At GenCon 2016, End Transmission Games, a company that no one had ever heard of (unless you are very, very, very cool, that is) sponsored the convention as an Event Partner.This was the same sponsorship level chosen by Fantasy Flight Games, makers of a full suite of board and miniatures games licensed for the Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Arkham Horror, and Lord of the Rings IPs, plus the current license-holder for the Android (Infiltration and Netrunner) universe, two of my favorite games.
Now, our reasons for making the decision to give GenCon such an absurd amount of money are very, very, very “inside baseball”and I’m not going to get into them here. HOWEVER…
Having paid the same sponsorship tier and therefore gotten the same market visibility at the con, we tried our best to have a physical presence at the con that was even remotely in the same league. We tried to do this with three and a half people (Richard Kelly, who’s my favorite writer for 2016 if anyone was wondering, was there from Friday Evening through Sunday Afternoon). If you understand anything about anything in the industry, you know that such an undertaking is fully insane, bordering on suicidal. (As a frame of reference, Catalyst Game Labs brings a battalion of booth monkeys and demo agents over 100 strong.) I don’t think it’s something any company has ever done before.
And I think in the history of being too big for your britches, we made motherfucking history.
As I told anyone who was even slightly willing to listen: “If we’re going to die, we’re going to die historic on the Fury Road.”
Now, the post-game recap while it’s fresh in my mind.
- We grossed more in booth sales than we have at any other con ever, by a factor of nearly double. I’m not gonna say the number, but the amount of money people paid for books full of crap I made up leaves me floored and humbled.
- I strongly suspect that we grossed more in booth sales than a company or two that I really love and respect. Companies that are older, bigger, and more established. Was the sponsorship a factor in this? Certainly. But I think that the extreme level of hustle and chutzpah that my crew brought to the show was an even bigger factor. We were there to move product or die trying.
- We came far closer to selling out of everything we brought than we ever, ever have before.
- Obviously, counting the sponsorship, we were deeply, deeply in the red, and it was literally impossible for us to break even. We knew this going in.
- If you count just the Entrepreneur’s Alley booth fee, we actually MADE MONEY at a convention for the first time ever. If you count hotel and airfare, we’re back to losing money, but less than usual.
- We did not win an ENnie award for Epic Space Battles. I actually thought we had a chance until I realized we were up against Paizo.
- Attendance at the events that didn’t go up until a month before the con was very,very, very, thin on the ground. I think something to the tune of two no-shows and two-or-three events where only two people showed up. This was no great surprise. The exception was the Psionic Phantasms that I ran on Friday, where Mikaela sent me fully eight people, and I did my best to handle a packed table. All PCs but one died and I sold several copies of Psionics on the strength of that, so that’s kind of becoming my signature.
- Attendance at the handful of events that went up months in advance was packed, and this too was unsurprising. It is…unfortunate that the credit for those event tickets goes to IGDN, which doesn’t help End Transmission get better event placement at future GenCons.
- In general, our event logistics game needs a lot of work. We’ve been trying to make Stormwatch happen for a year now. We need to try harder. And we need to go hardcore to recruit booth sentinels and GMs.
- Big ups to Kelly’s Heroes for being awesome and making our shit look good. Let’s do it again, gentlemen!
- We are never, ever, ever doing anything like this again: bodying the con this hard with this few people is ruled out for all of future time. The best news of all is that we literally, physically survived GenCon 2016. Because dying historic on the Fury Road is still dying.
Now, some general impressions of the Con (these are more feels than business) in no particular order:
- I finally made it to the Diana Jones awards and I finally got what they are (I could not stay for the show, the Cadillac Ranch was horribly loud, and I admit that it gave me a panic attack, so I bolted almost as soon as I arrived). I wrote a pretty nifty poem about the experience (first poetry I’ve written since 2011, actually). I’ll post it Thursday.
- My actual literal favorite moment of the convention was obviously watching Zak S win ENnie award after ENnie award as his victory speeches gradually escalated from just the expected trolling of SJWs to increasingly drunken, belligerent, and incoherent. Flawless victory, Zak. Three thumbs up!
- Made a lot of industry connections as usual. What follows are some of the best memories, and a lot of them happened on Sunday:
- Collecting signatures from John Helfers, Jason Hardy, Phillip Lee, Rob…shit, was it Rob Thomas or Rob Wieland? I can literally NEVER keep those two apart…, Loren Coleman, and ECHO CHERNIK (gawd she is da bomb) on my comp copy of Drawing Destiny. I also signed quite a few of their books, just like I was real famous, and not fake famous. I also also made Echo sign the Sixth World Tarot itself and the Page of Blades card, and naturally I made Loren Coleman sign the CEO card.
- Speaking of Jason Hardy, I said something incredibly tactless to him while claiming my comp, and he responded with arch good humor. Jason (not that you’re reading this), your story is very good, my man, almost as good as your bio. It raised some questions that I’m gonna e-mail you about when I’m done with this post.
- Speaking of Echo Chernik, I gave her a free copy of Psionics #1: Tomorrow’s Starlight and a free Psychokinesis t-shirt, and asked her why she likes to draw hot babes so darn much.
- Speaking of Loren Coleman, he is now firmly in my good books. On Sunday I swapped him a copy of Psionics (MSRP: $39.99) for a copy of Court of Shadows (MSRP: $49.99) and a second copy of Drawing Destiny (MSRP: $12.95) (I wanted a clean copy, since I turned my comp into essentially a high school yearbook). I was more than willing to pay the difference in cash, but Loren just shrugged and made it so. Mighty, mighty decent of you, boss.
- Stopped in to chat with Kevin Siembieda, maestro of Palladium Books, who I found looking well recovered on Sunday. Picked up two new RIFTS titles (Chaos Earth: Resurrected and Coalition States: TOTALLY THE GOOD GUYS), both of which I’m stoked to read. Kevin, you looked almost as tired as I felt. I enjoyed the big belly laugh I got when I cracked wise about the unambiguously heroic nature of the Coalition States. And when I saw you hauling your own stanchions and whatnot to your truck during teardown, well, I’ve never respected you more. As a co-owner and CEO who does his own lifting and hauling, I respect anyone that does the same.
- I got Margaret Weis of Dragonlance fame (I know her company publishes some pretty major RPGs too) to sign copies of the Twins’ trilogy (which I haven’t read) for me, which was mighty decent of her. I got her to sign a copy of Dragons of Winter Night (which he hasn’t read) for my friend John, too.
- I collected signatures from Scott Glancy, Greg Stolze, and the elusive, pokeman-like Dennis Detwiler on my copy of the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook. Dennis assured me that my poor, poor PCs always will have touched the antenna: they’re fated to, and doomed by fate. And of course, having written the adventure, he’s right. SHANE “WILD TALENTS” IVEY YOU STILL OWE US A FREAKING BEER AND EVERY YEAR THAT PASSES, THE POST-GENCON BEER INTEREST ACCRUES.
- I finally met John Wick. The game designer, not the hitman played by Keanu Reeves.
And that’s all for now folks. We’re back from GenCon, and we made it back alive. More on Thursday!