In what was inevitable, but still very sad news both of the major board game conventions for the Summer and Fall were canceled this week. Spiel at Essen, which I have written about visiting in 2015 was cancelled on Monday. This is the largest worldwide convention with companies from all over the globe coming to release and sell new games. Given the global nature of this event, and the pandemic it was not safe to have this convention. Part of the reason this news is difficult is because the convention was due to happen in October which still seems a way off. This is another indication that the world and the board game industry will not be back to normal any time soon. The very next day Gen Con which is the U.S.’s largest board game convention which happens in August was also cancelled for similar reasons. I have never personally been to Gen Con, but it is like board game Christmas, where many games have their debut. I wanted to take some time today to write about what these cancellations mean for the hobby both as an industry and as a community.
Industry impact: Board games are one of the last media industries that is still very much a physical product. While movies, shows, and video games are very much in the streaming and digital age, board games often require folks to sit down and try the game. These conventions are huge for companies because they can drum up excitement and buzz for a release. At Essen and Gen Con there are demo stations where people try out the games, and while there are often surefire hits that already have the buzz and excitement coming into the convention itself, we will almost certainly lose the hidden gems that rely on word of mouth at the show. These shows are as much a release party as they are a chance for fans to discover games they might never have heard of. Because of this, a lot of publishers are debating when and how to release their games at all. From large publishers to small, there is a question of how to build up excitement or be discovered without the catalyst of a convention. There is the possibility of delaying games till times are different but this has huge budget implications as well as the possibility of being caught in a deluge of releases from other publishers when they feel the time is right. Regardless, it will be a somewhat quiet and strange weird in terms of board games biggest release months, and that is disappointing.
Community impact: There are two aspects that are affected here. For one, I love conventions first and foremost because of the community the develops among the attendees. This is more pronounced at fan conventions vs trade shows like Gen Con and Essen Spiel, but it is still very much there in these larger conventions. To be among a whole city-sized population of fans who like the same things as you is an incredible experience. Every stranger that you turn to probably has something in common with you, at least in the board game world. So to lose this for these two conventions is a huge loss of community building and excitement. The second aspect is the shadow convention that happens behind the scenes among designers and publishers. There are likely many publishing deals and board game pitches that happen at these events that will simply have to be virtual or not happen at all in the “hey I just ran into you” sort of way that organically develops at conventions. Both things are a huge loss and will be sorely missed by fans and publishers alike.
So what is the way forward? Well, there are various virtual conventions cropping up. These are very different and rather new, but as in all other spaces during such strange times the board game industry is trying out new things to fill in the gaps left by enormous change. The Dice Tower and Board Game Geek are putting on a virtual convention in late June. Gen Con will have Gen Con Online during the same dates as the original in person convention. There are still likely to be exciting announcements from these events, but there is no doubt that they will not provide the community and commerce that the original events would have. So join me in pouring one out for these great events that will simply not happen this year. In the meantime, it is time to explore other aspects of the hobby, and I will continue to do so in posts in the coming week.