things that I can get mostly anywhere - for less of course.  We commented to each other that, given the very low number of shoppers (see picture, about 8:15 pm) that they'd do better getting a kiosk in a mall for the weekend.  They'd have had a better chance selling to teenage kids in the suburbs.

Except for the computer area, and the sales area, no girls.  I'm also not counting those selling things.  I mean, it's never been good, but 10% used to be usual.  I'd guess the number at less than 3% .. we could have squeezed them all into a volvo ... and then I could have gotten into the driver's seat and taken them somewhere fun.  The vast majority of the participants were over thirty, and at least two thirds over forty - and yet I didn't recognize a soul.  Not one soul.  The one fellow there who apparently I might have met - Paladin in Citadel - clearly didn't feel it was worth his time to actually look around for a large red-shirted guy with red hair.  I could not identify him from his picture.

We stayed three hours, thinking things might get better, that people might drift in ... no, actually.  Even the people at the front counter were bored.

Those are my general impressions.  I think I might write later about how 3.5 and 4.0 are killing this game (the three on-going D&D games were only that, as was everything scheduled according to those we spoke to).  But honestly, I'm just too depressed right now.


Zak S said...

that sounds unbearably depressing.

and the pictures are eloquent.

Badelaire said...

As a counterpoint, or rather, just an alternative commentary in general on conventions and gaming, I offer Wil Wheaton's 2010 Pax East Keynote Speech. Whatever your opinions of Wil Wheaton or PAX or whatever, take the time to read the article at least.

Although I didn't attend this event, a friend of mine did, and said it was amazing. While PAX is more about video games than tabletop RPGs, comparing this to your experience is like comparing Woodstock to Bingo night at an old folk's home.

Whatever comments people want to make about unwashed masses and "kids these days", at least the 50,000+ people who attended PAX East this weekend seemed to have a good time...

trollsmyth said...

Ugh. Very sorry to hear that.

I'm really out of the gaming con scene, so I can't say if it's any better down here in Texas. Just about all the ones I attend are literary cons with some gaming stuff kinda riding the coattails. Handful-hundred participants is about right, but the venues are usually scaled properly, so the dealers' room is usually well-trafficked and busy, as are the different events and rooms. But nobody needs a microphone or anything.

The other good news is that, while the demographics certainly skew older, the kids are showing up again. Hopefully, that will continue. Oh, and the ladies might actually outnumber the guys, but I've never seen any actual, solid numbers on that. And guys dominate at the gaming stuff.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

My thoughts are similar to yours.

I did see about 6 people I knew, but most were unfamiliar.

Sadly, we did not cross paths: I found out Friday morning that I was supposed to be running a Magic Realm game that night, and got to the convention with about 10 minutes to spare to set up the board (which usually takes 40 minutes to prepare). Fortunately I had some help from others to set up, as it was all veteran MR players (no novices, although I was hoping we could have attracted a few).

I never did make it down to the RPG room (I was in strategy from 5 to 8:30). I went home immediately after the MR game ended: a recent family tragedy has cut into the time I spend away from home.

I was also disappointed that we did not cross paths, but the last-minute MR game responsibilities contributed to that.


Adam Thornton said...

I had exactly the opposite experience with GaryCon II, which was about 250 people. All of whom, as far as I could tell, came to play.

One great but sorta sad moment was looking around one of the rooms. Frank Mentzer is running one game, Dave Kenzer another, Jim Ward a third. Jeff Easley is sitting there next to a table full of his art, looking lonely, because no one is talking to him, because they're all too busy playing games.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post on this Alexis, and I'm sorry.

Badmike said...

They wanted to charge you $10 to walk around? Were they nuts? That's ridiculous. Even the $25 for day passes is insane. I hate to always be tooting our our horn, but a full access Thursday through Sunday pass at NTRPG Con is $20 (or $10 a day). That pricing structure is just the result of a badly managed con, and that con looked pretty sorry.

Cons like that drive me nuts. I went to one in Dallas a few years back and they wanted $20 just for me to walk around in the Dealers Room (not even play in any of the games). Forget it.