Well, it happened again. GenCon Oz was cancelled for another year.
Since the convention’s failure to appear in 2010, organiser Ian Houlihan had been building hype for its return. For three weeks, the management had promised a Special Announcement to its thousands of Facebook fans, and at 12:36am on Friday, they finally dropped the bombshell:
One of Brisbane’s largest games and entertainment Expos “Gen Con Australia” regrets to announce that the annual show will not return in 2011. Show licensees, Eventions Creative Event Management Pty Ltd have concluded that the show cannot proceed in its current format, in today’s economic climate and will also forgo the renewal of their license from Gen Con LLC for future years.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people are outraged. The first comment, delivered a minute later, was simply: “fuckkkkkk you”. And then better-articulated outrage, followed by commiseration, before finally degenerating into a series of ad hominem attacks at those who dared to express their dismay in the first place.
Several convention organisers and professional event managers have told me that GenCon LLC’s licencing requirements forced Eventions into a financially untenable position. Others have hinted the lengths to which Houlihan had to go to secure finance, and the impact on his and his family’s physical wellbeing.
By all accounts, Houlihan’s enthusiasm and commitment to bringing GenCon to Australian shores were exemplary. But the decisions he made, the risks he took and his delays in informing the public all took place in a business context and not in some abstract fandom utopia: they had real consequences not just to Houlihan and Eventions, but to the wider tabletop, electronic and cosplay communities.
So, too, has the domestic gaming industry suffered, from established operators seeking to expand their custom, to new enterprises who rely on the existence of a national flagship event like GenCon Oz in order to enter the market. And at a time when Brisbane hospitality and retail sectors need every last dollar in order to recover from nature’s cruel caprice…
Given recent flood damage to Brisbane, it’s not so surprising that GenCon Oz should be cancelled; Brisbane Convention Centre is, after all, only a block from the river. However, there was no mention of the series of natural disasters which have plagued Queensland this year—once again, as in 2010, Eventions blamed the state of the global economy.
But Australia was barely touched by the financial crisis, and now that the Australian Dollar has achieved better-than-parity with the Greenback, Australians are flocking to purchase imports. Whilst shipping personnel to our shores might be a more expensive proposition for overseas companies, they can capitalise on the exchange rate to increase their profits on merchandise, as can local distributors. The impact of the global economy is marginal at worst.
What GenCon Oz lacked—its Facebook page said as much last year—was capital. Although its attendance reportedly made it the second- or third-largest such convention in the world, stallholders complained that these figures didn’t translate into sales, or at least not enough to justify the exhibitors’ fees and the cost of travel to Brisbane. GenCon Oz’ failure to deliver in 2010 had also shaken retailers’ confidence, and by December, the convention was reduced to holding a fire sale on merchandise to raise funds. All the while, its fans were promised a triumphant return in 2011.
Despite its failures, GenCon Oz still had fan goodwill in spades. Given the country’s first taste of large, US-style conventions, Australian fans looked forward to a repeat of 2008, even given 2009’s poor organisation and aggressive security presence, and the collapse of 2010’s show two months out from the event. But with this latest news, delivered after 18 months of empty promises, that goodwill seems to have soured.
In short, the GenCon Oz brand has become tainted and any subsequent licencee will need to spend several years rebuilding trust before an event of similar magnitude can even be attempted. Celebrity guests, all too often the drawcard for non-gaming attendees, will be less willing to lend their names—or allocate their time months or years in advance—to an event whose reputation and continued existence are in doubt.
For all intents and purposes, GenCon Oz is dead.