BGG.con vs. QuakeCon - For The Love of Gaming
by Chris Palmarozzi
Sometime around 2007 began a fascination with an activity I had long since forgotten in my childhood. I have several fond memories of playing board games like Risk and Monopoly. As I got older the lack of any real decision making in those games, and PC releases such as Civilization II, pushed me in the direction of video games to get my strategy fix. Then a friend introduced me to Settlers of Catan and from there began a reinvigoration of my childhood play activity.
In 2010 I attended my first BoardGameGeek.Con (BGG.con). You can find articles about the nooks and crannies of the convention over the internet so I want to share a different perspective. Over the past decade, I have many times attended the giant PC gaming LAN party called QuakeCon. It struck me that there seemed to be a surprisingly low crossover rate between the conventions. After all, both are in Dallas and both boast one of the largest gaming events in the world - QuakeCon drawing about 3,000 and BGG.con drawing 1,000. Both are fun getaways with great people that really enhance the gaming experience past simply playing at home. Yet attending one doesn't really do anything to prepare you for the other. They are as unique as the people who participate.
PeopleThe video games of QuakeCon tend to attract a much younger crowd with people falling in the late high school to the grad school student age groups. I would say that by the time I turn 40 I would feel out of place at QuakeCon, but that might not be the case. Video games are a relatively recent hobby that didn't exist while older generations were growing up. I think as my generation turns into the older generation the age range of video gamers will be as diverse as board gamers.
The typical range of ages at BGG.con extended from 18 to 60 with an average age somewhere around the mid to late 30s. Less children attend BGG.con and unsurprisingly the ones who did came along with a parent. Females were in slightly greater numbers at BGG.con than at QuakeCon and more than I expected. About half of my games included at least one person without a Y chromosome.
My interaction with people at QuakeCon was sporadic as people were excited to get to the gaming, swag, and tournaments. Sure, people like to chat but it almost feels like a means to an end. For example, you might decide you really want to get in some good games of Dawn of War II so you go looking for like minded individuals. A few conversations later may lead to an impromptu tournament or a series of epic 4v4 matches. You have a great time playing and exchanging friendly taunts but chances are you don't even remember your opponents names, if you learned them to begin with.
BGGers were more about the holistic experience. Many were happy to spend time chatting in the drool-worthy games library. If people weren't gaming you would often even find them teaching games to other players in the gaming halls. When someone is ready for a game all it takes is holding a game box in the air or looking for someone doing the same. You might be jumping into a game you've never heard of but at least the company will be friendly, albeit sometimes incredibly slow to make moves. A curse of the hobby and a risk worth taking.
SleepEvery night at BGG.con I ended up going to bed around 2-3 am and waking up at 9:30 so I could eat a free continental breakfast. I lost sleep every night but I did so at a regular pace. Board games really eat into your brain’s capacity so it’s tough to get anything done in the wee hours of the morning. Alternatively, at Quakecon I would sleep anywhere from a few hours to a full night’s sleep depending on caffeine and how mesmerizing the glow of my computer screen was. A lot of the Quakecon sleeping amongst roommates was done in shifts. I remember falling asleep sometime in the afternoon and waking up in the evening to a couple friends walking in, ready to lay down. I also love seeing people crawl under their computers to sleep. These were some dedicated (albeit poor) gamers and it created much more of a party atmosphere than BGG.con did.
SwagSo how about the free stuff? Quakecon is always kind of exciting when it comes to swag. One minute you're playing video games and the next minute you’re part of a competition to win a free t-shirt, mouse, or whatever. The vendors also host competitions throughout the convention which result in some pretty sweet outcomes. One year I played in a Doom 3 competition and I won a $300 AMD processor by outfragging 2 other people and winning a raffle amongst 3 other “winners”. You never know when something is going to be given away at Quakecon and it’s another part of what keeps your rush constantly going.
The rush at BGG.con, on the other hand, hits you in stages. The first is when you walk into the main lobby with all the dexterity games. Register, take your badge, and immediately score 2-3 shrink wrapped games. I arrived on day 2 so the selection was reduced but I still made out with 2 pretty good games. Throughout every day there were scheduled drawings. Some were multiple game packages offered by the BGG staff and some were vendor related such as Thoughthammer’s game drawings. None of the 10 or so people I personally knew won anything, which was disappointing. On the other hand I’ll be making the trek up to Dallas many more times and when I win I hope it becomes as memorable as my $300 processor.
There’s a lot more money in video games and hardware than board games, and vendors love to show off at Quakecon. In 2009 there were couches set up for people to play games on DLP TV complete with full 3D technology thanks to NVIDIA. You will always find a good mix of both console and computer games out in the vendor area. Computers on steroids are set up to display gorgeous graphics and just watching modern technology in action is impressive. But the most noticeable eye candy are the models hired for the event. I imagine some of them get tired with the flirting and geeky ogles but most are good spirited. Games, girls, and gifts - these marketing pros know what their audience wants.
Vendor BoothsThe BGG.con booths were smaller and partially manned by somebody high up on the publisher ladder such as Zev Shlasinger, owner of Z-Man Games, proudly displaying his company's recent and awesome additions to the board game market. There was no flash but you might be able to find a teacher for that game you've been eyeing for the past year. Fumbling over rules is one of the most difficult parts of the board gaming hobby. Having somebody sit down and explain how to play really sells the game to this market as much as anything does for video gamers.
Games, New and OldIt's no surprise that it's cheaper and easier to produce a board game than a video game. The result is that in a year when 10 great PC games hit the market, 50 great board games will too. While I can usually find a demo online to play a video game I'm interested in, it's not so easy to try out a board game. Because of that I felt like there was a lot less pressure to game at Quakecon. I always spent plenty of time in the vendor area, entering tournaments I couldn't win and generally just hanging out with people. At BGG.con, I really felt the need to cram in as many games as I could.
In a sense, a convention like BGG.con is a massive demoing of games. Board games are usually going to cost $30+ in addition to having to find people to play it. So whatever I don’t get to play at BGG.con I can only play if a friend or I just break down and purchase it. The double edged sword of board gaming is that old, good games still have a place in the hobby, meaning the number of games that are "in" keeps growing. By contrast, the number of multiplayer PC games is smaller as modern technology typically obsoletes older games. Although it's possible at QuakeCon to get in a game of a classic like Age of Empires II most of what you will find is limited to a couple dozen titles. To get a sense of how many games get played at BGG.con refer back to the games library link above.
Tournaments and EventsBGG.con offers one big tournament per day. Although I was too enamored by the sight of new-to-me cardboard to partake, they all seemed to be pretty successful. The poker tournament started with around 170 people, had no entry fee, and offered shrink wrapped games for the winners. I actually sat in the poker room for a while to play a game of Dungeon Lords because all of the other tables were in use. So even though I didn't get to play I can attest for a well run tournament. I can also attest that the speaker I foolishly sat right next to was working. Attendees also enjoyed a Tichu tournament (I need to learn that game) and a puzzle hunt (puzzle solving + scavenger hunt). According to some friends, the puzzle hunt had some weird scoring system but overall was a fun experience. These are all just diversions though with gamers playing for the sake of gaming. I daresay winning holds no meaning but it's pretty far from the list of objectives at BGG.con.
On the other hand, QuakeCon is a very competitive group! If there is something that can be turned into a competition, it is. Who can score the most frags on a gaming pro? Who has the coolest modded PC case? Even who has the most porn on their computer. Not everything is officially organized and gamers will often run their own tournaments and competitions. The only rule to follow is no entry charges, but you can usually count on some cool donations. Or at least donations consisting of free swag received from the day before.
QuakeCon is also known for the big money, sponsor endorsed, official tournaments. This year the game was Quake Live with 1v1 and capture the flag contestants playing for bragging rights and cash. Years past have seen id software showcasing their newest game and without any recent releases the easily accessible Quake Live was a good choice for this year's tournament crop.
All that being said, the coolest event at either con had to have been BGG.con's flea market. For one hour people basically host a giant, collective garage sale with things I actually want to buy. About 70 people can register to sell used games in the flea market and they get an hour before anyone else is allowed access. So the advantage to the sellers is they can buy some games early on with limited competition. The advantage to the buyers is that sellers really just want to get rid of these games. You can get some crazy deals during the final seconds of the flea market. One friend bought a $25 game, Roma, for only $2! It's fun working deals, it's fun seeing what's available, and it's one of the few times I have enjoyed shopping.
Closing CommentsThere is no doubt that I will go back to both of these conventions many times throughout my life. I may outgrow QuakeCon because of the narrowly defined, younger age range but that's a ways further in the future than I typically think about. Even though I knew several people at both conventions there has been nobody else amongst my friends that have attended both. That may change in the future but I still don't expect much crossover.
The QuakeCon crowd is energetic, runs wild, and is enthralled by reflex based games. The BGG.con crowd is pensive, courteous, and enjoys careful dexterity games and interesting strategic decisions. Sure, there is some crossover in the game offerings but reflex based board games and multiplayer, turn based strategic video games are rare. Whether its sports, video games, or board games - I love games. I am happy to travel to Dallas for these good times and I'm happy there are good people at both stops to enjoy them with.