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On the Future of Origins

A couple of weeks back, Michael Erb made a post on his blog entitled “I’m a little worried about Origins…” where he talks about some of the changes at Origins Game Fair over the last couple of years, and how that makes him worried about the future of the con. I replied in the comments the following:

Completely unfounded prophecy coming up:
Origins as we know it will cease to exist in the next 5 years. GAMA will drop it as it seeks to save itself. The game play part of it will continue–Origins is THE play event of the big con season for many–but it will morph into something else, while everything else that makes it one of the big shows will evaporate. In essence, it will become a very big local con.

My prediction was picked up by Fred Hicks and mentioned in the latest episode (Season 2, Episode 1) of That’s How We Roll podcast (at the 40-ish minute mark). Fred and Chris Hanrahan go on to talk about the future of Origins, going back to my line about it becoming “a very big local con” as they wrap up. I’d like to expand a bit on my “prophecy,” if I may.

Caveat #1: I have not been to Origins, so my impression of it is based solely on anecdotal data gleaned from a bunch of people over the years in person, on the internet and on podcasts.

Caveat #2: Speculation and punditry follow. Bring your own salt.

First of all, me saying that Origins will become a very big local con is not a negative remark. When I say “local con” I think of socialization, of a level of camaraderie and community usually exemplified by small groups, and especially of a show where play is THE thing; not sales, not hawking, not unveiling the latest doo-dah, Play. Local cons tend to feature these qualities because they serve small-ish geographic areas, so if there’s a dealer’s room, it’s usually a few local stores (maybe a local publisher as well?), with the rest being ruled by games, games, games. I know this is the case in my local con down in Miami, The Summoning: it’s all about games, of as many types as possible, with a couple of vendor tables at most. I know this is a model repeated in many geographic areas across the world because I constantly see/hear reports from these cons online. So this is what I conjure with the term “local con.”

Based on what I know of Origins, it already fulfills this function and displays these qualities. Over and over I read/hear how Origins is the place to go play (in contrast to Gen Con, the other big show) and socialize. Fred and Chris sing Origins’s praises in this respect in the very same episode, as a point of example. So Origins is already the “local con” (in terms of vibe) of the big summer shows. I don’t believe that will change.

That said, I do think that in the coming years, Origins as we know it now, the “other” big con, will change. Michael’s post summarizes well the various events of the last few years that already show that Origins is in a state of metamorphosis from what it used to be, say, a decade ago. I don’t see that trend changing. In many ways, that change will be fueled by whatever GAMA decides to do with Origins.

At this moment in time, I feel GAMA is struggling to find ways to remain relevant in the Hobby Gaming Industry. They run GTS, the sole industry trade show, but one which continues to see declining numbers in attendees and vendors exhibiting (I am honestly not qualified to speculate on the reasons, but to my untrained eyes it seems the show needs to decide which segment of the industry it really wants to cater to, or do a much better job of offering value and worth to all segments equally) and they run Origins, and I can’t help but hear Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the other things” song when I see those two shows listed under their banner. I’m just not gonna be surprised at all if I read that GAMA sells Origins away to concentrate solely on being the Hooby Gaming Industry Trade organization they profess to be.

Do I see Origins going away completely from the big summer con schedule? Not at all, not even if sold off by GAMA or if more and more vendors stop buying booth space. Origins has claimed its stake in the summer con lineup by being the play-first choice for a lot of dual-big-show attendees, as well as for many others that choose to only attend Origins and not Gen Con. If anything, I see this feature gaining strength in the coming years, becoming the main draw of the show. In essence, a very big local con.

Hope that explains my “completely unfounded prophecy” better.

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  1. Chris Hanrahan
    June 16, 2009 at 12:43 PM

    Good post. I think what you say about GAMA rings very true. I really have no idea what they are doing with themselves other than running a very flagging trade show, and Origins. As a retailer, I think the Distributor Open houses are going to continue grow, as they are a lot more focused, and cheaper to attend. GAMA is a very, very “heads down” organization, rarely communicating their message, and allowing others like us rampant speculation, cause we honestly have no idea what they are doing. The new Director has been lauded as being someone to come in and make good positive change, but after 4 months (ish) of pulling down a salary, I haven’t heard one word from him. So, yeah…they don’t get a membership from me. Anywho, once again, nice post.

  2. June 16, 2009 at 1:36 PM

    I’m sorry, I really am going to have to take your analysis with a grain of salt 🙂

    As an Origins attendee since 2000, it really does have a different vibe to it, and it’s clearly in the “big show” camp instead of the “local con” camp. Events that don’t get a lot of gaming press coverage like the Board Room and the different game company rooms (started by Looney Labs’ big experiment) make it a very different experience than anything else, and as long as there’s an audience for those things, it’ll stick around, and I don’t see a compelling reason there for GAMA to drop it. It is true that by some measure it’s struggling (the shrinking dealer hall being one big example), they had VERY good success last year with their program to allow families and locals into the hall for super-cheap. I’m very interested to see what it’s like this year.

    I think, if anything, GTS will get dropped, or appended onto Origins somehow like other shows have started doing.
    .-= Dave T. Game´s last blog… Inq. of the Week: Challenging Skills =-.

  3. June 16, 2009 at 10:04 PM

    “Local con” is a loaded term. But otherwise you make a reasonable assessment. As an example, I hear great things about the Board Room. It’s popularity among board gamers is growing. But it’s essentially a room for open gaming.

    Anyway, I look forward to personally researching the subject. I’ll be at both Origins and Gen Con this year.
    .-= David´s last blog… Farewell, Epic – We’ll Miss You =-.

  4. June 22, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    @Chris Hanrahan – I have another similar post on GAMA as an organization brewing up in my head, though I’d like to talk to people who have more on-hands experience with them before setting anything down. Nothing I have seen/heard so far leads me to believe, however, than GAMA is headed anywhere but towards a sink-or-swim scenario of epic proportions.

    @Dave T. Game – Please use as much salt as you need. 😉
    Re: Big Show vs Local Con – Origins is very much a big show, I don’t dispute that, and I think it will continue to be one under any management. But I stand by the Local Con analogy as defined by me above, which your examples actually support. I know Origins has some really neat events; and much like the Looney Labs example you cite, they all seem to jive quite well with the Origins-as-Play-mecca idea I am putting forth. See the case of Paradigm Concepts as well: they have turned Origins into their #1 Play event of the year, drawing attendance of a couple thousand players for their exclusive events. This all strengthens my belief that the Dealer’s Room will continue to shrink as it becomes less and less of a feature of the show, as Play grows to become THE reason for the existence of Origins.
    Also, for various reasons, I don’t see GTS being dropped or appended to Origins (to Gen Con, if anything). More likely we’d see the end of GAMA and thus of GTS, but as I said to Chris above, that’s another post.

    @David – I defined what I meant with Local Con for that same reason. Let us know your impression of Origins once you’re back.

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