Here I sit in the Port Columbus International Airport, about to return home after four lightning fast days playing games at the 2016 Origins Game Fair. As you guys know I’ve been attending GenCon off and on for half of its existence, and though I was aware of Origins, two trips to the middle of the country for a half-week gaming glut was just never in the cards for me. And who would choose the scrappy little red-headed brother to the glory of the world’s biggest gaming convention?
Well, the beast that is GenCon has simply become too much for me. With attendance over 60,000, events spread across several city blocks, and a narrow 1-hour window six months in advance in which to pray that the gods of the internet favor you long enough to snatch up a hotel room in walking distance to the convention center, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Jenn and I liked going to a big convention, liked meeting up with pals from the opposite coast willing to travel to the half-way point for a couple days of gaming, but just couldn’t bring ourselves to book the trip again.
Then we started looking into Origins. It turns out last year Origins had attendance of almost 16,000 people, tiny compared to GenCon, but still pretty sizable in the grand scheme of things. In fact, in a strange coincidence, that’s almost the same attendance size GenCon had the first year I attended back in 1992 (about 18k, according to Wikipedia). Hm, GenCon seemed huge back then, could Origins be the same?
In fact, I’d say there was a strange nostalgic feel for me attending Origins this year. It kind of felt like GenCon of the early 90’s. Gone were the crowds so dense you have to shuffle down the hall of the dealer’s room. Gone were the giant displays, statues, banners across the ceilings, etc. The dealer’s room, which couldn’t be more than a quarter the size of GenCon’s, once again contained the odd booth manned by a guy probably hoping to break into the industry with stacks of his self-published RPG. I saw Lou Zocchi hawking his dice. I saw Ken St. Andre grinning behind a table full of T&T modules and a stack of Nuclear War boxes. Everything I wanted to go to was either in the convention center, or in the attached hotel where I was staying, and I didn’t need more than 15 minutes to make it from my room to any given event.
Well, if I fell into a time warp, I’m sure glad I did. I had a blast. It was great to see some old friends, great to play a lot of cool games, and great to see a huge gathering of my fellow gaming enthusiasts (but not so huge I didn’t have room to breathe). Will it stay this way? The article that quotes the 16k attendance figure also claims that was a 23% increase over 2014, which in turn was 19% up from the previous year. Prior to that, it looks like the convention has been pretty consistently at around 10k with a few spikes and valleys since 2002 (according to wikipedia).
Despite the recent surge, I would say based on what I observed Origins still has plenty of room to grow. But I also kind of hope it doesn’t. Or at least if it does, that it does not grow in the same way GenCon did, quickly reaching a point where it’s straining the capacity of its location, and without regard to the impact that has on the individual attendee.
But who knows what the future holds? For now, I can only prognosticate as far as June 2017, which looks likely to include a trip for yours truly out to Columbus Ohio once again.