Brant Guillory, 24 March 2022
After a 2-year COVID-enforced hiatus, the largest convention that I could conceivably walk to has returned, as Playthrough took over half of the Raleigh Convention Center last weekend.
Sadly, Playthrough doesn’t quite yet have the same level of local visibility around town that something like Origins gets in Columbus, or PrezCon in Charlottesville. If Playthrough keeps growing, though, and becomes more of a “destination convention” instead of just a “big regional convention” then the rest of the city might pay a bit more attention. As it is, Playthrough is still pretty big (~5000 attendees) and covers a lot more ground that most of the smaller hotel-ballroom-based ones. There was some local media coverage in advance of the convention (for example, here and here, and even a mention from the local Spanish TV channel) but nothing that I saw after the weekend reporting on how it went.
click images to enlarge
A panoramic view on Saturday morning from the entry balcony, before descending into the show. Out of sight on the left is one of the concession stands, and out of sight directly below the camera is a good-sized convention-themed merchandise booth. On the right is a large videogaming area. The middle is the vendor/exhibitor area. On the back on the left is the tabletop gaming area. In the far back of the room is the arcade, as well as a small stage area for presentations / seminar talks.
Right when you get onto the convention floor, you’re struck by the quantity of digital gaming rigs, whether consoles, or PC, or (in the back) arcade games. Much more than perhaps any other convention you’re likely to see covered here at the Armchair Dragoons, Playthrough is very digital-heavy.
It makes sense, though, given the quantity of digital game studios here in the Raleigh / RTP area. Much like you can’t sneeze in Minneapolis without hitting someone from a tabletop game company, they are everywhere around the Raleigh area, and they aren’t a bunch of no-names, either. Epic Games (Fortnight) just purchased an old shopping mall to convert to their new HQ. Virtual Heroes (America’s Army) is so close to my house, it’s literally 3 turns1. Ubisoft/Red Storm has a large office in Cary, and Imangi Studios (Temple Run) is about 3 miles north of me. Throw in Funcom, iEntertainment, Spark Plug, Prologue, and Elephant Mouse, and that’s just companies who make games you’ve heard of, off the top of my head. As you’d expect, there are also a lot entrepreneurs breaking off of those ‘name’ companies to forge their own paths, to varying degrees of success.
To that end, there’s a larger percentage of videogame vendors in the bazaar in the middle of the hall. Some of them are game devs, others are selling collectible/vintage merchandise, and others are doing aftermarket support.
All is not lost on the tabletop front, however. While it’s not a dominant presence, there were plenty of vendors with general tabletop merchandise, games, and/or accessories. Some of them were pretty neat, and for the folks that can’t get to Origins or something similar, it’s not too bad. Obviously, we’re taking more photos of these than the digital games, but they accounted for maybe 25% of the vendor spaces.
There was a small paint-and-take, which was nice to see, especially since the tabletop gamers around here can lean a little minis-heavy. The tabletop gaming area was rather expansive, but while the library was rather robust, there weren’t a lot of pick-up games going on, and it seemed folks were waiting for the formal tournaments to kick off. There was a good number of RPGs being played, but let’s face it, pictures of people sitting around a table littered with books and stray papers doesn’t make for compelling photo galleries.
I mentioned the videogame “arcade” earlier. It was mostly aftermarket or custom cabinets, but plenty of games that you’d recognize.
The remaining vendors were either college game “design” programs2 or the usual pop-culture merch booths you see at many of these conventions. One nice touch that I’d never seen before, was the professional studio setup for cosplayers to get high-quality photos taken. That’s a niche I’d never really thought of, but would likely be a pretty big deal somewhere like Origins or GenCon.
Due to family/work scheduling I was not able to spend a lot of time at the convention, so I wasn’t present for the big Civ 6 tournament, or any of the tabletop gaming events. Unlike previous years, where I’d encountered folks like Byron Collins in the exhibitor area, there weren’t a ton of tabletop game companies or game designers to hit up for demos or discussions of their products. Wargames were almost completely absent. That said, Playthrough is designed, and billed, as a “game convention” and not anything more niche than that. They take a very big-tent approach to their programming, and that leaves a lot of room for folks to build their own programs within the larger infrastructure. It’ll be interesting to see how they grow from here.
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