Industry Insights: From The Industry Side
GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Reportby Allan Sugarbaker
March 22, 2002, additional material March 23 and March 24, 2002
Industry Insights: From The Industry Side
GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Reportby Allan Sugarbaker
March 22, 2002, additional material March 23 and March 24, 2002
Most of the report is up now, and the rest will be along shortly. This is what happens when the laptop available for the trip goes dead a mere 48 hours before arriving at the convention. Sorry about the delay. - Allan
GAMA Trade Show
If you ever have the chance to attend GTS, do so, but heed a few words of warning. Firstly, fly in, don't drive. Dear god, don't drive. Second, be sure you know the schedule ahead of time. So many folks at the show this year came down too early by accident, thinking the exhibit halls would open Monday (they didn't). Thirdly, allot plenty of time to the exhibit halls once they do open. There's plenty to see, and time flies.
Lastly, get your hands on a good, sturdy bag. Free stuff gets heavy quickly, and it's a long way back to the room. I tore through multiple GTS show bags, which would've been just fine for most situations, but were a bit flimsy for a handout-heavy show such as this. When I finally got my hands on a canvas bag from Reaper Miniatures, I was a very happy camper.
Dinner and a Show
Each evening, a company or group of companies fed the retailers and press with both food and propaganda. Some were far better at it than others, but free products usually accompanied the sales pitch, so few of us complained.
Monday's dinner was sponsored by Wizards of the Coast, and turned out to be the only strong presence I felt from WotC for the entire convention. Sure, Richard Garfield himself spoke for several minutes, and sure, the Star Wars TCG looks nifty, but other than having a mid-sized, end-of-aisle booth on the far side of the second exhibit hall, Wizards seemed to have put minimal effort behind this convention. Not to say that the product, or the employees showing it off, were inferior; but at nearly every other con, WotC is the biggest part of the show. Maybe WotC doesn't need to convince retailers to carry their stuff anymore, being as big as they are.
As for the new Star Wars game, we learned there'd be three theaters of combat, and dominating two out of three would win. Six-sided dice have been introduced, increasing the randomness. On the retail end of things, WotC plans to sell smaller booster packs (5 cards each) through the mass market, with only one pack in three containing a rare card. The WalMarts of the world will only have the smaller packs, while hobby shops will be offering regular boosters as well. Some comments of "They've made it into a dice game" were heard, but largely ignored. After all, we were far too busy checking out the Darth Vader cards at each of our place settings.
Tuesday's dinner was brought to us by Alliance, Diamond, Osseum, WizKids LLC, and the letter "C" -- or perhaps the letters "CMG" would be more precise. MechWarrior: Dark Ages was the game of the moment; prototypes were on display in the exhibit hall throughout the day (surrounded by "no pictures, please" signs). The human squad figure looked tiny in comparison, and in serious danger of drowning if a player were to spill his drink. One of the figures suffered a critical hit from retail shop owners Michael and Michele Kraus (of Gamers Conclave in Mandeville, LA), who were playing too rough with the armored mech and snapped an arm off. Never stood a chance, the poor fellow. HeroClix was also mentioned, and a complete base set was at the WizKids booth, equally impervious to photographers. A WizKids promotional video was shown to the mostly retail crowd, and copies were offered to anyone who wanted it for their store. Drawings for various Mage Knight sets rounded out the WizKids portion of the evening.
Osseum Entertainment didn't seem to understand they were talking to retailers. Osseum's presentation made a pitch for game companies to join their enclave of clients, describing various benefits and features. Pity that game publishers weren't invited to the banquet.
After the dinner, Decipher ran a tournament of their Lord of the Rings CCG, and threw in the added challenge of an open bar. Reportedly, this lasted until around 4am, at which point Frodo and Gandalf would start looking the same to most gamers. Never having been much for CCG tournaments, I opted instead for a demo session of Juggler's Jam, a new card game from Alien Menace. Designer Jay Turley soundly thrashed me with rapidly changing juggling patterns, a series of low-cost tricks that increased his Confidence each turn, and by throwing me a chainsaw I wasn't prepared for. Despite the beating, I resolved to check out the entire line of Alien Menace games more thoroughly.
As they had done the night before, the mass of GTS attendees (or rather, those that weren't playing LotR) flowed down the escalator and out into the Las Vegas night. I seem to recall spending many hours in the bar, swapping stories with Stephen Martin from Issaries that evening. It's all so hazy, though...
I somehow managed to stagger back down from the room in time for brunch, hosted by companies such as Green Ronin Publishing, Fantasy Flight Games, Interactive Imagination, Sabertooth Games, and Sovereign Press. As we dined on eggs, potatoes and sausage, Green Ronin gave us a rundown of their d20 product schedule, ramped up to full speed after Chris Pramas' layoff/escape from WotC. The few copies of Freeport: City of Adventure that had made it to press in time for the show were given out randomly as prizes. The extremely detailed full-color city map in back of the book was impressive by itself, and the book makes excellent use of it. Green Ronin also announced details of the Pocket Grimoire series coming later this year, which will compile every d20 spell published thus far in what are sure to be essential reference volumes.
As more companies stepped up to bat, we learned several interesting tidbits:
ACD Distribution gave was may have been the best speech of all: it lasted less than sixty seconds. Retailers received discount coupons to give ACD a try.
Alderac Entertainment Group was the big dog of the evening, providing a free copy of Spycraft, the d20 game of modern espionage, for everyone. Ryan Dancey, former Brand Manager of D&D3 and d20 expert, introduced the game to the crowd, then AEG President John Zinzer opened the floor for questions. When asked if there would be Spycraft miniatures, Zinzer looked in the direction of Reaper's Lacefield, and said "We're still talking with Reaper about it."
When the pizza was nearly gone and the Spycraft questions thinned out, tables were quickly cleared for a Warcraft tournament. The top prize at the convention, other than one of two trophies: $1,000. At a convention this small, it was a pleasant surprise to see a company going all out. Again, not being a CCG tournament fan, I passed on this one in favor of talking with other industry guys and putting coins in various one-armed bandits.
The first booth to see in the smaller of the two halls was that of Kenzer & Co. The HackMaster GMs Screen, a monstrous uber-screen with features like a complete random dungeon creator, grabbed my attention first. The latest Kalamar release, Geanavue: Stones of Peace, penned by Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame, also caught the eyes of convention goers.
Otherworld Creations' R.Hyrum Savage gave me my prized "Got Pulp?" t-shirt (in the right size, even, XXL) and told me a little about Forbidden Kingdoms. The 320-page d20 game of pulp action, FK will be coming in May, and hopes to give Adventure! a run for its money. Later this year, Otherworld will bring us the "Born of..." series of d20 supplements. Starting in August, five books (each 176 pages, $29.95) will arrive in stores:
Inner City Games will be hitting the world with their newest creation next month. With a title of Crouching Hamster, Hidden Translation, and 8 word dice to create word dubs of questionable validity with, this sounds like another game for my small games tote. Backup games are always handy when the gaming group fails to get a quorum. Gigantic, a game of escape from a certain sinking ship, begs comparison to Save Doctor Lucky. We'll have to wait 'til May for that one.
Dwarven Forge was my next stop, showing off the prepainted dungeon and miniatures sets they do so well. Had to stop and drool for a bit, then finally pulled myself away.
Torchlight Games was showing off their second product, the Danger Quest RPG. Shipping to stores now, the thick rulebook describes a world where trust in technology lead to a disaster that wiped out Earth's civilizations. As a result, when civilizations are rebuilt, technology is advanced (hey, by then it's 2330 AD), but try hard to look like the roaring '20s. The vehicle artwork in the Danger Quest shows this far better than I can describe. Torchlight also plans an expansion this summer to their popular card game, Geeks: The Convention.
Iron Wind Metals, founded by Michael Noe, former general manager of Ral Partha, was letting the world know to come to them for the classic Partha minis. Having taken over the metal operations from WizKids, Iron Wind is the exclusive manufacturer of the Crimson Skies, BattleTech, Shadowrun, Mage Knight Metal, Crucible, and classic fantasy miniatures lines.
Misguided Games is sure to sell plenty of their Children of the Sun RPG when it arrives around June. The huge banner of the cover art, and early copies of the interior art, spoke volumes about the concepts built into this dieselpunk setting. Lewis Pollak and Dan Ross whispered of plans for cool new website features, but mum's the word, until they tell me otherwise.
Industry veteran Columbia Games showed me a sci-fi game that's a variation of the Wizard Kings system. Taking place in deep space, the mockup on display gave a good sense of the interplanetary scale. The game should be out by mid-summer. I also took another look at Evael: Kingdom of the Elves, the latest d20/Harn supplement. Packaged as a tall stack of three-ring-binder pages, Evael boasts some great full-color maps.
Khepera Publishing presented attendees with the Godsend Agenda RPG, a superhero system that takes hero worship literally. The thick Godsend softbacks were next to two kinds of clear plexiglass grids with white lines built into them, either in a grid or hex pattern. Though not the first time I'd seen this sort of product, the quality looked good. Didn't catch the price, though.
Third World Games added a second title, Battle of the Bands, to their card game repertoire. The non-collectible card game always managed to draw a small crowd throughout the convention.
A2 Press is finally providing a complete high school setting to fans of Teenagers From Outer Space. Majestic High School is headed for stores right now, so I hope you've been practicing your pushing and shoving.
Synister Creative Studios didn't seem to have a new product to show, but was at a booth happily promoting the Last Exodus RPG. A pair of SCS members had nearly lynched Sandy the first day of GTS when he made the comment, "Hey, nice goth outfits," and promptly ran away.
Eden Studios had the new All Flesh Must Be Eaten book, Enter the Zombie, which looked as good as I'd hoped. There were also handouts and previews of the cover art for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, due out this summer. The handouts disappeared quickly.
Heliograph had some anti-announcements to make, as in "cancelled products." All Forgotten Futures titles, plus The Complete Canal Priests of Mars, and Transactions of the Royal Martian Geographical Society (volume 4) are all called off. Instead, Heliograph will be announcing entirely new products soon, which they hope will sell better than reprints have. Heliograph was also representing Hogshead Publishing and Pelgrane Press, so the Dying Earth RPG, SLA Industries RPG, and other products all coexisted happily in the Heliograph booth. A galley copy of the "first coffeetable RPG," Nobilis, was available to be drooled on (the book measures 11"x11"). Having just seen a final copy of the book at the Wizard's Attic warehouse, I can confirm that Nobilis is a truly gorgeous book. Another example of slow and steady production winning the race with an outstanding product.
Perennial favorite Studio Foglio made the trip to GTS sans Phil this year, who was reportedly catching up on work and caring for the baby. Kaja Foglio kept up her end of the bargain at the booth, showing Girl Genius, Buck Godot, What's New, and Xxxenophile to all who passed by.
Mongoose Publishing had an early copy of Encyclopedia Arcane: Constructs that I leafed through. The amount of rules material and great artwork was impressive. Mongoose's other products were all on display, showing the volume of work the company has created in so little time.
Fast Forward Entertainment seems poised to become a truly major player in the d20 market. With both Campaign Magazine and Games Unplugged Magazine as FFE properties, and a slew of d20 supplements and adventures in print, Fast Forward has grown tremendously since the DragonElves e-card game. John Danovich showed me Treasure Quests, a hardcover d20 sourcebook of small quests that can all interlink in various ways, shown by an easy coding system, becoming larger, more intricate adventures. Best of all, the book lays flat due to the spiral binding inside the cover. Also watch for Metamorphosis Alpha to return to game shelves next month, thanks to the original author, James M. Ward.
Pinnacle Entertainment Group is another one of those companies that, like WotC, has already made it onto the store shelves of most retailers. However, Shane Hensley himself was pressing the flesh with retailers and distributors alike, and handing out copies of The Unity for Deadlands: Hell on Earth. This adventure will serve as the lead in to the third (and final?) Deadlands game, Lost Colony. Everything from Deadlands and Deadlands:HOE, plus purple aliens? Should be interesting.
Sharing a corner of the Pinnacle booth was Twilight Creations Inc., a new company formed partly for purpose of resurrecting the Zombies! game. The expansions that were rumored back when Zombies! was at ill-fated Journeyman Press are rumors no longer, and will see the light of day in the months to come. This all makes perfect sense when you learn that Todd and Kerry Breitenstein, Twilight's founders, are the co-designers of the ridiculously popular game. The company plans another board game with some roleplaying elements built into it called When Darkness Comes, which is due to arrive in late June. Multiple expansions are planned for that system as well.
Military Model Distributors had some excellent models of wooden stockade forts that I'll have to look into acquiring someday.
Next door, Stone Circle Games displayed the miniatures for Invictus Arenas, a gladiatorial skirmish combat game. A range of moderately detailed warriors were available, with everything from minotaurs to executioners. Two additional skirmish combat games will follow on Invictus' heels: China Town, a game of gang warfare; and Youxi, a mythic Kung Fu game. Before moving on, I was informed that the massive rulebooks (65+ pages) are available as a free download from the Stone Circle website.
The Big Hall
Many of the larger companies were camped out in the corners of the more spacious hall. Distributors, game companies, and the like all intermingled nicely.
White Wolf had more of an alley than a traditional booth, a corridor between AEG and Sovereign Press, open at either end. Handout ads for the EverQuest RPG (you hadn't heard? Where have you been?) didn't say much more than the official website. Not being that familiar with the World of Darkness or Exalted, I wandered through White Wolf alley a few times, but nothing major jumped out at me. I did notice some of the newest products from Sword & Sorcery and Necromancer Games. In particular, Vigil Watch: Warrens of the Ratmen (S&S) and Maze of Zayene: Dimensions of Flight (NG) looked like ones I'd be picking up later.
After their big dinner on Monday, Wizards of the Coast naturally continued their promotional push for the new Star Wars TCG at the booth, with endless daily demonstrations. Magic: The Gathering Online was also on display opposite a large glass case of Star Wars card packages and such. Info packs and freebies for Chainmail, NFL Showdown, Star Wars TCG, and your keychain (in the form of a rubbery WotC symbol) were all there for the asking.
The rest will be along shortly...