As recently as 2012, WotC had a large presence in the dealer room, selling Magic and D&D products and having art both in the dealer area and in different parts of the ICC. Even then, though, there were complaints from other vendors how WotC being at the con was cannibalizing their own sales -- the only places who didn't seem to mind were the Magic vendors who sold single cards rather than sets/boxes. From a D&D perspective, there was still some 4E product moving, but the Next playtest was in full swing in a location just outside the dealer area, while the Living Forgotten Realms 4E Organized Play campaign had already departed the Sagamore Ballroom and was being run out of a ballroom in the Marriott Downtown.
In 2013, WotC gave up their dealer room space, and moved into Hall D with a giant castle that surrounded their gaming space. Also, perhaps coincidentally, 2013 was the year Paizo became a co-sponsor and took over the Sagamore Ballroom, which had been largely empty for at least a year beforehand.
5E officially launched in 2014 and the Tyranny of Dragons season kicked off. Baldman Games ran the Organized Play campaign out of Hall D, and WotC's castle was still present, but fewer members of the D&D team were given leave to make the trip as WotC's presence continued to downsize. Some staffers made the trip on their own -- Jeremy Crawford was one, as he attended the LGBT gamer panel, as he typically does.
WotC dropped its co-sponsorship of GenCon prior to the 2015 show, and also stopped sending the castle or staff to GenCon that year as well. There was some scuttlebutt over this having to do with Indiana governor Mike Pence signing the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it's not clear that was the real reason, and in fact the absence made perfect sense given the reduction in WotC's presence over the previous two years. D&D and Magic were still represented, with Organized Play being run by third-parties, and other vendors happily selling WotC product on the show floor. In that sense, it makes even more sense that WotC would leave the con -- if their products are selling just as well, and people are still able to play the company's games in an 'official' setting, why bother going yourself?
As someone who's attended GenCon since 2008 and can remember doing the D&D Miniatures game and Dungeon Delve in the Sagamore Ballroom back-in-the-day, I do feel nostalgic for the days when I used to hang around that part of the con seemingly all day. But times change. I'm still looking forward to GenCon, whether I get to gawk at Mike Mearls or not.
Thanks for the history, dwintheiser!
Alec Usticke, Unofficial Gen Con Indy Facebook Discussion Group
WOTC makes many decisions I disagree with. Not supporting the Dragonlance or Axis and Allies lines and leaving Gencon are just some of them.
I'm fairly certain that the NEXT palytest was run by Baldman Games, and the 2013 year didn't have an Official WotC presence. The DnD designers who were there were not part of an "official booth", although they were part of the events.
Honestly, it really feels like either Wotc is in a feud with GenCon for some reason, or WotC isn't doing as well as they let on (which seems silly given, how strong magic is going).
Also Wizards is now a major part of "Hascon", Hasbro's convention for all things Hasbro. It seems likely they knew this was coming in 2015.
The preface for this post is I would actually love to see WotC at Gen Con just to see the booth set up and artwork and such. However the fact that they do not show up doesn't effect me much. See I am currently running a sporadic 5th ed game on Thursdays for a couple of new players. I play in a friends 5th Ed game once a month on Fridays while he tries DMing his first ever campaign and then we have an every other Saturday "serious" campaign. So sometimes I play D&D 5th Ed three times a week.
So when I hit Gen Con I want to play something that I have not been able to con someone else into running for me. When I hit our FLGS the one thing I can bank on to be in stock is D&D (and that copy of Feng Shui 2 that I have been planning on buying for months now). So when I hit the dealer hall D&D isn't going to make it into my trunk space budget. Now I know there are many gamers who hit Gen Con for the D&D and by all means I hope you have an amazing time. I just wonder if my situation is somewhat common and WotC realizes someone will sell D&D and Someone will run D&D. They don't need to pay for a booth and all of the extras to be the ones to do it.
One more observation before this turns into the great American novel. I have noticed that several people at work have seen things like Critical Role or watched Stranger Things, even though they are not table top rpg gamers. Maybe D&D has hit that presence in the chic geek zeitgeist where it is known by gamers and non-gamers and so building that hype isn't as needed as it once was. The 30+ set that I belong to will have nostalgia to make us check out the new happenings and the younger generation have pop culture. Maybe WotC/Hasboro thinks if you are showing up to a convention for table top gamming you already know about D&D, if you go to say origins maybe that last Dragon Age/Witcher game makes you a good candidate for a sells pitch.
People keep saying WotC was at Origins, but they sure didn't have a booth in the exhibit hall. I didn't see them in the large gaming hall adjacent to the exhibit hall where many companies set up. In fact I don't recall even seeing them anywhere. Now they very well could have been there and I missed them...but that says that their presence was quite missable.
Edit: In my opinion, a company like WotC having a presence at a convention is about much more than just having games run, or even just having a booth. Back in the day there used to be seminars and panels about D&D, places you could learn stuff about your games that was exclusive to coming to Gen Con. Losing those is, to me, the true loss of WotC deciding it doesn't care about us any more. Pathfinder today really is everything that D&D used to be.
People are equating WoTC not being at Gen Con as they don't care about their consumers. Would it be nice to have them there...sure. But I do like the fact we're seeing the stuff we might get in a seminar on their Twitch channel and they are going to more local cons which makes them more accessible. So I don't think thats the case (them not caring about us) at all.
BTW - if you think D&D is playing second fiddle to Pathfinder...you may want to look at industry numbers because there are far more D&D players (at least now). When 3rd ed. came out...it might have been a different story. But I digress.
WoTC products will be well represented at Gen Con it might not be what you want but it appears to be working for WoTC.
Sounds pretty inexpensive to just "send people". Why wouldn't they do the same for Gen Con?
Are the M:tG tournaments and such sponsored by Wizards? Maybe that's where they've decided their dollars are best focused?
I asked if we would ever see the airy water spell again in 5e, or if spell casters can cast spells with verbal components while under water using a water breathing spell.
I will confess I miss there presence in the Expo - especially how it was back in the early 00s and late 90s when they had AWESOME events to do in the Dealer's Hall and you could spin their wheel after doing a certain # of demos and things. I loved their booth, it was always my first stop and I even bought non-Magic related stuff from them (Star Wars game stuff, etc). It's sad they are gone altogether - at least as a WOC company - and I will remember them fondly. Hopefully some year they come back!
I am a huge fan of WotC and of course I'm bummed that they don't have an official presence there, but the flipside of "go big or go home" is that sometimes you do go home. Anything less than a massive investment would make them look bad. They probably looked at the prospect of an escalating bidding war with Pathfinder, ran some numbers on what that same amount of $$$ could get them elsewhere, and decided that was a better investment.
It's not $ that is an issue here.