Origins Game Fair Attendance Down, But Better Than Anticipated

The sales figures for this years Origins Game Fair have been announced, and while the event did experience a decline, the final tally surprised many attendees who expected worse. As reported by ICv2, Origins experienced only a 1.5% dip in badge sales. However, these numbers have been hard to swallow by a gaming community that insists this year's Origins had a distinctly different vibe, one indicative of a much larger drop.

But is the number of badges sold explicitly linked to the vibe of an event? The short answer is no, so I reached out to convention organizers and attendees alike to determine how both the sales figures and observed attendance can both make sense.

Breaking from the tradition of holding Origins in late June, the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA, which runs the Origins Game Fair) shifted the event to the first weekend of the month. This change was made as a proactive move to gain separation from Gen Con, the other major summer gaming event, which will be moving its event from August to July starting in 2015. This change in schedule drew the ire of teachers and those with school-age children who would have liked to attend the entire 5-day event, yet the conflicts did not manifest themselves in badge sales. Weekend badges were actually up, while single-day badges took a hit.

In the final sales count, Origins sold 300 more full-show badges than in 2011, upping that count to 6,845. The drop was in single day badges, which fell by 400 to 4,457. The brings the total number of 2012 Origins badges sold to 11,332, 180 fewer than in 2011, representing the 1.5% drop.

However, the reported figures are in stark contrast to the first-hand accounts of Origins attendees. Attendance was visibly down on Wednesday and Thursday, leading to many anecdotal claims of an observed ~20% drop. Crowds were visibly healthier on Friday and Saturday,  closer to expectations of a typical Origins weekend.

One less person, and a tumbleweed might roll through. This pic of a nearly-empty Origins hall was snapped early on Friday by Corey Young (used with permission).

One theory was that Origins may have used a turnstile counting method for full-show badges. This is a common practice for events such as a comic con or PAX, where full-show attendees are counted as a new person on each day. This typically inflates 30k-person events into 60k+ attendance figures, and in the case of Origins, would have turned their 1.5% drop into an actual 7% drop when corrected. However, in speaking with Joby Miller, Registration & Events Coordinator for Origins, it's been confirmed that each badge count represents an individual person. Consider this turnstile theory debunked.

There's a simpler theory to explain the noticeably low attendance at Origins outside of Friday and Saturday: people bought full-show badges and simply didn't show up. This jives with the primary complaint of the school conflict. It had an undeniable impact on the event's vibe for the first couple of days, yet as soon as the actual weekend hit, attendees showed up in numbers barely distinguishable from previous years.

If the school conflict caused gamers to ditch Origins all together, there would be a cause for concern here. As it stands, people still expressed a desire to attend, and did so as soon as their lives permitted them to do so. Moving forward, Origins has shifted their 2013 dates to the middle of June, so if my theory above is true, the full Origins show should return to its previous form as early as next year.

On a side note, the exhibitor hall booth sales were not impacted by these changes. While some exhibitors did not return following the 2011 event (most notably Fluxx publisher Looney Labs), the expo hall completely sold out due to the Kickstarter-fueled surge of new publishers exhibiting for the first time. Exhibitor booth rentals is where the real event-fueling money comes in, and the fear is that this year's low attendance may leave a bad taste in the mouths of the vendors. Publishers Jolly Roger Games, Plaid Hat Games, and Indie Boards & Cards have all expressed negative opinions of their 2012 Origins experience. Convincing those and others to come back will be what truly determines the longevity of Origins as an event.