Despite a scaled down exhibitor roster and buyer attendance that dropped 18%, attendees and exhibitors at GAMA Trade Show were surprisingly optimistic over-all, with upbeat hopes for the hobby game business in 2009. 


“The show was awesome for us,” Anthony Gallela of Bucephalus Games told us.  “We made 80 or more orders.  I had seven salespeople here who were constantly busy.  People were very excited, very optimistic about what was going on this year.  I didn’t hear any pessimism at all.  And they were excited about our line, but they were just excited in general about what they were doing.”


Bandai’s James Takenaka was upbeat about the attendance at the company’s Battle Spirits tournament.  “We got 90 players,” he said.  “We gave away $4000 in cash, but the best thing that happened was that all the retailers were very pleased with the game.  Everyone seems to be looking for something to replace that one card game that’s not doing that well at their store.”  


Some exhibitors were less positive, noting the lower attendance and decrying the expense of having more people there than they needed to handle the traffic at their booths. 


The backdrop was the cratering convention business in Las Vegas, where over 400 conventions were cancelled between October 2008 and March 2009.  Certainly the economy had a negative impact on both exhibitors and attendance, according to GAMA spokesperson John Kaufeld.


But management changes at GAMA, which turned over key personnel late last year as preparations for the show reached a high pitch (see “GAMA Goes Outside for New ED” and “GAMA Hires Kaufeld”), probably also had an impact.  Internal projections were for a decline of as much as 40%, so the 18% drop was seen as a win vs. the prevailing trends.     


Some major exhibitors did not participate in the show this year, including Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo Publishing, but longtime mainstays did exhibit, with Konami a major new addition.  Some exhibitors took less space than they had in the past, with Wizards of the Coast, for example, bringing a booth it has used for book shows in the past rather than its bigger gaming booth.  Kaufeld told us that Konami, Battlefront Miniatures, Wizards of the Coast, and Upper Deck were among the top draws for the show.  He was not able to tell us the change in exhibit space sold, but did acknowledge that both the number of exhibitors and total space sold were down. 


Despite the reduced sponsorships of recent years, some meals were provided for attendees, and the costs for retailers to attend the show, both in lodging and food, were down from past years due to the price cutting that is becoming the norm in Vegas this year. 


With the ending of Gen Con Trade Day this year, GAMA Trade Show is once again the only independent event for hobby game retailers on the convention calendar.  And while the show’s value may have declined somewhat, most participants still feel it’s an important event and one that’s well worth supporting.