If you haven’t had the opportunity to see the Exhibitor’s Hall at Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA), it’s an eruption of sights and sounds that beg you to strain your neck in 360 degrees. Things will catch you out of the corner of your eye, someone will invite you to play a game for free, and vendors will be handing out free trinkets to lure you in. It is no surprise that 3-5 hours can be spent in what is commonly referred to the Dealer’s Room. Some people ignore the majority of the booths and go straight to their favorite location, planting themselves at the demonstration tables and play games all day. You can do that. Fantasy Flight and Mayfair Games especially offer entire sections of tables where you can sit down with a sales representative and learn the basics of the game before you buy it. And under no obligation are you held to doing so after you play it. While it is easier to walk away from the larger booths where dozens of people are milling about, the smaller booths cause a greater sense of guilt for not buying their game after they took the time to show you how it’s played. You are wise to be comfortable saying no.
I find it hypnotic as a sight of wonder as I make my way through the aisles of merchandise. I generally do my best to start at either end of the room because it is beyond colossal in size. Two football fields could fit inside the hall side by side. The hall is so massive they have to drape giant banners above each aisle signifying what number it is. There are approximately 25-30 aisles total. It is very easy to get distracted or disoriented without keeping a good eye above. And not all of the aisles cut entirely straight through. Many of the booths are so huge that they cannot fit width-wise between two aisles and cross right over it. This makes it more of a challenge as you aren’t able to just walk right through these areas since they are assigned for gaming demonstrations that sometimes have long lines. You must walk to the next aisle over and come around on the other side of the gaming area. If you’re easily distracted, this simple task will be quite difficult.
The crowds are another factor. Several things to remember is that this convention handles over 50,000 attendees, many of which are in the Dealer’s Room throughout the day. One of the biggest complaints with the massive crowds is parents who bring strollers in with them. I’m sure they are not having any more fun than I am trying to wedge the wheeled contraptions with their children through thickly crowded aisles. They take up space, and they force the already jammed packed crowds to push their way to one side in order to give room. While the convention is family oriented, these tight, congested areas really are not suitable for strollers.
Despite what the convention asks, people still stop in the middle of aisles and intersections to either visit, take a picture of someone in costume, or just gawk at something. It’s perfectly suitable to take a detour from your path over to the side and do those things all you want, but when the aisles are so crowded that you have to literally shuffle your feet no more than 6 inches at a time, it’s horrifically annoying when the whole “train” comes to a stop because people are blocking the way.
But regardless of the few annoyances you’ll see when it comes to any large group, you’re in for an experience that you can’t quite prepare yourself for. To begin with, the doors open at 10 a.m. each day and close that afternoon at 6 p.m. They do this Thursday through Sunday, and if you are lucky enough to either slip past the door nazi or have a friend who’s a vendor, you can actually get in Wednesday evening to have a look around though nothing is for sale at that point as vendors are finishing up on setting their merchandise out for the next day.
If you want a specific thing that has a chance of selling out, you need to be prepared to show up well before 10 a.m. on Thursday morning. By 9:20, you are going to see the start of what will become an enormous buildup of a crowd gathering outside the hall. By 9:30, most of the hall will be full of people packed in. The area is so congested that staff volunteers have to force people to make paths through them in order for others to walk. When 10 a.m. rolls around, the doors open. At this time, the hall has 3 groups of doors at various intervals along one of the walls. Each group consists of about 6 double doors. You have to present your badge in order to get in, which I think slows up the flow of traffic initially, but that is the convention’s way of demanding you pay to spend money like a Costco or Sam’s Club.
It’s really a good idea to take the trip twice for many reasons. First, you’re going to probably miss something. Second, vendors will bring out or change merchandise throughout the weekend. Third, sales will begin really picking up on items by Saturday afternoon and into Sunday. Fourth, the traffic begins to thin out as the weekend goes and people have spent their money and bought the things they came for.
There’s no doubt that with the entire amount of stuff to look at in the Dealer’s Room, there are things that are going to be overlooked. So a second look doesn’t hurt, especially if you’re interested in finding something that just interests you but you weren’t expecting to buy. Discovery is a big word in there as you stumble upon things you never knew existed.
Items get rotated throughout the weekend. Things are sold out, and other items are brought in. The smaller vendors will have a more static arrangement of merchandise, but the larger vendors sometimes have a cycling schedule where some new merchandise is brought in later in the weekend to entice customers to return to their booth.
Although a fairly obvious statement, merchandise can be heavy. The amount of things that even the smaller vendors bring to the show takes up space and is a bare to load back into their van or truck to hall back home. Many companies, especially the smaller ones with a lot of books, will drop their prices or be willing to make deals once Saturday afternoon rolls around and especially on Sunday. Feel free to request bundle packages with things and don’t be afraid to haggle a bit. There are obvious times when vendors aren’t going to mark their merchandise down. The larger the vendor, I’ve found, the less likely they will come down on an item. If they are brand new items, it’s tough for them to justify already lowering the cost, but if you offer to buy multiple things and then ask if $5-10 can be knocked off, you may be surprised to get that.
Usually on Saturday there are a tremendous amount of events going on from private parties hosted by some of the vendors to live concerts to huge tournaments. This takes up a good number of people’s time and generally has an effect on the numbers in the Dealer’s Room. Sunday is usually the emptiest because a huge group, mostly those traveling, will be back at the hotel packing and taking taxis to the airport or driving home. You’ll find more success by then as long as the merchandise is still there. That is always a risk when dealing with any retail store, however. If there are enough copies on Friday, you should be okay by Sunday.
While I do have numerous opinions about the convention and its growing size previously talked about, there are still benefits and good things about the place, especially the Dealer’s Room. However, keep in mind this final thought. Unless there is an item that is being released just at Gen Con and limited supply, chances are you can buy it online for the same price or cheaper. There are quite a lot of vendors I notice year after year who sell their books for the same price they sell it year round. Books that were out last year have the same MSRP as this year without giving any deals. The used items like former editions of Dungeons & Dragons are usually on sale with the option of a better offer given. But unless you absolutely insist on buying that new copy of Shadowrun that came out last year or the year before, just buy it on Amazon for much less.
Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with. Thanks for stopping by.