Gen Con is almost upon us again, and this year Gen Con is applying some e-book and Internet media techniques to save paper and, hopefully, enhance the convention-going experience.

The most obvious is, of course, the digital program guide. The PDF version of the paper guide that will be printed up and made available at the convention can be downloaded into whatever computer or mobile device you like for easy browsing. This will be useful for attendees, and will also show those who couldn’t make it what sorts of things they’ll be missing.

But the biggest news for this year is that Gen Con has decided to take a number of sustainability initiatives—including ceasing to print its event catalog in the paper program guide. The paper guide couldn’t be updated once it had been printed, which meant that it could be out of date even before it hit the convention center floor—and it couldn’t cover all of the 17,000 events Gen Con hosts in any case.

Instead, Gen Con is advising attendees to rely upon its web-based event database. The site is designed to be mobile-device-friendly, so it can be browsed or searched from the smartphones or tablets that are ubiquitous these days. (This is a better move than trying to support a dedicated mobile app, as it has in years past.) The website will also show whether an event still has tickets available, and permit ordering them right from one’s phone or tablet.

The difference is pretty obvious. The Gen Con 2016 and 2017 program guides were 306 pages each. The 2018 program guide is 164. The Gen Con press release notes that the convention is reducing its paper usage by three million pages, saving more than 130 trees. (That’s a lot of program guides—and a lot of trees.) And that’s not the only step Gen Con is taking, either.

New in 2018, Gen Con will offer “unboxing stations,” where attendees can recycle their gaming components and packaging materials, including cellophane wrap and interior cardboard components. Gen Con also has committed to making at least 25% of its signage either recyclable, multi-year, or repurposed. The convention plans to increase this percentage each year.

Good for Gen Con! Paper might be a renewable resource, but it’s still a good idea to use less of it because it does take time to renew.

When I asked for comments about the removal of the program listings on the “Fans of Gen Con” unofficial Facebook community, opinions were mixed. Some attendees were disappointed, reflecting that the catalog had been a lot easier to flip through to browse available options at any given time. They also pointed out that mobile bandwidth in the convention center could be spotty, making it tricky to connect sometimes, and a few people don’t even carry mobile devices at all. However, others pointed out that the printed listing had always been an often out-of-date mess, and preferred being able to search for specific things rather than having to hunt through multiple columns of tiny print. The slimmer program guide will also mean less weight to tote around.

It’s interesting to see how digital and ebook technology can always find new uses, even in a convention that’s been running for over fifty years. It will be interesting to see how this change works out in practice over the upcoming convention.

con catalogs cat
The convention catalogs…and my cat.

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