The world of gaming conventions grows ever larger, and for the longest time there was a distinct void in the New York City area. Despite being a major city on the east coast, New York really hasn’t had much in the way of dedicated gaming conventions. Sure, you might see developers at Anime NYC or NYCC, but there wasn’t a Big Apple equivalent of PAX. That was the case until last year’s inaugural Play NYC, an event produced by Playcrafting CEO Dan Butchko that aimed to be the premiere gaming convention for the city that never sleeps. I had a chat with Mr. Butchko about how last year’s convention played out and what we can expect to see this year.
Play NYC spent its first year at Terminal 5, but this year it’ll be moving to the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center. One of the first things I noticed in my research was a tiny downgrade in overall floor space compared to the first year’s venue; this seemed quite puzzling to me for a convention that met its attendance goals. “There’s a couple different things that we’re doing so that we can make sure that we can fit even more people there this year,” Mr. Butchko began. “On one hand, the show floor itself is open longer and on the other hand, we wanted to find a new home for Play NYC that could be its home for years to come. The Manhattan Center is like the parent of the Hammerstein Ballroom [and] it actually includes a number of other smaller venues. We’re able to fit more people in the Hammerstein Ballroom this year because of the programmatic changes that we’ve made but really the idea here is that in the years to come we start growing out to take over not just the Hammerstein but the Grand Ballroom, the Bank space, part of the hotel that’s in there. It’s a huge complex itself and I think that’s really how we’re gonna be able to have it supported and grow over time in that space.”
Terminal 5 was certainly a nice venue, but conventions of any sort do indeed require room for expansion. A good portion of our conversation was spent talking about the crazy amounts of logistical planning that has to go into such an event. Otakon was a favored example of mine; the very first one had a few hundred people, and nearly two decades later the whole show had to pack up and move to Washington D.C. because the city of Baltimore ran out of space.
Once the ball really gets rolling, popular conventions can book out a dozen hotels in their entirety and occupy several buildings worth of space. This challenge is all the more severe in Manhattan and is best exemplified by New York Comic Con, which had over 200,000 attendees across four days last year. NYCC 2018 will be split across the Javits Center, the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, and the Hudson Mercantile—and it’s only 12 years old. Quite the rapid growth in a city without a lot of room, and Play NYC is setting itself up for a similarly powerful pace.
“We’re aiming for ten thousand [attendees],” Dan began. “It’s a challenge, of course. The only data point we have so far is one year that was five thousand so we’re confident in saying we’ll be between five and ten thousand. The goal is to get to ten thousand. We want to fill it up to capacity. And if we can’t, then we want to get to ten thousand and over ten thousand next year.”
That’s certainly possible, all the more so because Play NYC is being hosted in a much more convenient location. Getting to Terminal 5 from outside the city necessitated taking a train from the heart of Manhattan further north. Now, the Manhattan Center is right next to the 34th Street PATH station and not too far away from other transport hubs. The Hammerstein Ballroom has served as the venue for everything from rock concerts to America’s Got Talent and even professional wrestling matches. It won’t be too much longer before they can add “gaming convention” to the list.
Aside from a new venue, some new changes are coming to Play NYC as well. The first year had an entertaining stream running throughout the show. Panels & industry talks were split off in a separate location with access granted only to the press and pro pass holders. This year, the panels will be featured as part of the overall main show in one complete package so no one has to go offsite or risk missing out.
Another interesting site to see at Play NYC was the “Graffiti Games”, a series of experimental games that were commissioned from local developers. This year, the games will be inside the opera boxes of the Hammerstein Ballroom. “They have this really cool visual flair to them because they literally frame the stage of the Hammerstein Ballroom,” Mr. Butchko said. “They’re completely accessible from all floors because there’s an internal stairwell that’s connecting the main floor to the second floor and the third floor. Those will be experiences that are things you can only get at Play NYC.”
Some answers to my questions were the same as last year. There won’t yet be any dedicated artist’s alley or dealer’s room. Some people will be selling their games at their booths, but every booth has a requirement to be interactive so a shop (and nothing else) is somewhat out of the question. The show will run from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM with tickets sold for five hour blocks, essentially splitting the convention into four “shifts”. When I asked about the possibility of all-access passes for a day or the entire weekend, Dan made it clear that it was all about community feedback and the numbers. If they feel their exhibitors and attendees want to move in a certain direction, they’ll certainly explore it.
Play NYC is shaping up to be a great show that will shine a spotlight on indie developers from New York and some heavy hitters to boot—Avalanche Studios has signed on for the second year in the row to make a showing. A lot of surprises are still in store, and I’m quite excited to have the opportunity to play some awesome games in person again. We’ll certainly be covering Play NYC during and after the event!
If you’d like to grab tickets for Play NYC, head on over to the convention’s official website and snap them up before they’re gone for good. You can also steal a peek at the list of exhibitors that have been confirmed so far. Play NYC 2018 will be taking place on August 11 & 12, 2018.
What do you think of Play NYC? Do you think New York City can sustain a dedicated gaming convention? What do you hope to see in a show like this? Let us know in the comments below!