Some history of the Indie Games eXplosion: The early years!


Over on Google Plus, James Stuart asked about the history of the IGX. I started typing, and I wanted to preserve it somewhere that I wouldn’t lose it.

Holy smokes, how much detail do you want? Most importantly, how much detail do I want to write?

The IGE did not leap fully formed from the head of Zeus. There were a number of things that had gone before that provided ideas of what worked and what didn’t.

~The Forge Booth at GenCon had run at GenCon 2002, 2003, and 2004. Luke Crane, Vincent Baker, and I participated in 2003 and 2004. Luke had been promoting Burning Wheel heavily at NYC-area conventions since early 2003. By 2005, he had an inventory of other people’s indie games that he’d offer for sale at his booth. This was the kernel of what became “the booth” at Dreamation.

~My wife and I had been attending local gaming conventions in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area since 1998 and GMing games. We ran games that we liked and hoped that people would show up. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. We learned to streamline our pitches, how to liven up our event descriptions, and how to fold a game with insufficient players.

~Personally, I was interested and excited by these weird little games coming out of the Forge and wanted more people to play them. I thought that being able to offer a whole slate of games as a single, related entity would draw more players for everybody, just like the Forge booth did for sales. I even tried to put such a thing together a year earlier at another series of conventions run by Wild Gazebo Productions. Unfortunately, the Wild Gazebo conventions folded up in late 2004.

*Dreamation 2005*
This con is where it all started. I think there were many factors that formed the fertile soil that has grown this particular community. I’ll try to break them down as best I can.

I’m going to show my dyed-in-Forge colors by posting you to links. One of the foundational bits, the incredibly generous and welcoming invitation the Double Exposure made to a bunch of no-name, enthusiastic game designers on their home turf: That continuously helpful, welcoming attitude of Double Exposure has been the bedrock that makes everything else possible. Some convention organizers (particularly circa 2005) treated publishers primarily as an additional revenue source, and Double Exposure has never been like that. They always regarded our success as their success and that is priceless!

And another foundational bit was that fact that, as was kinda common on the Forge in those days, we organized our participation in public: This allowed people (even if it was mostly one another) see what we were planning, get excited about it, and plan to attend the show.

Another bit is that IGE 2005 had an incredible concentration of talent: Vincent Baker running the five-months-old Dogs in the Vineyard. Time Kleinart, Tony Lower-Bausch, Bill White, Keith Senkowski, and myself running our still-in-playtest games The Mountain Witch, Capes, Ganakagok, Conspiracy of Shadows, and With Great Power. In those days when it seemed like d20 could do anything, Tav Behemoth was there with his Masters and Minions series of modules. Some dude in fancy sneakers called Jared Sorensen showed up to chat and actually play some games. Great players (and online posters) like Judd Karlman, Joshua A.C. Newman, Andrew Morris, and Rob Bohl were there.

Because of the concentration of talent and the flurry of convention-fueled posting that followed, the online reputation that Dreamation earned was HUGE. I messed up the rules of My Life with Master and that session still became a thing that people who weren’t even there would talk about about. The Forge has been called an echo chamber, but an echo chamber is what you need when you’re trying to make something loud enough to be heard.

*Trends post-2005*
The importance of consistency cannot be over-stated. The fact that we do this every year meant that not only people who had heard about the indie presence online knew to come to Dreamation to look for good games, but also the convention staff and regular convention attendees who weren’t active online. A lot of people would sign up for one game, enjoy it, and then come back for others, or tell their friends that they had a good experience. Having a group identity made it possible for players to not just follow a single “good GM” from game-to-game, but have faith that every IGE game was going to be new and interesting and like nothing they’d seen before.

Also, the fact that Vinny and Double Exposure was so accommodating to provide booth space as close to the gaming space as possible was HUGE. It gave the event a focal point, a place to check in, to chat with fellow designers and newly-made friends, to hang banners and to show off games that looked as little like traditional RPGs as their game mechanics played like them. Every time we had to move hotels, I was scared that events and booth were going to need to be separated, allowing the energy to dissipate. These days, Dreamation is so big that it has multiple focus points at Jim’s booth, around the bar, the open tables near the waterfall, wherever the LARPers decompress, etc. But having a focal point is very important.

In the early years, we would do parties and try to feed everybody, but we quickly outgrew the capacity to do that.

One of the great things is that there were a number of years (2007-2009, maybe? I don’t recall) that Kat and I couldn’t organize anything, because of life circumstances we were lucky to be able to show up and play. And the community had grown to the point that other people (Emily Care Boss, Joshua A.C. Newman, Jenn “Jennisodes” Steen) stepped up and kept the torch moving and growing.

I’m going to end this ramble here for now. Ask questions! Old, balding guys like me need our memories prodded in order to cough up anything useful.

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