By Kasey Bradley
Gamers and game creators are invading Indianapolis, and they’re not playing around. The 47th annual Gen Con opened to the public on Thursday, welcoming hobbyists, developers, and media to what has grown to become one of the largest conventions in North America.
“It’s one of those things you look forward to each year, and after every year you look forward to coming back,” said Jared Smith, a Noblesville resident who attended his first Gen Con in 2003. “It’s great to see so many people coming together. I’ve had the chance to play some great games with people from all over the world right here in Indianapolis.”
While the attendees receive the most attention from the general public, Gen Con is big business for developers hoping to showcase their work to the gaming public and media. Indianapolis-based Action Phase games recently raised $137,945 from 1,912 backers for their game “Heroes Wanted” on crowd-funding platform Kickstarter, and Gen Con helps provide some insight to the game’s appeal.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to get our names out there,” Action Phase’s Nick Little said. “Sure we had 2,000 people back our game on Kickstarter, but there’s 20 times that coming to Gen Con. When people come to your booth you get a good feel for why people buy your game. From a business standpoint it’s like market research.”
According to Gen Con representatives the event has seen record-breaking attendance each year from 2010 through 2013. The 2013 convention attracted 49,000 visitors and brought $49 million to the city. While Gen Con doesn’t release attendance numbers until the event has ended, representatives state that attendance is up over last year, and with continued growth comes increased attention. Gen Con also reports that the number of media outlets in attendance have increased by more than 100 since last year.
“It’s the only show I know of where, as a guy who wears a suit and tie everyday, I get the weird looks,” said Visit Indy President and CEO Leonard Hoops. “I think Gen Con and a few other events are a big part of why we were voted 2013’s best convention city.”
As the convention has grown, so have its offerings. Visitors will get the chance to experience Indy’s food-truck scene, and will be able to attend an onsite art show, a writer’s symposium, a film festival, as well as panels and seminars with industry professionals.
Little, who has attended every Gen Con for the last 15 years, says there is one event that is not to be missed.
“You have to see the costume contest,” Little said. “Even if you’re not into gaming at all.”
Gen Con came into being in 1967 when 12 enthusiasts who would not be able to attend an International Federation of Wargaming event in Malvern, Pa. gathered at the Lake Geneva, Wis. home of Dungeons and Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. That unofficial gathering led to Gygax and other IFW members renting the Lake Geneva Horticultural Hall to host just under 100 gaming enthusiasts. After moving on from Lake Geneva the convention was hosted in Somers, Wis. and then Milwaukee before moving to Indianapolis in 2003. Gen Con is slated to be held in Indianapolis through 2020.
Gen Con events run from through Aug. 17. Admission is $50 per day or $80 for a four-day badge. Badges are available at the Indianapolis Convention Center each day or online, for will call pickup, at gencon.com.