Las Vegas, Nevada. The GAMA (Game Manufacturer's Association) Trade Show opened big at the Orleans Hotel here on Monday, March 19 with as many badges distributed the day before the exhibits opened as were distributed during the entire show run last year (around 1150). The number of retail organizations attending was expected to exceed 300, easily beating last year's number. The show has been growing rapidly in recent years, and now seems to be hitting the kind of critical mass that's making it a 'must-attend' for exhibitors and retailers that have anything to do with ccgs, rpgs, miniature games or anything close to them. While the number of attendees is small relative to something like Toy Fair, it's the largest group of pop culture retailers ever at an independently organized trade show (the old distributor shows used to draw larger numbers). Much of the current success of the show must be laid at the feet of GAMA Executive Director Mark Matthew-Simmons, who's now been helming it for three years, each better and larger than the last.
Programming was the order of the day on Monday, with seminars in the retailer track on retailer Point of Sale systems, human resources, product diversification, and more. D.P. 'Vern' Vernazzarro, who in addition to serving as the head of the Retail Division of GAMA and running his store also hosts the Game Industry Forum on Delphi, organized the retailer track. There were over a hundred people in the Game Industry Forum Live session on Monday afternoon, with spirited discussions of topics ranging from pre-solicitation of new products to board games in specialty stores. The Forum is one of the loci of new energy in the game industry, and ICv2 recommends it to retailers interested in talking to other industry participants about topics of interest to the trade (e-mail GameForum@hotmail.com with your name and store info for a password to get into this trade-only site). There was also programming for manufacturers and distributors, and most meal events were sponsored for buyer attendees. With the low costs of getting to and staying in Las Vegas, the sponsored meal functions, and the high value of the event for participants, it's clear that one of the reasons the GAMA Trade Show has been growing in recent years is the high ratio of benefits to costs for retailers.
The sold-out Exhibit Halls opened on Tuesday, and aisles were crowded, booths were busy, and a generally positive buzz pervaded the event. Sales seem to be good across the board in the game category, with particular strength coming from RPGs, which are seeing a new resurgence fueled by the release of D&D3E last year, the release of other games based on the D20 game system, and a general upsurge of interest. CCGs remain active, with the slack created by the continuing decline of Pokemon being taken up by Magic and a host of strong original and licensed games either out now or coming in the next six months. And Mage Knight is re-invigorating miniature games with its clever packaging and marketing. With this kind of broad-based strength--not based on any particular game or type of game--the game industry appears poised for a very good year in 2001.