Gaming industry works to recover as pandemic challenges continue

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The return of the Midwinter Gaming Convention to downtown Milwaukee was a big relief for event organizer Anne Holmes.

"Word's can't describe how amazing this weekend has been," Holmes explained Sunday morning as the convention prepared to kick off its last day. "Attendance might be lower than we've had in the past, but the energy's just as high and we're having even more fun, I would think, just because it's been so long since we've had the opportunity to do this."

Holmes was forced to cancel the convention in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions. In 2022, she said attendance is down about 25 percent, adding that the convention is missing about 15 vendors that had to cancel their plans to attend.

Those who did make the trip were grateful for the opportunity to share their product with customers in-person once again.

"The pandemic probably lost us anywhere between 20 to 25, maybe 30 conventions in total," explained Jimmy Sanders, owner of Mythica Gaming. "Most of my sales really are directly tied to the conventions. Without the conventions, Mythica Gaming wouldn't really exist."

For Milwaukee's own Jason Crayton and his partners, the Midwinter convention is the first for their new game, Factions Battlegrounds.

"We figured, if we're going to do a convention, we might as well start in Milwaukee where the genesis of this game started," Crayton explained, adding that the group has had to focus on a social media strategy due to convention cancellations over the last two years. "It's been a lot to navigate as we've been getting the game ready and actually going through production."

Along with the convention cancelations comes another issue caused by the pandemic; supply chain delays. Both Sanders and Crayton say their companies have been impacted by shipping delays.

"Currently, our game is on the boat for the North American copies to actually get over here," Crayton explained. "We had to rush some copies for the convention. So, we have our dozen copies, but that's about it. All the other hundreds are still on the boat, currently."

Those delays can cost the small businesses revenue and the chance to showcase their product to new audiences.

"My most recent one (game) I got published, it got to the U.S. port in New York and it took about seven to eight weeks to get off the boat and shipped to me," Sanders explained. "Normally, the process is two or three weeks at most. I missed three conventions of selling that product, so that right there cost me money."

According to Holmes, the challenges that the pandemic has presented make it even more important for people to support small, local game designers and shops.

"If people are able to shop them, even if they don't have, maybe, the game that they're looking for, it's definitely a huge help," Holmes explained. "Especially over some of the big box places that can just ship them from whatever large warehouse they have."

Holmes says work is already underway for planning the 2023 convention, adding that attendees can expect the same hometown feel from years past.

"We really want to keep the feel of the community that we have and just continue to grow grassroots style," Holmes said. "Getting the people in who believe in what we're doing and the companies that need our help."

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