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Origins 2007

July 9th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 20 Comments · Me

I have returned from my hiatus, which was, in fact, four days in Columbus, Ohio for the Origins Convention. I was, with a handful of other strategy and war game journalists, a guest of Matrix Games, so I have every opportunity to talk to designers whose work I admired and designers whose work needs more work. I hope to get some previews sold later this week.

Origins is like Walmart for nerds – stall after stall of people selling RPGs, board games, dice, foam weapons, shirts with stupid gaming slogans on them, etc. The electronic side of the wargame/RPG market was largely absent, limited to Matrix demo-ing the titles it has released in the last year or so, Longbow Digital Arts showing off Hegemony (Jim McNally even remembered who I was) and EA/Mythic running a horde of attendees through areas of Warhammer: Online. Given how many miniatures people are there, as well as the whole War College Seminar series, I was sort of surprised to not see other wargame publishers at the con. If the activity at the Matrix and LDA booths are any indication, this is a good place to expand your audience.

The highlights?

1) Seeing Mark Walker’s Lock and Load computer game in action. This is going on the list.
2) Finally meeting Bruce Geryk and Wargamer head-honcho Jim Zabek.
3) An amazing steak dinner at a local steak house.
4) Learning three or four new games and coming home hooked on Blue Moon.


20 Comments so far ↓

  • Scott R. Krol

    Just wanted to comment on the cross-gaming (“Given how many miniatures people are there, as well as the whole War College Seminar series…”) situation.

    You’d be surprised at how few people jump game types. If you think that computer gamers with their love for genres is too strict, it’s far worse in the tabletop world as entire game systems are deemed verboten. For the most part people stick to one type of gaming, occasionally straying into another area if it’s close enough to what they already play, and ignore everything else.

    While I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, I meet more people who than don’t. Part of the reason for those feelings lay in the economics of the situation–both time and financial. Folks only have so many hours a day to game, and only so much money to spend, and so it’s simply easier to stick to what they know best.

    A bigger reason though is personal taste and what attracts someone to a particular form of gaming in the first place. For example, let’s use your miniature gamers and wargamers. At first blush both groups of gamers are doing the same thing: playing a consim using standardized rule mechanics with randomized arbitration elements. But ask the two groups about what the other is playing.

    The miniature gamer looks at his boardgame counterpart and sneers. “Look at that, they’re pushing little pieces of cardboard around on a map with artificial movement boundaries. You can’t even see the real battlefield, you have to imagine that the brown blobs are hills, and the green blobs are forests. How droll!”

    The wargamer retorts, “At least I can be up and playing shortly after opening the box. I don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on my pieces, nor do I have to spend thousands of hours gluing and painting them. I can store my game on my bookshelf, and take it with me on trips. I don’t need an entire basement to play my game, nor store it.”

    And on and on. I know plenty of RPGers who despise CRPGs, although you can get them involved in a board game that has RPG-like mechanics (Descent, Runebound, Dungeoneer, Arkham Horror). CCG players tend to be in a world of their own.

    Then you have to consider that even with all this splintering there’s even more splintering, as individual genres are adhered to with the type of game system. Player A will only play fantasy RPGs, while player B will play fantasy ones and cyberpunk, but won’t play horror.

    The closest you got to true cross-jumping was in the mid ’70s since D&D evolved out of a miniature consim, but by the early to mid ’80s the battlelines were already being drawn on what games people will play.

    Thankfully I enjoy a wide range of gaming (though keep Eurogaming away from me, thank you very much) and do my best to convert folks to other types of systems. Actually, I think there are a number of people trying to do just that with their gaming systems. The Commands and Colors system is attractive to both board and miniature gamers. The excellent Wings of War system appeals to consimmers, card gamers, and miniature fans. Heck, you could wrap it around the old Fight in the Sky/Dawn Patrol RPG elements and maybe even bring in the RPG crowd.

  • Scott R. Krol


    “…I meet more people who than don’t.” should of course read “…I meet more people who DO than don’t.”

  • MikeO

    Just curious, what was the name of the Steak House? I live in Columbus, but only made it to Origins on Sunday this year. I played a demo game of Pangea, which is a year old, I believe, and an interesting game, and watched a friend play the beta (alpha?) of Warhammer Online. The only games I bought were the Arkham Horror expansions, which I’d been meaning to get.

  • Bruce

    Hyde Park.

  • MikeO

    Yeah, that’s a pretty good place.

  • Michael A.

    For a quick, more family-friendly game, try “Blue Moon City”. One of the best from the master. Even my non-gamer SO enjoys it.

  • Troy

    Could be you are right, Scott, that there isn’t a lot of cross-pollenation. Given how difficult computer wargame developers have it in general vis-a-vis attracting new fans (the gaming media doesn’t cover them, by and large, and they don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing) I still think that it’s worth a shot.

  • Taranis

    “1) Seeing Mark Walker’s Lock and Load computer game in action. This is going on the list.”

    Interesting, has there been preview articles written about this game yet?

  • Scott R. Krol

    Re: Troy’s “Given how difficult computer wargame developers have it in general vis-a-vis attracting new fans…”

    Keep in mind though that con goers are informed consumers and you’re essentially preaching to the choir.

  • Bruce

    “Keep in mind though that con goers are informed consumers and you’re essentially preaching to the choir.”

    There were several people who stopped by the Matrix booth while I was there who seemed to be boardgamers who were almost completely unaware of what was available in computer wargaming.

  • Alan

    I find the low-overlap sort of surprising, considering that computers are ideally suited for tracking the statistics and numerical minutae often found in wargames and strategic boardgames. If I recall correctly, that’s what motivated many of the old-school computer game developers to enter the industry in the first place.

  • Troy

    TillerCon is preaching to the choir.

    Con goers are informed consumers about the things they are going to the con to see. LARPers know about LARPing. Miniatures guys know about miniatures. And, if overlap is as rare as you suggest it is, Scott, than it’s even more unlikely that there will be loads of knowledgeable consumers across the span.

    There was a time, I think, when the informed hobby nerd was more of a generalist, but the Internet has only increased the fragmentation of this audience (everyone can find and enjoy their niche) even while it makes more information available for people who are looking for it.

    Now whether Shrapnel or HPS or Battlefront think that spending the money for this sort of display is worth the time and money involved is another thing altogether. But that’s why marketing guys get the big bucks.

  • Dave Long

    Seems to me that a barebones representation of computer wargame products at the very least, and a full, hustle and bustle booth at best, can’t possibly hurt at these cons. You want people to see your products.

    As Troy notes, people are buried in their niche entertainment more than ever these days because every niche is so well-covered by the billions of fan-sites that you never have to venture outside of it to see if you’d enjoy something else.

    Put your games in front of these people at a con and you might pick up another few hundred in sales which in turn spreads more word of mouth, etc.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Granted, there will always be someone while walking a con floor who may spot a product that was previously unknown to them, and on the whim, purchase it. Overall though the time and money invested to sell those copies could be better spent in other areas.

    At the present cons are a shadow of their former selves. Origins, while seeing a large number of people, has shrunk considerably year by year on the vendor side. The attempt at a West Coast GenCon, which should have worked, failed. Companies no longer wait until the summer con season to announce new products.

    The Internet has been slowly strangling conventions. It used to be cons were the only place to see all the exotic games, enjoy a wide range of discussion topics, and learn about what’s new in the world of gaming. And let’s not forget one of the big draws, the auctions. Many folks went strictly for the auctions, to pick up those OOP games they couldn’t find anymore.

    Today? Thanks to Ebay and others you can find OOP and foreign games 24/7. And pretty much everything else at a convention is now first heard about on the ‘net. So what’s left?

    The social experience. Going to cons, seeing people you haven’t seen in a year, hanging out and playing games (which reminds me, did Jim pull out ‘Kung Fu Fighting’?), and for a publisher’s standpoint meeting your fans firsthand. All well and good, but for an economic standpoint cons don’t let you rake in the dough. At best you break even. And I also stand by my earlier comments about who you’re selling to at cons. Those aren’t the people that need converting. It’s the folks thinking the pinnacle of indie gaming is XBLA, and those folks aren’t going to the cons.

  • Dave Long

    Hmmm… I wasn’t even looking at it as a retail opportunity. I’m thinking that if you’re not there, there are people who otherwise wouldn’t know you exist!

    I think a lot of businesses miss the boat here. You can’t figure that everywhere you go you’re going to be putting boxes in people’s hands. You also have to get your name and your products in front of folks just so they are aware of you. That includes the guy who walks by your booth and never says a word to you all the way to the guy who stops and talks with you for an hour and then buys five games.

    You sound really defeatist on this issue because it seems you’re only interested in the direct sale at the moment you have someone in the booth. That’s just gravy. The real reason to be there is so more folks find out about your games. This is why the scaling down of E3 seems so ridiculous. Publishers had mainstream press AND retail in a frenzy over videogames for about a week in past years. With this new event, it’s like it’s hardly even happening.

    Anyway, I find it difficult to believe we’re at a point in time where there’s no benefit in meeting people in person and finding new customers only happens on the Internet. Once again, not everyone is so tuned in that they know every indie game company out there… and getting face to face with people at a con seems like a good way to let them know you’re around.

  • Tim Brooks

    “Now whether Shrapnel or HPS or Battlefront think that spending the money for this sort of display is worth the time and money involved is another thing altogether. ”

    I’ve been following the discussion here. For the record, Shrapnel attended Origins in 2003 and again in 2004, when we published the boardgame Mark H. Walker’s Lock ‘n Load: Forgotten Heroes Vietnam and the expanison the next year. Of course we had all of our computer games there including ProSim’s Titles and the rest of our wargames and
    the ever-popular Space Empires IV.

    The truth is, we sold more boardgames (1 title) than computer games (around 16 titles, I believe at that time). And even then, not enough games were sold to make it profitable (not even break even). Each year the costs went up and when companies like Wizards of the Coast and Upper Deck stopped contributing with huge booths and sponsorships, the prices went up even more. We have to answer to our developers and our investors and spending money that doesn’t make money is just not a smart business decision.

    Origins is a boardgame convention, everything they do is about boardgames, rpgs, etc. They don’t even have award categories for computer games and they sure didn’t seem interested in supporting the computer game companies that were there when we attended.

    Of course back then Origins was HUGE. Our first year, the whole space, with the possible exception of 1 or 2 no shows, was taken with booths. No gaming areas, no arena, no miniatures painting… There were at least twice as many booths as this year. Also, the Sponsers were the big companies, like Wizards of the Coast. The companies that could really pull gamers to the convention. You couldn’t even walk in the isles. It was a unique experience back then.

    While we had a great time meeting gaming fans, seeing our developers, and watching the show unfold, it was obvious that, unless you had boardgames, you only reached a very small part of the Origins faithful. The press was even virtually non-existent. So, combine 1) the lack of interest in computer gaming, 2) the convention becoming more expensive as the attendance shrunk, and 3) our lack of current boardgame products and it just doesn’t make sense for us.

    Of course next year, we will have two new boardgames, so we will reevaluate our stance at that time.

    Tim Brooks
    Shrapnel Games, Inc.

  • Troy

    Cost is certainly an issue, and marketing a niche genre is on the margins as it is. Still, the foam sword people were there, and I like to think there are more nascent wargamers than LARPers. There has to be. My worldview won’t accept the alternative.

    Origins used to have computer game awards. Alpha Centauri and Baldur’s Gate won the last ones in 1999. And this year Harpoon 3 got a Vanguard Award. Mind you, Origins used to have a lot more of everything since it was, as you note, much bigger. I regret not having seen it then.

    As Dave said, this isn’t necessarily about selling so much as making people aware of your product. Most of the wargame developers aren’t going to be seen as E3 and, as you well know, getting anybody in the mainstream computer game media to take mature wargaming seriously is almost a losing proposition at this point. (Gamerankings lists five reviews for ProSim’s Raging Tiger and zero for AATF, though it’s a much superior game.) As the wargaming audience shrinks, it becomes more and more like the boardgaming market, relying on word of mouth and a few focused websites. John Tiller has his own Con, and that does nothing to expand the HPS market beyond people who care enough to go play Tiller games in the first place.

    Matrix did sell out their stock of UFO: Extraterrestrials, though. And a couple of others. Some didn’t sell at all.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Gamerankings, Metacritic, etc unfortunately poorly represent most games that are not considered “major” releases, and seem not to care. I remember when the reviews for Weird Worlds started to come out there was zero activity on Metacritic. After about a week I personally contacted them, pointing them to the sites, and was told that they only follow their own list of sites and publications.

    Consider your mention of AATF. So far there are positive reviews at Wargamer, Armchair General, PC Gameplay (Belgium print mag), Gaming Nexus, Out of Eight, PC Gamer, Line of Departure, and of course Flash of Steel. But yeah, you wouldn’t know that if you hit up the “ranking” sites.

    Really what we need is Russell Carroll of GameTunnel to start a ranking site aimed solely at independent and small press titles. It’s a shame that the services we have now truly don’t provide the service they’re supposed to.

  • Tim Brooks

    “As Dave said, this isn’t necessarily about selling so much as making people aware of your product.”

    Yea, but that same money, used over the internet, will make thousands fold more people aware of your product. If we could charge more for the games there would be more money for such non sales oriented marketing. But you know how that goes. Game prices are the same now (or less!) than they were in the 1980’s. And the computer games market is shrinking — not growing.

    In 2003 we were told attendance was 12,000. In 2004 we were told attendance was “record breaking”, yet we could clearly see that there were far fewer people in the exhibit hall. I am told that it has gone down each year by our friends that still exhibit. Now, what percentage of that 12,000 was computer gamers? Even if it was 20% (and I believe that it was not even half of that) you are only reaching 2400 people. In the grand scheme of things a very expensive way to reach a portion of your market.

    “John Tiller has his own Con…”

    Do you know the attendance figures?

  • Scott R. Krol

    Tillercon had 60 people in attendance according to Jim Cobb’s article at the Wargamer.

    One last thing, I wanted to comment on the Vanguard awards. The Vanguard awards is pretty much a catch-all category, which according to Pete Panzeri (chairman of the Academy) represents “‘the cutting edge’ of new design in the gaming industry”. I have not been able to locate who was in the category besides Harpoon 3 and Pieces of Eight so I was wondering for those of you who attended what else was there in the category? It’s hard to believe that a game that has been around for years represents “the cutting edge” of new design.

    For a convention that is about gaming isn’t it a little strange that after 33 years they still don’t acknowledge computer gaming?