As the hobby grew, not only did the number of gamers increase, so also did the number of publishers. It had become deceptively easier to get into the publishing business. This was aided considerably by the emergence of national conventions in the mid-1970s. The conventions had a few other effects also. The first "national" convention was Origins. It was held in 1975 and owing to the vigorous promotion by Avalon Hill and SPI, it attracted a nationwide audience. Although the "nationwide" aspect was more publicity than reality, about 10 percent of the attendees did come from beyond "driving range" (a couple of hundred miles). Origins subsequently became an annual event, being held either in June or July. The site was changed because nobody wanted to be stuck with the enormous amount of work necessary to put on the convention each year. Avalon Hill did the first two, SPI did the third in New York and so it keeps moving, like the proverbial pre-19th century army, unable to stop in one place too long, lest it exhaust the local resources and die of starvation.
The conventions, like most things in wargaming, were not similar to those of any other industry. There were a number of major differences. first, there were the manufacturers selling their wares at retail. This usually is not done. There are conventions where dealers will sell goods at retail prices, but not the manufacturers themselves. Not only do the manufacturers sell their goods at Origins, but they also use Origins as a convenient date to release new games. This practice has acquired a life of its own and while some case can be made for it in a business and marketing sense, releasing new games at Origins has become more a matter of one-upmanship than anything else.
In addition to the dealers area (which is probably the single best attended and most popular area at any convention) there are the seminar panels, lectures and demonstrations. Here all of the "professionals" in the hobby get together, talk to, talk at, listen to, lecture to and generally commune with their customers, the gamers. I have found the most remunerative approach to these seminars is to make them as two-way as possible. You can learn a lot from your customers. Gamers are not dummies and working on games for a living tends to produce blind spots in the "professional."
The third unique quality of the conventions was the people playing the games-not just in the formal tournaments for prizes and awards but just open gaming. On any flat surface you could see, somebody would be playing some kind of a game-new games, old games, sometimes not even wargames. After spending the previous year studying games, or just giving them a quick look, this is one opportunity many wargamers have to actually play them.
The conventions also tend to be, as most conventions are, one vast social experience. I'm a shy person by nature but even I get energized by running into so many interesting people. I run around without a name tag on, I'd rather talk to gamers as one gamer to another. I'm not interested in whatever illusion the gamer might have developed about who Jim Dunnigan is.
The average gamer is going to come to Origins with (as a per capita average) over $100. He's going to spend it all on whatever he sees at the convention. This is an ideal opportunity for a new company to buy a booth (a few hundred dollars) and maybe sell a few hundred copies of the game. You get noticed and, more importantly, you get firsthand information on how your game is received. Also importantly, you come to see other game publishers, especially those your size. You get to talk shop.
There are also several large regional conventions held every year. In addition, there are a dozen or so smaller conventions. The regional conventions generally bring in a thousand or more people. It must be remembered that even Origins is essentially a regional convention that draws a certain number of people from outside the immediate area it is held in and gets some attention from the national news media as well as fairly full participation by most dealers.
But, aside from that, it depends upon the local population for its attendance. Most of the conventions are held in the summer. All of these conventions are primarily dependent upon local organizers.
The Magazines and Newsletters
While the conventions were a direct result of gamer participation and activity, the "professionals" of the hobby expressed themselves in one other area: publishing game-related magazines.
Strategy and Tactics followed in the footsteps of Avalon Hill's The General (first published in 1964). About the same time the first issue of S&T came out (1967), others came out, some of which still exist. In the mid-1970s, Fire and Movement was begun. In the 1972 SPI began publishing Moves magazine and in 1980 started Ares (a science fiction gaming magazine). SPI even made an abortive attempt to publish a newsletter (DataBus) on computer wargames in 1975, but, obviously, they were a little too early at that point. Also coming out in the mid 1970s was the Dragon (from TSR, primarily about role-playing fantasy games) and a number of other smaller journals. These journals ("zines") usually provided the most lively and outrageous reading. They were truly personal but had very low circulations (rarely more than a thousand subscribers). Even most of the other magazines rarely had more than 10,000 in circulation. The sole exception was Strategy and Tactics, which reached a peak circulation of nearly 37,000 copies per issue in 1980. The actual readership was more than 100,000, giving it the widest reach of any gaming publication. Most of the early magazines are still around, and provide the center for a very thinly distributed readership.
The "Serial Games"
Dungeons & Dragons was more than an innovative and popular progenator of a new game genre. It also owed much of its financial success to the "serial game" concept. Think of cameras and film. You buy a camera with a roll of film, and when that roll of film is gone you have an urge to buy another roll of film, and another and another. Film sales are quite a bit higher than camera sales. Dungeons & Dragons operated the same way, with the basic game generating additional play value if you bought what eventually became hundred of additional books, scenarios, figurines, dice and so on. Avalon Hill was one of the few to do the same thing with a wargame. Their Squad Leader game, published in 1977, had additional sets of scenarios and playing pieces published every year or so up to the early 1990s. Also in 1977, GDW published their science fiction RPG "Traveller," which, like other RPGs, generated enormous demand for additional materials. By the end of the 1980s, most other wargame publishers had done the same. The serial game concept caused the game market to fragment into groups of gamers who tended to specialize in a particular game for the long term. Wargamers saw more of their members depart the fold because of this.
Hey, Let's Start a Wargame Company in the Basement!
Into the 80's
Table of Contents
Chapter 5 Contents