As I attended NYCC last weekend, I was struck by the massive difference between the comics audience and the tabletop gaming audience. There’s a lot of cross-over in various geek-niche interest groups, but the contrast between the comics fans and professionals that I spoke with, and the gamers and professionals at GenCon in August was profound.
Both industries are having a hard time of it in this economy, and have been on a decline for a long time. Both hobbies are losing fans to other pursuits at a fairly regular rate, and not really experiencing an influx of new blood from any source. Both have fans prone to orthodoxy and “nerdrage”, driven to expressions of negativity on the internet with unfortunate regularity. Yet the comics crowd seemed far more energized, positive and hopeful than the gamers — even at the relatively positive GenCon.
Comics have taken a massive hit in the past few years — perhaps even worse, financially, than the gaming market. Individual issue sales continue to plummet, and some estimates place the drop in graphic novel sales (the only positive segment of the past few years) at nearly 30% this year. That’s brutal. Sure, there’s a massive pop-cultural awareness of the hobby’s core properties, thanks largely to Hollywood — but that isn’t translating to success for comics. And yet — the 95,000 people at the NYCC were energized, positive, hopeful and celebratory. Even the new artists that I spoke with were still wanting to break into comics, despite the gloomy news.
Contrast this with the gamers — GenCon was definitely positive this year, 30,000 attendees who actually were spending money and many publishers reporting record sales. But even at this relative love-fest, the negativity was there. Gamers were excited and positive about their own thing, but snarky and dismissive of that thing over there. My game is better that your game. My edition is obviously superior to your edition, and the publishers who tailor to your preferences are corporate shills who are only out for money. The designers I like are more artistically pure and possessed of integrity than the ones you like, who are obviously pushing lowest-common-denominator fast food. The negative poison that you see everywhere online was present even in the supposedly communal “gathering of the tribe”.
I’m sure there was some of that at the comics show — and maybe it just wasn’t as obvious because there were WAY more people there. I don’t know. Maybe it’s also that I’m more keyed-in to notice it with gamers, since I’m very familiar with the patterns and behavior over the time I’ve spent in the business. Again, I don’t know. All I know is that one crowd gave off a uniformly positive energy, genuinely excited to be gathering with people who shared their overall interests, and seemingly thrilled to be exposed to new stuff as well — and the other seemed far more cliquish, divided into camps even when celebrating their hobby.
That’s not even getting into the diversity thing. There were SO MANY MORE women and minorities represented at NYCC — not only the fans, but pros as well. Maybe that has something to do with it — maybe the presence of *actual* divisions (gender, ethnicity) among the base means that they don’t need to find divisions, as appears to be the case with the largely white, upper-middle-class, male gamer culture. Who knows.
What do you think? Has the gaming audience gotten to the point where it’s devouring itself, the negativity having poisoned the discourse to the point where not only are a lot of folks turned off and turned away, but the crowd is dividing past the point of a cohesive hobby?