The Origins Game Fair was held last week and while it was a lot of fun, attendance was definitely down and the show was riddled with issues.
Anne-Marie couldn’t make it to the show this year, which was unfortunate because her game Bears! was up for an Origins Award. Since running a booth at a convention is actually a lot of work, I needed to call in some backup. I was lucky enough to be able to recruit Kris and Maureen from Frenzy Universe to help out. They were part of our fantastic booth crew at GenCon last year, so I knew I had assembled a super team.
I flew in to Columbus on Tuesday to pick up badges and prep for the show. On Wednesday Kris and Maureen arrived and after we survived a brief encounter with a Dalek, we went to work getting setup for the show. Eric Kemphfer came with them, since he was showing his art at the Origins show. Eric worked with me on the art for The Wizard’s Tower and even had one of his pieces featured in the convention guidebook. We had a small booth for this show, so setup was pretty quick. We were also lucky enough to be located right next to the Doctor Who North America booth, which in addition to being just plain cool with its full size Tardis, was run by Keith and Tom who are really fun guys and made for great neighbors. The only downside is I can’t seem to get the Doctor Who theme song out of my head.
We had dinner with a bunch of our friends that we only see at conventions including Tony Steele, Kay Steele, and Scott Frank who were also showing their art at Origins. Dinner was fun, but unfortunately when we returned to the Convention Center parking lot, we found that Kris and Maureen’s van had been broken into and Erik’s camera bag had been stolen. Not cool. Erik had a lot of money invested in the camera and accessories, and since one of his mediums is photography, that’s a big hit to his process. We’ve filed a police report, but if you come across someone breaking into cars the next time you’re in Columbus, do me a favor and punch them in the throat for us.
Sadly, that was not to be the only issue with this convention.
On the bright side, Thursday saw the official start of the Con, and with a bit of rearranging in our booth we were ready. Right away we were slammed with demos as people jumped into games of The Wizard’s Tower and overflowed our Bears! demo table. The Wizard’s Tower had a particularly nasty streak that day as game after game the Monsters smashed through walls and tore down all six towers.
Earlier, Kris and Maureen had insisted that I hadn’t brought enough copies of Bears!, but I was pretty sure we would have enough. As Thursday progressed I began to wonder if they might be right since we were selling a lot of copies to happy gamers. Unknown to me, Kris and Maureen had already made a bet with Anne-Marie that if we did sell out of Bears, I would have to wear a pair of “crazypants” in the booth on Sunday. Uh oh . . .
Friday was another day filled with demos and copies of our games flying off the shelf. The possibility of the crazypants showing up was looming very near. Unfortunately, as busy as our booth was, it was also becoming obvious that attendance at this convention was way down from last year. Origins has claimed as many as 15,000 attendees in the past, but for the last few years, those numbers seem to have been dropping. Sadly, this year they have dropped even more. It might be the economy, it might be that the convention was held a week earlier than usual this year, but regardless of the reason, the show was much emptier than usual.
With Bears! being up for an Origins Award, we wanted to make sure everyone knew about the voting and gave all our players a “Vote for Bears!” badge ribbon. This brought up another issue with the show. This was the 37th year that the Origins Awards have been held and with only a few exceptions, none of the attendees even knew what the awards were and even fewer were aware that they could cast votes for the awards. We are very proud to be nominated, but it seems like GAMA could do a better job of publicizing the awards and letting attendees know that they are a vital part of the voting process. Everyone we told about the awards was excited to find out that they could participate.
In better news, we had our first Master Slayer of the convention that afternoon. If you’ve ever been to one of our booths, you may be familiar with the famous Master Slayer belt. Master Slayers can sign the belt with pride and this turned out to be the very first person to sign the belt as a Master Slayer from a game of The Wizard’s Tower!
Once the Exhibitor Hall closed, we toured the rest of the convention and came across the awesome Dragonlord Van! Hand-painted by Ed Beard Jr., pictures don’t do this van justice. Dragons, wizards, lightning, and flames, this thing has it all and it is completely full of win. Check out all the photos on our Facebook page for more.
Saturday is always the biggest day of any convention, and once again, the hall was much emptier than it should have been. That didn’t stop us from having a good time though. We started out the day sporting our fantastically snazzy Master Slayer Belt Buckles, (made by Kris and Maureen) which go well with our “Take the Bear!” T-shirts.
In one of those Good News/Bad News situations we sold our last copy of Bears! at 10:23am Saturday morning. We had placed bets as to when we would sell out and my guess of 10:26 was the closest, but that victory was short-lived as it meant crazypants were now definitely in my future.
Early in the afternoon, the exhibit hall began to buzz as special guests Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day began to make their way through the booths. We’re big fans of Wil Wheaton and when he first named Castle Panic one of his “Favorite Things” at Rin Con we were over the moon. I met Wil briefly at GenCon a few years ago, so it was really fun to see the two of them headed toward our booth. I asked him if he had tried The Wizard’s Tower yet, but it turns out he’s a bit nervous to try it, since he’s heard how rough some of the Monsters can be. (Insert evil laugh here . . .) He did take a few minutes to learn how to play Bears! though. He already owns a copy, but had never played it, so after having the brief “Holy cow, it’s Wil Wheaton!” moment, Maureen ran him Felicia through the rules and a few rounds of the game. Felicia was eaten by bears and Wil called it a “Cute little game.” They were both good sports and Wil really is as nice of a guy as you’ve heard about. We’re very happy to count him as a fan and we’ll try to not be too star struck the next time we meet him.
Saturday also brought more destroyed castles and a few Master Slayers, shown here proudly displaying their trophies.
As seemed to be the pattern with this show, bad news seemed to follow the good. We learned from Eric that someone had been passing fake traveler’s checks in the art hall. Again, not cool. These artists work hard and most of them are still trying to make their way into the industry. They can’t afford to lose money on scams, especially if it costs them a piece of art that could have been bought by a legitimate customer. It also turns out that many Origins volunteers and other vendors had their vehicles broken into and various items stolen. Security has never been a real issue for us at conventions, but that seems to be changing here.
Putting that behind us, it was time to get ready for the actual Origins Awards ceremony! The voting had closed earlier on Saturday, and we knew we were close, but the actual winners would be announced at the show. In honor of us selling out of Bears!, I decided to go ahead and wear the crazypants to the ceremony. Luckily, I had already planned on wearing my purple striped dress shirt and Sha-Sha flame shoes, so adding the crazypants took my outfit to 11.
The ceremony, while not very well attended, (see previous rant) was actually really fun. The awards were presented by a great group of famous designers, authors and assorted big-wigs in the gaming biz. James Earnest did his famous chair balance and told duck jokes, some of which is included in the video above. Plus Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball were there to present awards. I’ll admit it; I was geeking out a little bit. The tension built as they announced the Children’s, Family and Party Game category and Bears! flashed across the screen as a nominee. We all waited eagerly as they opened the envelope, but in the end the award went to another game.
Oh well . . . we’re still proud to be nominated and we decided to head out afterwards for some yummy dinner to celebrate anyway.
Sunday began with the bright, shiny presence of the famous crazypants! I’ll admit that I was actually pretty excited to wear them, both as a symbol of our successful sales and because they were a great conversation starter (and remarkably comfortable as well!) The last day was easy as crowds dwindled and attendees make their way home. We still ran many demos and then packed up the booth and headed home. We met some great people and saw a lot of old friends at the show, so it was definitely a good time. You can check out all the photos of the convention on our Facebook page.
I wish there hadn’t been as many problems with theft and attendance, since that puts a real damper on the spirit of the show. Attending conventions as an exhibitor isn’t cheap and the only way to recover those costs is by selling a lot of product when you are there. Adding up booth costs, hotel, air fare, meals, taxis, freight costs, sales tax and all the other expenses is why most game companies can’t attend smaller, regional conventions. Kris and Maureen actually wrote a great blog post about that exact situation and give a great breakdown of how the costs work out, which you can read HERE. We always enjoy Origins, but I’m worried that it may be becoming one of those regional conventions. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and next year is a huge blowout. After all, there is a certain expansion of ours that may be up for an award next year . . .