Auntie Lisa’s Story Hour: Gen Con Reminiscences—The Paizo Years
Thursday, July 19, 2012
With PaizoCon 2012 now in the rear view mirror, my attentions turn toward Gen Con in Indianapolis, August 16–19. I’ve personally gone to every Gen Con since it was held at UW Parkside in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but since this is Paizo’s tenth anniversary year—and Paizo’s tenth Gen Con—I figured I’d limit this blog to stories from the last decade. Gen Con is and always has been our biggest show of the year and the convention where we release our biggest products, so many seminal events in Paizo’s history take place at this granddaddy of all gaming conventions.
Our trip down memory lane begins in August 2002. Paizo was a newly minted company, having started business just one month prior, so we hadn’t lined up our own booth at Gen Con. Our friends at Wizards of the Coast had already allocated a part of their booth for the periodicals department that we’d taken over, so they allowed us to set up camp in their castle for the show. Paizo’s owners and a small team of editors spent the weekend talking to thousands of gamers who were wondering what the future held in store for their favorite magazines with Paizo at the helm.
Gen Con 2003 was all about the Paizo exclusive silver Boba Fett action figure we’d organized as part of running the Official Star Wars Fan Club and Star Wars Insider magazine. Vic and I knew what kind of excitement an exclusive figure would generate, but I don’t think Gen Con had a clue. So imagine their surprise when a huge storm of fans rushed the small Paizo booth and started a long line that stretched past and even through other vendors’ booths! We sold a ton of this action figure, but there was a little consternation among the employees who worked on Dragon and Dungeon: Gen Con was the D&D show, and they were used to taking the limelight at the booth. It was hard to argue with the fact that Boba Fett paid a lot of bills, though, and all in all, it was a really good Gen Con for Paizo.
2004 was the year we launched Amazing Stories and Undefeated, and relaunched Dragon and Dungeon. We put free copies of all four magazines into each attendee’s gift bag, which cost us a pretty penny. It didn’t ultimately make much of an impact on sales, so it was probably not the best marketing decision we ever made, but we were excited about what we were doing and we enjoyed giving potential customers issues to read at their leisure. To celebrate the relaunches of Dragon and Dungeon, we created T-shirts that customers could get for free by starting a new subscription or renewing an existing one. The Dragon T-shirt had Wayne Reynolds’ iconic dragon bursting through the cover page, while the Dungeon tee had a picture of Warduke, an homage to the D&D cartoon series and action figure line from the early 1980s. But the most controversial thing we did at the show that year was bring the Undefeated cheerleaders. Jenny Bendel, our marketing manager, wanted to create a stir and drive traffic to the booth, so we bought cheerleader costumes with the Undefeated logo on them and hired some local models who dressed in the cheerleader costumes and decorated passersby with Undefeated temporary tattoos bearing Johnny Wilson’s slogan for the magazine, “Nobody Likes a Loser.” Again, I’m not sure it helped sales all that much, but it sure did drive traffic to our booth, including a couple of local television crews!
By Gen Con 2005, we were already working toward making Paizo about more than magazines. Our big release was the Shackled City hardcover, and we decided to create a huge tower of books in the middle of the booth. We planned for hordes of customers to snatch up their copies, making the tower disappear throughout the course of the convention. Unfortunately, we brought way too many books, so even though sales were brisk, much of the tower was still standing at the end of the con.
My favorite memory from Gen Con 2005 was the ENnie Awards ceremony. Paizo had taken home our first ENnie—a gold award for Dungeon—in 2002, though all of the work that was being recognized had been done by our employees when they were still part of Wizards of the Coast. 2005 was the first year that the accolades were truly our own. All in all, we won 4 gold awards and one silver—but for me, the silver was the most exciting: it was for Best Publisher! Since its inception, Paizo had been struggling to gain an identity in the gamer community. If we were lucky, we were known as “the Dragon and Dungeon company”; many, many readers hadn’t yet figured out that we weren’t actually part of Wizards of the Coast. In industry surveys, retailers often reported Paizo sales as Wizards’ sales, and distributors still gave our magazines TSR product codes! So that silver ENnie was validation that we were finally stepping out from the shadow of Wizards and forging our own identity. It was a very sweet moment.
2006 was all about trying to fill the gap where Undefeated and Amazing Stories had been. Our GameMastery Map Packs and Item Cards were front and center in our booth, along with our Compleat Encounters line. It was a bit of a transition year for us, so we filled the booth with anything we think we could sell to gamers, including a big bin of Toy Vault plush right in front of the register. We partnered with Looney Labs that year to bring in a little more traffic and a little more sales; Looney also partnered with us in 2007.
2007 marks the launch of the Paizo that everybody knows today. We were sad to release the final print issues of Dragon and Dungeon at Gen Con, but we were very excited about the debut of the Pathfinder Adventure Path, with James Jacobs’ now classic “Burnt Offerings” adventure kicking off Rise of the Runelords. Our booth was decked out in large Pathfinder banners showing off Wayne Reynolds’ new iconic character artwork. Our line of GameMastery Modules was also a recent addition, and Nick Logue’s “Crown of the Kobold King” was being played delve-style in the booth using Dwarven Forge terrain. It was super impressive!
Gen Con 2007 was also exciting for our Titanic Games board game line. We’d already released our first board game, Kill Doctor Lucky, and at this show, we were debuting Stonehenge, a board game that I thought could change the way folks looked at games. Stonehenge consisted of a board, cards, and other pieces that were designed as a flexible toolkit that budding game designers could use to create their own board games, sold in a package with rules for five different Stonehenge games from the world’s best game designers. Our booth was abuzz with constant demos of both Kill Doctor Lucky and Stonehenge, with game designers Richard Garfield, Mike Selinker, and James Ernest stopping by the booth to show off their games.
A personal memory from 2007 was having Gary Gygax in our booth to sign autographs. We had just released Gary’s The Anubis Murders novel in our Planet Stories line, and the father of RPGs took the time to interact with our fans and sign their books. I’d first met Gary way back at my first Gen Con, when I was a fan myself, and we had become friends through the years. I am honored that Paizo was part of his last Gen Con.
The Pathfinder campaign setting saw its release at Gen Con 2008 with our 256-page hardcover book. For the previous year, fans of our modules and Adventure Paths had been clamoring for us to flesh out the world of Golarion, and this book was our answer. We ended up selling out of our Gen Con allocation on Saturday and having to turn away potential buyers the rest of the weekend. Another big Gen Con success for us was the Pathfinder RPG Beta. This softcover printing of our Beta playtest rules was something we weren’t 100% sure people would want to buy, but since we wanted to get folks excited about next year’s release Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, we brought a lot of copies of the Beta along, figuring we could always ship the extras back home after the convention was done. Little did we know that they would be gone by the end of the second day! The response was incredibly uplifting. The weekend culminated with Paizo winning our first gold ENnie for Best Publisher, a true honor, along with six other golds and a silver.
Gen Con 2008 was also memorable for the launch of our Pathfinder Society Organized Play program. Season 0 was our playtest season, and our smallish room was packed with gamers from the start of the con to the finish. Four hundred characters were made and six hundred registration cards handed out. Kicking off each new Pathfinder Society season at Gen Con is now a PFS tradition.
Of course, at Gen Con 2009, the Pathfinder RPG launch took center stage. The night before the show started, Paizo had our first contributor party for staff, freelancers and top Pathfinder Society GMs. It was the first opportunity any of them had to see the Core Rulebook, and I remember watching proudly as they devoured each page.
We again built a huge pile of the books in the middle of our booth, reminiscent of 2005’s Shackled City tower. But this time, selling out was a real possibility: the first print run of the Core Rulebook had sold out before the show even began, and as news circulated that Gen Con might be the only place customers might be able to buy the book for months, a large crowd of folks gathered outside the dealer hall, waiting to rush in to buy it. When the doors opened, our booth was inundated by hundreds upon hundreds of gamers hungry to grab a copy. The line soon spread into the artist area across the way, and we had to marshal every employee available to keep it from devolving into chaos. Erik and I quickly hatched a plan—I grabbed a box of books and headed down the line, offering people who just wanted the rulebook the ability to quickly hand over some cash and get out of line. Hundreds took us up on this offer, and we were able to get the line under control by the end of the first day.
2009 will also be memorable for me because of the start of our relationship with Reaper Miniatures. We’d worked out a licensing deal with them a month or so earlier, but imagine my surprise when they showed up at the convention with greens of the first minis to show off! Even cooler, they had sculptors actually working on new sculpts during the convention. I think I spent as much time in the Reaper booth as I did in the Paizo booth that year, constantly checking to see if the sculptors had completed new figures.
We’re really proud of the Core Rulebook, but it’s nevertheless very much a revision of what had come before. In 2010, we were able to offer something uniquely our own in the form of the Advanced Player’s Guide. Jason had conceived of the APG at the previous Gen Con, and we were all super anxious to see what everybody thought of our new classes and new ideas such as the archetype mechanic. We needn’t have worried; the APG was the hot selling book of Gen Con, with hundreds and hundreds of copies sold over the course of the show. We also launched our Pathfinder Tales fiction line that Gen Con, and author Dave Gross spent his time at the booth autographing copies for eager fans. We proudly won our second gold ENnie for Best Publisher, part of a grand total of 11 golds and two silvers! Wow!
2011 was all about the Ultimates at our booth. Ultimate Magic and Ultimate Combat both made a splash at the convention, as well as the kickoff of our Jade Regent Adventure Path—the first time that an AP travelled outside the bounds of the Inner Sea. But what had me super excited was the unveiling of the Pathfinder Battles line, our new prepainted plastic miniatures partnership with WizKids. We had paint masters of Valeros, Seoni, Kyra and Merisiel at the booth for all to see, as well as an unpainted prototype of the black dragon incentive mini for the first set, Heroes and Monsters. At the ENnies, we brought home the gold for Best Publisher yet again, a truly mind-blowing feat, along with seven other gold ENnies.
Gen Con 2012 is just a month from now and my mind is racing. How will everyone like Ultimate Equipment? Will we have enough plush goblins to last the weekend? Even with our Pathfinder Society room almost three times as large as last year, will it be enough? I can’t wait to see people playing games with our Pathfinder Pawns for the first time. Oh—and wait until everyone sees WizKids’ Rise of the Runelords minis set for the first time in person—people are going to freak! It’s going to be great watching folks playtest the new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game for the first time at Gen Con. And this will be the first year that Goblinworks will be at the con, showing off some of our early visuals for Pathfinder Online. We’ll also have the first issue of the Pathfinder comic book at our booth, complete with a unique Gen Con variant cover! And we’re returning to Varisia in Shattered Star, the first-ever Adventure Path sequel. There’s so much going on I can’t even think of it all! But I do know that I’ll have another year of memories from the Best Four Days in Gaming!
Paizo at Gen Con through the years: