Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles
GenCon, without a doubt, is one of the best conventions to attend if you are a speculative fiction business.
According to a press release by con organizer Wizards of the Coast nearly 58,000 people attended the GenCon 1999 convention, although the web site claims 22,000 attendees (at the time of the writing this article the numbers were not yet available for GenCon 2000).
The reasons for attending the convention vary, but most people come either to:
Although, I'm sure there were also more than a few people who were there for the same reasons as we were (to meet with other people in the industry and make contacts) but the Wizards of the Coast reports do not record that information.
From a business owner's point of view there were several things that could be done better. For one thing, I'd liked to see more demographics about GenCon attendees. The demographic information that Wizards of the Coast displays on their web site is nice, but it only gives you the most basic of information. There is much more information that they could have given me, as a business owner, to attract me to GenCon.
My first complaint about the survey is it doesn't tell how many people filled it out. I'd also like to see a breakdown of the number of people who were there strictly for fun, the number of people who were there for business, and the number who were there to exhibit.
I don't think there are any conventions at this time measuring the information that could really be used by a speculative fiction business. For all the faults, GenCon does a better job of reporting what type of person generally comes to the convention and making it available to people who want it.
In the 1999 GenCon survey Wizards of the Coast had added to the four basic categories from the 1998 GenCon demographics.
In 1998 they only showed:
They also stated gaming, product purchases, and product releases as the top three reasons for attending.
In 1999 they gave:
Unfortunately, they removed the top three reasons for attending.
Having these bits of information was great, but there were so many more questions I had about the people who attend these conventions.
My second complaint, though a minor one, is the overall lack of speculative fiction business seminars. There were only four seminars for businesses over the four days of the convention. They were 'How to Sell Your Game', 'The State of the Hobby Industry', 'Retail Store Economics', and 'Samples, Demos, Marketing and Info'.
I would have liked to see more slots, and more seminars on a wider range of business topics. Topics like the role of the Internet, finding designers, artists, and other staff, the importance of the computer, building a company brand.
Likewise one of the seminars ended up being cancelled, so it would have been nice for a duplicate slot the next day. The lack of seminars was the least of my worries, and I suppose if there had been a greater demand there would have been more seminars. Although more seminars may have created more of a demand.
Conventions as a whole, but especially the larger ones, seem to do little to attract speculative fiction business owners.
Perhaps conventions could do a little more to recognize the fact that business owners also attend these conventions as actual attendees, rather than just for fun. In our little group, of the six people who made this excursion, three of us were interested in more that playing games. And we each had our own distinct interest.
Trust me, next year GreenTentacles will have a completely new set of questions to ask other businesses, based on our experience this year.
After our interviews with the various companies at GenCon, we came away with a wealth of information, much of which will appear here as we begin working with many of the new people that we met at GenCon.
The information will also help us fine tune our business and marketing plans, begin plans to offer new services, and gear up for other conventions, fairs, and festivals that we may be attending in the near future.
The reaction was very positive when we visited the companies and introduced our company. Our business card design was very well received, which made us happy because we designed it. Overall the best compliment we received all weekend was from Tynes-Cowan Corp. who already had their web design services fulfilled in-house, but wanted 'to do something' with us anyway. They said, 'With a name like GreenTentacles I almost feel like we have to work with you.'
Although it was great to receive this kind of response, it was not our primary reason for going to GenCon. Our main goal was to meet people and to gather information about the speculative fiction industry.
We spoke with people from a variety of companies, from small start-ups to the large 'brand name' companies. Unfortunately we were unable to speak with anyone from the Wizards of the Coast booth and we were completely unable to track down Gary Gygax, but it was a big congested, tiring convention - maybe we'll have better luck next year.
With such a broad collection of businesses, from a start-up war gaming miniature company to a completely established gaming distributor, it wasn't easy collecting our information into a manageable outlook of the industry. There were, however, a number of things all companies great and small had in common.
One of the things that all companies shared was the need to pay attention to the common attendee demographic.
Here is the reason why the demographics are important and we made such a big deal about conventions not reporting them: Half of all gamers fit into the 25-35 years of age category- this bears out whether you look at the GenCon Demographics, the Origins Demographics, or even the Surveys at RPG.net. So it appears to be a pretty accurate representation of the market. If not of the general market- at least the market that attends GenCon.
So it boggles my mind that many of the companies seemed to be selling to the 13 and under crowd. If they had looked at the previous years demographics of GenCon attendees they would have known that this was an extremely under represented market.
Don't they know that the current crop of gamers were made in the 70's, 80's and 90's in high schools and colleges, and either have or are having families of their own. Hell, some of them are even grandparents now!
One of the companies that really seemed to understand the fact that gamers are having families was the 'Little Adventurers' booth that sold gaming clothes for infants. WOW! I mean, what an idea. Many of the older fans, if they don't have children of their own, are likely to have nieces and nephews or even grandchildren that they would love to purchase that 'Wandering Monster' tie-dye sleeper for.
This may seem to contradict my earlier statement about marketing to children, but it really doesn't. Clothes for babies, toddlers, and even very young children, are really targeted at 18 years of age and up.
Another shared attribute was the Internet continues to be a problem for many companies. We sort of knew this going in, we can attest to the fact that many speculative fiction sites (not necessarily just gaming sites) are years behind the mainstream with the functionality of their site. We have met very few people who are totally satisfied with their web site.
Common themes included:
Everyone seemed to be having problems with the Internet of one kind or another.
The number one problem that we saw though- without even looking at someone's web site - was ignorance. There were far too many companies that were unaware of whether their visitors were satisfied with their web sites or not. Even companies as large as FASA were having problems with the Internet- but the difference is that FASA knows they are having problems. It seems no one, not even the visitors, are satisfied with the FASA site.
I applaud FASA for knowing that their web site falls short of their goals. They were one of the few companies who knew exactly where they stood in relation to their web site's visitors and what their visitors wanted. (Note: the FASA site, gets a fantastic amount of traffic and they expect to double their volume on the web. So to quote someone from FASA, 'it may not be perfect, but it clearly works.')
The final Internet trait we discovered was that regardless of the size of the company, the number one thing that people liked most about designing web sites in-house was control. Many people would have wanted more professional sites but they feared losing control over their site.
The aspect of their sites that companies liked least was the time it takes to update their sites. Whether it was the time it took to write the copy, collect the images and text, or program the actual web page, people in general didn't like how much time it took away from other facets of their business. They would rather be making their product.
They could have sent the web site work out, but there again, they were afraid of losing control of the site. They would be able to update the site whenever they wanted to. They could set up a new page at two o'clock in the morning if they wanted to. They had control of their site.
All in all it was a great trip for GreenTentacles. It was our first convention as a business, and in many ways what we left with was far, far greater than what we came with. We shuddered at the thought of the twenty-hour trip back home, but we will definitely be making the trip to GenCon next year.