Organizers of Calgary’s first-ever gaming convention attribute the weekend’s massive success to pent-up demand for this kind of event.
Thousands streamed into the BMO Centre over the weekend for the Game Con Canada exhibition in Calgary, where gamers of all types could take in the latest and greatest in gaming.
Attendees were able to find their favourite board games, video games, VR, and gear in the show held over three days.
Chris Meilleur, CEO of MeiBel Consulting and Game Con Canada said that they were expecting a ramp-up on Friday.
“Then today (Saturday) we got absolutely slammed,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s numbers look great, and I think we’re going to have another busy day. So, it’s been fantastic.”
Meilleur said Calgary’s had a few smaller e-sports or gaming activations, but nothing on this scale. He said there’s been nothing in Calgary that’s brought everything together – like they have in other cities like Seattle or in Germany.
“That’s why we wanted to try to tackle this because… we love going to other cons, and we’re tired of having to go to those other cons,” he said.
“We wanted to do something here on our own home turf.”
Meilleur said he and his business partner operate conferences in various locations in North America. In between the hectic convention pace, they’d often meet up on Monday mornings to talk about the new games they’d played with their kids over the weekend.
During Covid they began planning the gaming convention.
“We were talking about it and we’re like, ‘why is nobody doing this?’ Meilleur said.
They reached out to corporate partners with a vision for the Game Con and put the plan in motion.
Local board game production
Calgary-based Michif Media brought one of their conceptual educational games to Game Con: Métis Pimohtemin. It’s a cross between Catan and Monopoly where players move around the board to different forts and collect resources to help build settlements.
Eventually, players must have enough resources to build the Red River settlement (now Winnipeg). Players can hunt beaver or buffalo, trade, find herbs for healing and collect Métis folklore cards.
Riley Wiess and Amanda Fox with Michif Media said a lot of time, attention and historical detail went into the game. They’ve worked with historians and First Nation Elders to bring the game to life.
It’s been two years in the making and they’re still tweaking.
Wiess, who’s from Chilliwack, British Columbia, and his business partner, Calgarian Mike Parks, are history buffs, he said.
“I’ve always loved education and just love spreading it,” Wiess said.
“So, it started with passion and then just really getting into so many cool avenues.”
Wiess said they were at Game Con raising awareness of their upcoming Kickstarter and testing the waters with the general gaming audience. Being educational in focus, obviously, they have teachers coming up and asking them about the game.
“They’re probably our main audience – ‘I gotta get this’ I want to get this for my class,’ so we have people like that all the time,” Wiess said.
“We just wanted to see how the general gamer perceives it, and so far, it’s been fantastic.
Back for another year
Meilleur said they had a number of their corporate sponsors come out to see the response and how an event like this would fly in Calgary.
He said those sponsors are now already talking with them about next year and maybe even expanding to other parts of Canada.
“We’ve got a lot more companies already reaching out to us going, ‘is there going to be space for next year?’” Meilleur said.
He even noted the potential for expanded space with the new BMO Centre coming online in 2024.
“There’s more room and we want more activations,” Meilleur said.
“We want people doing hands-on activities. This whole con is about board games and video games and AR and VR with some retail.”
There’s an educational component as well. The University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge and others – along with local independent gaming companies – had booths set up showing attendees that there’s a career in something that’s fun, Meilleur said.
“We can tie that all together,” he said.
The big win is having people that entered as so-called non-gamers, with a gamer friend and then walking out as a convert.
“They were here with a gamer and discovered something they really liked and enjoyed,” Meilleur said.
Next year, the goal is to attract more video game studios, plus a bigger push for indie developers. Meilleur would like to see a program set up for them to help raise awareness for their work.