Salt Lake City—Salt Lake Comic Con may be one of the most successful events of its kind in the state, and the nation. Now, its organizers are turning their analytics and keen marketing skills to an event tailor-made for gamers of all stripes.
This weekend’s Salt Lake Gaming Con is the third annual event of its kind and the second one with backing from Salt Lake Comic Con, but the first where Salt Lake Comic Con was able to flex their analytical muscles in preparation of, said Bryan Brandenburg, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Salt Lake Comic Con.
“The analytics showed that people who are interested in things like E3 and PAX were significant, and Utah is a big market for all things gaming. In fact, it’s the largest board game market per capita in the country, I think because of the family-centered nature of the state,” Brandenburg said. “We don’t expect Gaming Con to be as big as Comic Con, but it’s twice as big as last year.”
Gaming Con started in 2015 as an effort by founder Jake Miller to make an event specifically crafted for those who love playing games of the video, board or tabletop varieties. Salt Lake Comic Con announced its involvement a week before last year’s convention, the product of its own acknowledgement of a niche to fill and a timely proposal by Miller, said Brandenburg.
“If you’re a gamer coming to Comic Con we leave you wanting more, so Gaming Con is the answer to that,” he said. “We had done some standalone events with Smash Bros that sold out very quickly, so we did know there was an opportunity certainly with more tournaments that would appeal to a broader set of people than we were able to at Comic Con. … Based on our understanding of the market and our experience in gaming, we decided to take a look at it and decided to do it.”
Because the 50/50 partnership last year came so close to the actual event, Salt Lake Comic Con’s influence was minimal, Brandenburg said, but in the year since, that partnership has become more evident. Bundled passes for both September’s Salt Lake Comic Con and this weekend’s Gaming Con, which included exclusive T-shirts and other items, sold out quickly, he said.
“We wanted them to be kind of exclusive but it kind of demonstrated that there was a thirst for a crossover that made sense,” Brandenburg said.
The partnership with Gaming Con also aligns with Comic Con’s efforts to build a community with its fans. Besides the Smash Bros tournaments, Comic Con regularly offers exclusive screenings of hot movies.
“We feel strongly that Comic Con is a community and it’s a place people can be themselves and find their tribe. Comic Con doesn’t end Saturday night at our event—it’s all year long on our social media and we have movie screenings, because it’s a family,” he said.
While Comic Con, along with its little sister, Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience, are crafted for fans of all kinds of franchises and media, Gaming Con is drawn with a finer point. But like the broader shows, Gaming Con will include appearances and panels with celebrities, such as pro gamers and well-known voice actors from popular games like Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Mass Effect and League of Legends. The convention will also feature video and tabletop game tournaments, a retro arcade, and lots of board games. Unreleased games and VR will be on-site for attendees to try, as well.
Those kinds of experiences—not just meeting other fans, but being able to connect with the people starring in and creating the stories that created the fandoms to begin with—is what sets conventions apart from the glut of instantaneous information on the internet, Brandenburg said. And as with any market, knowing what the audience wants is half the battle.
“I think the future of conventions is about really being able to sit back and say, ‘What can I offer as an experience to this market that they just can’t get in front of a 10-ft TV screen or the fastest computer on earth? Why would they want to get out of their comfortable home and drive down for this experience?'” he said. “I think that’s always going to be there because humans really crave interaction with other humans, and you can’t get that on your phone.”
Salt Lake Gaming Con runs Friday and Saturday at the South Towne Convention Center.