Origins seals record post-Covid attendance, hopes to attract back larger publishers for 50th anniversary next year

GAMA’s annual tabletop gaming convention Origins has sealed a record post-Covid attendance, with visitor numbers up 10% compared to last year’s event.

More than 17,700 people visited this year’s fair in Columbus, Ohio between June 19 and 23, underscoring a steady recovery from the lows of about 10,500 and 11,500 posted in 2021 and 2022, when many people were still reluctant to attend large gatherings in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The recovery in Origins’ visitor numbers has not been as marked as other large conventions, however – Gen Con had already rebounded to its 70,000-plus pre-Covid size last year, Spiel Essen ran its record 2019 figure of 209,000 close in 2023, and this year’s UK Games Expo welcomed more than 39,000 people, up more than 50% on its pre-Covid record. Origins’ record attendance still stands at 20,642, recorded in 2019.

Exhibitor numbers were up about 3.8% this year, reaching 326, with GAMA executive director John Stacy telling BoardGameWire that almost two-thirds of those had already signed up for booths at next year’s fair.

GAMA executive director John Stacy

He said, “A number of them shared with our team that this was one of the best years they had at Origins with strong sales. Several told us that they beat last year’s sales by Friday. Several were sold out of product by Saturday.

“We had many who took advantage of our new product showcase area on the concourse, who had to take their sample copy back early because they needed it to sell to a customer or had sold out of the product. We were very happy to hear that.”

Not all exhibitors experienced strong sales at the fair, however. Writing on the Origins Game Fair Discussion page on Facebook, Mayday Games founder and CEO Seth Hiatt said his company’s booth in the main hall made a loss of more than $6,500 at this year’s event, with sales about one-third the level of what it usually experiences at Gen Con.

He said, “[Our] sales were just bad and the expenses are just really, really high. We sold everything below MSRP and only had a 20×10 booth with three people running it.”

Writing on the same group, Lucky Duck Games chief sales and marketing officer Scott Morris said, “The attendance at 17k+ this year is great to see, but it’s not the show people go to with a high amount of spending money, like they do at Gen Con or PAX U.

“The close proximity to Gen Con coupled with the close timing to Gen Con and the fact most companies (big or small) plan their biggest US/NA releases for Gen Con means it’s not a financially optimal show for some… for many.

“If you go to Origins with a game that has competitive play options, I think it’s a fabulous investment. If you use it to market your game releasing at Gen Con, it can be beneficial, but you have to plan that bit in terms of cost and marketing efforts.

“There are reasons to go, but they have to be business reasons that drive value for the investment, and that’s publisher and product dependent.

“Lastly, it’s not just Origins, but every US show is becoming prohibitive to publishers going to “all” of them, due to insanely high costs of the shows. Travel, hotels, drayage (don’t even get me started on the highway robbery costs of drayage), shipping to and from… it’s a tremendous cost to publishers, and I feel for anyone new trying to make way with that mountain in front of them.”

Some attendees writing online after the event also bemoaned the fair’s lack of larger publishers, including Asmodee, who have attended in the past.

GAMA executive director John Stacy told BoardGameWire, “As you know from the Facebook comments, many attendees would like to see some of the more established publishers back at the show.

“While we would as well, we understand that a number of them have cut back on the number of shows they do each year for a variety of factors including cost, supply logistics, staff time, conflicting shows, and the proximity of Gen Con.

“Some also discovered during the pandemic that they didn’t need to attend as many conventions as they used to and have cut back to just 1-2 events a year. In the equation they go with the best ROI events and for many Origins isn’t that show.”

He added, “We did have representatives from a number of those larger companies mentioned in the Facebook thread that the show. They heard from other publishers how they have done at the show and want to check out the con for themselves.

“We met with many of them to discuss them returning and based on those conversations, I anticipate that a number of them will be back next year for our 50th anniversary.”

GAMA’s new president Nicole Brady told BoardGameWire that technical glitches around registration and badge pickup from previous years – which she dubbed the “elephant in the room” – had been overcome for 2024, and added that a new initiative involving special guests had successfully capitalised on the many celebrities that enjoy the hobby.

GAMA president Nicole Brady

They included The Big Bang Theory actor Kevin Sussman, who took part in panels and a game of celebrity Werewolf, Highlander actor Adrian Paul running a sword experience workshop, and a concert from geek-culture-focused musician Jonathan Coulton, also known as JoCo.

Brady said, “Origins has been known to have a few technical glitches during badge pick up every year. The convention would often start off with negative vibes on social media as a result.

“This year that wasn’t the case. Smooth sailing. The comments on social media were often akin to ‘Holy cow! Badge pickup wasn’t broken this year! I was out of there in xx minutes’.”

She added, “You never know how new initiatives [like the celebrity guests] are going to land and this year was definitely a learning curve.

“Those interactive, attendee-focused aspects of the celebrity contracts are what really shined. The team is already looking at ways to lean into that idea if they decide to revisit the concept next year or beyond.

“There were also many opportunities for people to engage with industry celebrities including game designers, artists and authors.

“You could play a game with a designer, get autographs and selfies or just hang out and chat. It was great to see gamers excited to meet the designer or artist of their favorite games! It was a very welcoming environment.”

Brady also told BoardGameWire she believed there was merit in the convention sticking to a more modest size, rather than chasing down the attendances of larger events.

She said, “It needs to keep its own identity – I think it needs to try to not be another Gen Con, because then it’s just going to be known as trying to be another Gen Con. And I don’t think it needs to, that’s my personal opinion.

“I think people like it the way it is – I hear more and more people saying Gen Con is too big, so they’re trying to find smaller cons, are going to the local cons instead – they’re going to Origins, they’re going to PAX Unplugged. I’d just like to encourage people go to all of them!

“Like, go to Gen Con, go to Origins, go to PAX Unplugged, go to all the small cons, go to your local cons – that’s how you build the industry, right? That’s how you make it better, and you get more opportunities.

She added that Origins had managed to retain a ‘small con’ feel despite its growing numbers, giving visitors the chance to feel more comfortable in their gaming at the event compared to busier conventions.

Brady said, “[At Origins] there’s crowds, but you just don’t feel it in the same way, and it feels like you’re sitting down and playing with your friends – they’re just friends you hadn’t met until you sat down to play a game together.

“Every time that I hear people talking about going to larger conventions: you go to larger conventions, but you almost always sit down with the same people that you would play with at home. And Origins, I think, is where that tips a little different.”

Origins is set to return between June 18 and 22 in 2025.

One comment

  1. It was Outset’s second year exhibiting at Origins. We had a positive experience and found the traffic was strong all 4 days. What surprised us was the number of people who came back this year, having been to our booth last year, looking for what we had new. We will be expanding our booth size in 2025 so we can squeeze in a few more tables.

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