Gen Con celebrates gaming while shifting perceptions of Indy tech
Fast approaching are the four days in August when Indianapolis fills to the brim with fans of board games, video games, writing, art and much more. The 51st annual Gen Con, known as the ‘Best Four Days in Gaming,’ runs August 2-5 at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium downtown.
Among the tens of thousands of attendees—some intricately costumed as their favorite characters, others clad in the spirit of it all—celebrating all things gaming will be people who work in Indiana tech every day. How deep is the connection between tech in Indiana and one of the largest gaming conventions in the country? Ahead of this year’s con, and as a passionate gamer and Gen Con attendee myself, I connected with Gen Con staff and members of our tech ecosystem to better understand that relationship, what it means for Indy tech and what the future holds.
What is Gen Con?
Gen Con began in 1968, moved from Wisconsin to Indy in 2003, and is now one of the nation’s largest gaming conventions. Its heart lies in board gaming, but over the years, it’s expanded into other kinds of gaming, writing, art, cosplay (costumed role-playing), events and more. Gen Con has drawn about 60,000 annual attendees in the past few years and brings in more than 500 vendors, many of whom represent the biggest names in gaming.
“Gen Con hosts gamers from all 50 states, every Canadian province, and more than 60 countries,” said Jake Theis, director of marketing for Gen Con. With more than 80 percent of these attendees planning to participate in all four days of the convention, that gives tech companies ample exposure to share what makes Indy great with a wide range of visitors.
Gen Con connects with Indy tech.
Many tech workers have already discovered Gen Con—coworkers, bosses, founders, the con calls everyone.
“We’ve seen rapid growth in our attendee base, and the acceptance of tabletop games with a younger generation of people that work in digital is a key factor,” said Jake. “Their work is being done in digital, their communities link together in the digital space, but socialization and play has become more and more analog.”
The connections between digital and analog run deeper than simply fun; Gen Con also exercises a spirit of creativity that informs and guides much of the work tech companies accomplish. “Gaming is all about creating and experiencing new worlds, simulations, and environments, and technology is all about solving problems in new, yet logical ways,” said Jenn Golding, president of Sapphire Strategy and avid board gaming fan. “While tech takes the more practical approach to scientific application, gaming fosters the more ‘fun’ application of problem-solving, allowing us to think creatively in an engaging and meaningful way.”
As someone who operates a creative marketing firm with several tech clients in its stable, Jenn realizes the value inherent in how gaming can help develop solutions to difficult technical challenges. “To me, gaming and tech feed one another from a psychological standpoint,” she said. “Technology fosters the logical part of our brains and gaming, the creative. Both are needed to successfully create solutions to everyday problems. The Indy tech scene is enhanced purely by having Gen Con in our city.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Felicia Savage, a content manager with PERQ. She’s a veteran Gen Con attendee, making the trek every year since 2010. “Even though the two don’t appear to possess a link, tabletop gaming and tech go hand-in-hand,” she said. “Folks who immerse themselves in tech often like gaming—and folks who like gaming often immerse themselves in tech.”
Through her experiences, Felicia has come to appreciate the visibility Gen Con brings to her tech coworkers and peers in the city she loves. “One thing I’ve found particularly cool about Gen Con’s presence in Indianapolis is how surprised and even intrigued many attendees are of how savvy our humble city is,” she said.
Overall, Gen Con mirrors Indy and our flourishing tech ecosystem, reflecting the changes both have undergone in short order. “The growth of Indy’s tech community has scaled with Gen Con’s growth, and we’re both much larger than we were five years ago,” said Jake. “Gen Con and Indy tech have benefitted from a Renaissance in Indy’s downtown development, and we can partner to bring new faces as tourists to Indy.”
What does the future hold?
While the people who drive Indiana’s tech community are already investing their time and passion into Gen Con, there exist opportunities for both tech workers and their companies to become stronger partners with the con. The companies comprising our ecosystem can join with Gen Con to amplify their employees’ love of gaming and creativity while unearthing avenues for company growth.
Technology is already being used to solve the challenges that come with hosting any major convention. For example, Gen Con’s new partnership with Lyft will help provide ride-sharing services and relieve some of the congestion around the convention. “Connecting the wider ranging Indy community to the downtown corridor will be one of our core missions in the coming years, and tech can solve for some of our logistical issues moving people into and out of the convention’s larger footprint,” said Jake.
Ahead still lay challenges and opportunities for Indiana tech to get involved and become integral to the success of future Gen Cons. The convention’s large event expertise and wide-ranging audience provide the perfect stage to introduce attendees from around the world to the products and services Indy tech companies create, inspired at times by the very games at the heart of Gen Con. “Whether it’s through activities in our Sun King Beer Garden at our Block Party, at events in the convention center, or through trade-based programs, we can host large-scale offerings that unite the greater tech community,” said Jake. “That first connection is important, and hopefully will result in year-round relationships with the tech community.”
If you’re prepared to discover Gen Con and everything it offers, gather your meeples and pick up your badge at Will Call; single-day and four-day badges are still available but are selling out fast. If you’re a devoted attendee like me, send me a note and share how you’ve been involved with Gen Con.