With Gen Con just around the corner (it all begins two weeks from today!), we thought it would be fun to sit down with Gen Con president David Hoppe and pick his brain a little. Here are 10 Questions with David Hoppe:
GeekDad: For the 50th Gen Con last year, it was sold out and this year is looking very much like tickets will run out again. It begs the question, could Gen Con be bigger?
David Hoppe: We would love for Gen Con to be bigger but we also have to balance that against the attendee’s experience. Bigger isn’t always better! We work hard to balance the right number of people against the size of the convention center, the size and number of exhibitors, and the number of hotels in the Indianapolis area. There’s also restaurant lines, parking, and access to events to consider. I think we’ve done a good job of opening up Gen Con to more and more people while keeping the overall experience great.
GD: In the past Gen Con has held auxilliary events in other cities — both in America and abroad. With the sellouts, is it time to reconsider holding more Gen Cons?
DH: We’re open to it, but it has to be the right thing. Gen Con is the product of so many things happening in one place at the same time, not the least of which is the debut of 500 new games and the fact that it’s the “must-attend” event for both game publishers and players, so in a nutshell “everyone’s there” at Gen Con in Indy every year and replicating that chemistry is hard. We’re thinking about ways to create something that “is Gen Con” but doesn’t try to replicate Indy’s Gen Con because that’s impossible to do. There can only be one “Best Four Days in Gaming!”
GD: I’ll ask the one question that I know a lot of people are interested in. Is there anything that can be done to improve the housing situation?
DH: We work really hard negotiating with the hotel industry to make as many rooms available as possible and to keep pricing affordable. It’s a really delicate dance and we also put a lot of effort into developing a system to allocate those rooms in as fair and transparent a way as possible. At the end of the day demand simply outstrips supply and our focus has to be on keeping those basic economics from driving prices through the roof. That said, downtown Indianapolis has two new hotels with 300 rooms coming online for 2019 as well as plans for upwards of 1,000 more over the next 3–4 years. So hopefully we can ease the burden a bit by getting more supply. Also, we’re really encouraging attendees to consider suburban hotel rooms, which are often more affordable, and combining that with ridesharing options like Lyft, who we have signed up to be our Official Rideshare partner for 2018. Hopping into a nice air-conditioned Lyft is a great alternative to hoofing it to a distant downtown hotel with a load of games!
GD: Considering the exhibit hall with all of the games and products being shown and the thousands of events that take place across so many rooms and halls and (now) a football stadium, it seems that there’s a bit of an art to keeping attendees spread out and preventing any one area from being overcrowded. Can you speak to that organization and how Gen Con goes about scheduling?
DH: That is a 100% true statement. It’s a combination of both art and science. We look closely at demand patterns for events over the last several years and place events accordingly (science). We also try to anticipate who will have hot new game releases in the exhibit hall, then plan paths for attendees to enter and exit high-demand areas. That part of picking winners is definitely an art. Our software system lets us iterate with multiple booth and event hall layouts as well and we can drill down to individual table and chair placements to optimize flow as much as we can.
We spend a good portion of the spring tweaking the show as it takes shape. We have to do it dynamically as new event applications come in, so you can imagine the complexity involved. Adding Lucas Oil Stadium has been a big help and we’re going to make it one of the coolest spots at Gen Con over the next few years. People often wonder how it can take us a full year to prep for Gen Con, but space-planning for hundreds of companies and thousands of events takes precision and time.
GD: Speaking of the exhibit hall, there is obviously a strong connection to traditional publishers. How does Gen Con meet the growing influence of the nontraditional crowdfunding publishers in gaming?
DH: We have a section of Gen Con called “First Exposure Playtest Hall” which is a sort of mini-con where indie, often crowdfunded, publishers can get in front of potential players. Our Entrepreneurs’ Avenue in the exhibit hall also brings in more than 40 new companies each year, through a competitive application. Over the years, we’ve had many companies such as The Broken Token, Red Raven, and Pandasaurus “graduate” from Entrepreneurs’ Avenue to become “regular” exhibitors and we really enjoy seeing their success. There’s more that we can potentially do to bridge the gap between nontraditional publishers and players who love to discover the next new thing at a really early stage. Kickstarter has been fantastic for getting folks into the industry and now we’re thinking about how to take them to the next step.
GD: For those who don’t know about the people behind Gen Con, could you tell us a little about your staff and the amazing volunteers who work so hard to make four summer days in Indianapolis so much fun?
DH: On a full-time basis there are 15 of us, mostly based in Seattle, who work on Gen Con year-round. After taking a bit of a breather right after the show we start right in on our next year’s planning as well as lining up our major sponsors and biggest exhibitors. So much of that happens in the back half of the year that it’s surprisingly busy. As we get closer to the summer we hire several shifts of temporary workers here in Seattle to help with the volume of badge and ticket fulfillment and they then stay on in the fall to help with all of the reconciliation after the show. In addition, we have close to 400 event team members who are the ones to put in the real effort to make the show run in Indy. This includes almost 100 “Captains” who are our most experienced and important team members for running the show (we are not allowed to call them “volunteers,” as they’re paid even though they do give tremendously of their time and energy). Some Captains have been with us for over 20 years! We love our Captains and without them the show would never happen the way it does!
GD: With Gen Con tilting toward the north side of 50, as an organization, what are you most proud of, so far?
DH: We’re extremely proud of two things. The first is our ability to grow along with the industry over the past several years while retaining a strong sense of community. We’ve entered into this so-called “golden age” of tabletop gaming with thousands of people joining the hobby and at Gen Con we’ve been able scale up as well while still maintaining a feeling like you’re at one big reunion of the best friends you never knew you had! We’ve gotten bigger, yes, but it hasn’t been at the expense of our community-rooted legacy.
Second, we’re proud of the way Gen Con embraces diversity and inclusiveness. We’ve taken stands against discrimination and harassment, and we will continue to be a place where creative expression and inclusion is celebrated. This has become a model for how people behave at Gen Con as well. Everyone should feel welcome to the table, and we’ve benefitted greatly from the new voices, creativity, and diversity in our industry.
GD: And then, looking at 51 and beyond, what does the future hold for Gen Con?
DH: Many, many more days of fun, for the next generations of gamers! Seriously, we want to connect the Gen Con experience to a larger audience. There’s so much that happens at Gen Con that it’s a shame it isn’t shared with the larger world and we’re working to change that. We’re launching a new on-site streaming initiative this year, which I think will be great for both folks who can’t attend in person and for folks like me (and everyone else really) who are there but have little hope of seeing even a small percentage of what’s going on. Our streams and the archive of streamed events will extend the reach and duration of Gen Con and I think we can do “Gen Con-y” things throughout the year.
GD: Gen Con is such a big event, you are no doubt planning for next year already. Can you talk about your arc of preparation?
DH: As I’ve mentioned, we do take a breath immediately after the show and rest up for a few days. But there is a bunch follow up work that needs to be done to close out the show each year and that wraps up in early September. Then we immediately launch into a deep-dive review of the just-completed show and we kick off planning for the for the upcoming year. As we get towards the holidays there’s a bunch of business-y stuff we have to complete before year-end like budgets, etc. and we also try to get out to our biggest exhibitor partners and align our future vision against their exhibition and sponsorship plans. Oh, and we have to retool our systems to start selling badges again come January as well, so it’s really quite a busy time! Then we hit the new year and it’s first badge sales, then hotel registration (no small feat), event submissions, and eventually Event Registration. Before you know it we’re placing booths (in May), rolling out marketing, and pivoting to on-site operational planning in June–July. Mix in some long-term strategic planning as well as about a thousand other details and you can see why it’s more than just a week-long thing.
GD: I have to ask — because I ask everyone — what’s your favorite game right now? And are there any particular titles that you are looking forward to being released?
DH: I play a lot of games with my family and we’ve been on a bit of a Pandemic jag lately, so I’d have to say that’s my current favorite. We also play some seriously cutthroat Love Letters whenever there’s a spare moment and at least six free hands.
I’m really looking forward to playing The Mind when it’s released at Gen Con. I think it will be fun for us here in the office when we can finally get back to regular gaming. Also, because I’m deep into The Expanse (books) I’m looking forward to Planetoid and a couple of the other near-Earth based games. Also, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game and The Brady Bunch Party Game because…well, you know, Jan.
Thanks a lot to David Hoppe for answering our questions. It’s always interesting to get behind-the-scenes info on our favorite games and events. David tackled both! We look forward to seeing David — and many of you — in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks!