It appears that despite widespread vaccination, several major publishers including Asmodee US and Paizo Publishing will not be physically attending GenCon 2021 this year.
On May 18, Paizo Publishing announced that they would not be physically attending GenCon 2021 on their community website. Considering that this is the studio best known for Pathfinder and the Starfinder series, that is a major lack of presence. They did state that they would still be active at Gen Con Online.
It wasn't until around 9:00 AM this morning that another major publisher spoke up. Asmodee US made their announcement on Twitter, stating, "Asmodee has decided to not physically participate in Gen Con 2021, instead we’ll be focusing our support on Gen Con Online to bring you exciting news + great play together while keeping staff, partners and customers safe."
Shortly thereafter, multiple other studios echoed these statements: not being physically on the show floor but supporting the online side of things. These include Fantasy Flight Games, CATAN Studios, and Z-Man Games, all of which are owned by Asmodee. Even smaller studios like Unexpected Games stated they would be following suit, just as previously Kingdom Death Monster creator Adam Poots had as well. This likely means other Asmodee owned studios, such as Days of Wonder, are unlikely to attend the physical event, even if they have not announced it yet separately. This is all happening before the official sale of badges on GenCon's website, which will go live on May 23. Sadly, this is after the May 16 deadline to rollover any 2020 passes (converted to 2021) to 2022 has come and gone.
As to why so many major studios are not willing to risk attending one of the biggest board game conventions in the country, we have some ideas. First, despite the circulation of vaccines, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic with the COVID-19 virus still spreading and affecting hundreds of thousands of people. The scale of a major convention with hundreds of people cramped in one spot in close quarters is very different from letting under a dozen people enter a restaurant.
Then there is the fact that GenCon is held in Indiana. This is important since the current health guidelines in place regarding vaccination centers are patchy at best, with COVID-19 cases and deaths still being reported. Worse still, a lot of these guidelines and restrictions will be rescinded by June 1, with GenCon happening in September. Simply put, there are too many factors regarding availability of vaccines, diminishing the chance at herd immunity, and the fact that a lot of the laws in place for public health safety will not officially be in effect on the day the convention is being held, barring the State passing new ones. All it would take is one infected individual and the spread could be disastrous.
In this light, it is understandable why these publishers would not risk the trip. As much as we love games, safety comes first, and for some parts of the United States, they're not safe enough just yet.