Sunday, 29 June 2014

Building a Tabletop Games Convention

This post has changed format a couple of times in the past few weeks largely down to technical issues (not the fault of my new tablet I'm sure!).

Anyway, I've had some feedback on my recent posts (more wanted) on what constitutes a tabletop games convention and the current position in Scotland on that front.
What I'd like to do now is assess the component parts of that, almost treating it like a mini-project plan.  Please don't switch off or ask what "methodology" I'm using as this is me spelling it out generally.

Running Costs
May as well start with the £££ signs. Things that cost money to organise a convention (assuming it's being run in an empty space).
  • Hall / Venue Hire
  • Tables (because they don't come for free!)
  • Insurance, Licensing (if alcohol is incorporated), Health and Safety (First Aider etc)
  • Guests (Not necessarily paying them to attend but covering travel & expenses)
  • Promotion (Programmes, Prizes, T-Shirts, Other printable items like flyers, tickets, banners etc) + Website (Incorporating online booking for the convention and any specific events within that)
That's a high level summary of what the things are. There is more to it than this though but gives you a flavour of what's involved.

Attendance Costs
The charging model can work in a variety of ways but let's assuming the venue has "associated accommodation" whether that because we're actually using a hotel or something else.
  • Ticket price v Event price.  Looking at Conpulsion it's a single ticket price for the whole weekend with the exception of CCG/TCG/LCG events where product and prizes are involved.  Other cons use an entry price for the convention with an additional price per event planned to participate in (cost varies depending on the specific event).  I think the latter makes more commercial sense but may be off putting to attendees who aren't used to that.
  • Accommodation.  Ideally need to be able to offer an all-inclusive element.  This is of course depending on whether this is a 1 day event or multi-day event.
  • Food / Drink - Some sort of preferential rate is preferred here.  If only to try and offset attendance costs and to show that the organisers are willing to address the overall attendance cost.  That has to be offset with an anticipated attendance level of course...  Oh and gamers do like a drink (well those of requisite age anyway) so a subsidised bar might be a wise move too.
So the 2 halves of Running Costs and Attendance Costs need to come together somehow even if that's to achieve a break-even level of financing.  Personally I'd rather see the event make a decent profit to be rolled forward in a subsequent event the next year which brings us onto....

Well you gotta run it some time!  Why not today or next week or 12 weeks from now?  The trick with timing is finding a slot that's waiting for an event.
  • Where does this fit into the overall hobby calendar?  Specifically this has to educate the events that the organises want to host e.g. Don't conflict with a new release of a CCG/TCG/LCG UNLESS you can host that event as part of the convention (which would need retailer support).
  • What other events should be avoided at all costs?  Similarly don't clash with key wargaming shows in the calendar to ensure attendee availability isn't under challenge.
  • What other events should be aligned with to reap some knock on benefits from? E.g. Is it aligned with Gen Con or Essen to enable first UK availability of a new product?
Picking a location that is easy to get to and doesn't feel like a hassle for anyone.  Yeah, like that happens...

  • Parking.  Lots of.  Preferably free or subsidised.
  • Good road links. From all directions...
  • Public Transport.  Lots of options. Preferably within 5 minutes walk.
  • Convenience.  Where's the nearest supermarket?  Cash point (assuming there isn't one on site)?
  • Flexible access.  So if you're pitching for the family market you're going to need to be able to get baby buggies in. Plus you've got to consider wheelchairs.
Oh yeah the attendees are going to actually want to do stuff.  Running events means you need
  • Co-ordinators.  To ensure that each event or format or some other breakdown of event types runs according to plan.  They need to be decisive, informed and focussed on ensuring that the attendee has the best possible experience when there.
  • Gear.  Having tables to play games on is kinda crucial but for some games other paraphernalia is more important e.g. terrain for wargames.  This needs to top quality stuff or it's just going to look shoddy.
  • Prizes.  Yep.  People aren't just going to come because you asked them nicely.
  • Traders.  This can be a mix of retailers and "bring & buy" type trading. For the organiser this is a good way to get money early by charging for tables.  Assuming of course the traders in question are interested in supporting your event.
  • Guests et al.  Guests will need (even if they say they don't) some level of support at an event.  That could simply be fetching stuff or ensuring that they are where they need to be if they have slots time boxed throughout the event. It's also important to ensure that guests are available to the attendees when they should be...
  • Programme. Yep that little guide of the fun that's available throughout the event needs to be readily available to the attendee.
All of these things come together to give you the options available to you. Some venues might be the right price but due to timing or location you might not be able to get it when it makes most sense.
Others might be perfect location and be available but that bit more pricey so you need to ramp up your fees which may impact on attendance levels.

I think that's a good starter for 10.  What I'd like to do is now step back from the topic and ask people to give me some more feedback on what they want from a convention.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Charity fundraising...

Many many years ago (it was either 1991 or 1989, not sure) I took part in a 24 hour RPG event to raise money for Red Nose Day.

Throughout the KoA days we had a modest but consistent charitable donation plan focussed around cancer charities such as MacMillan Cancer Support.

The ability to raise sizable funds for charities is one of the most celebrated elements of Conpulsion and other tabletop gaming events.

It's also something I'm keen to do in relation to this 2nd Chapter and I've signed up for a seminar at Gen Con to try and help come up with other ways of doing this.  There's a group who are running games of D&D to raise money called Castles & Chemo, going to try and re-organise my schedule to get in on one of the games.

So why am I posting this now?  Well it's kinda 2 fold really.

The first reason is that I have been thinking about this as part of the 2nd Chapter, specifically organising a 24 hour gaming event to raise money for charity (method and charity involved were still to be confirmed). Ideally I'd want to make this event happen in 2014 but post-GenCon to give it time to be promoted etc.  This wouldn't necessarily be 1 group of people playing 1 RPG or a series of board/card games but more mini-con in an attempt to promote the hobby and raise some funds for charity at the same time.

The second reason is much sadder unfortunately.  I learned on Monday that a good friend of mine (and former customer at KoA) passed away on Friday 13th after a long tough battle against cancer.
Ray Gillespie epitomised the Tabletop Ambassador role that I've defined previously. Hugely positive hobbyist who most definitely was there to have fun (as his win rate at games suggested!).
Ray was also one of the most thoroughly decent, friendly, engaging people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He will be sorely missed in my life.

Taking this on board and factoring in the awareness that the wider community had of Ray I feel now is the time to start planning for the charity event I had been pondering.  A number of names sprung to mind, some less family friendly than others but there will be a reveal in due course once ready! Needless to say we're not using +Liz Mackie 's initial suggestion!

What I'd appreciate is if people could make suggestions on what we should do and how we should go about raising money.
Prize draws tend to work well but I don't want to rely on getting gifts to fulfill that.

I'm thinking of things like charity re-rolls which would work for all dice based games, charity shuffles for all deck building games etc etc.

Any other suggestions would be appreciated on fund raising and of course on what the event itself should entail.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Tabletop Tech

So, I recently bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 + Bluetooth keyboard that doubles as a hard case for it.

The main reason for this sounds a bit silly and a bit of an extravagance but...
I wanted a tablet which I could take to Gen Con with me so that I didn't need to take my laptop.  Yes that's right I've spent in the region of £250 on a piece of tech to cover a week in the states.  It does also mean I'll be able to blog when I'm there and hopefully Tweet a lot of content too (which should automagically appear in Facebook).

Well ok that's not the only reason I've bought it but let's just say it's a contributing factor.

Why the Tab 3?  I like Android and I have a Samsung mobile so it seemed to make sense from a familiarity perspective.  Plus I use a lot of Google apps in general so I'm fairly sure of good integration across the devices and the apps.

So why else did I buy it?

Gaming content in general is becoming more and more mobile, plus with the recent announcement of Codename: Morningstar for the new version of Dungeons & Dragons I can see the various options of use before me.

I also have a LOT of PDF material for games - primarily RPG source material but also PDF versions of game rules etc.  Not least of which is my PDF of Atomic Robo RPG (I might have mentioned that) plus the board game quick rule PDFs that are put out by team at the Esoteric Order Of Games.

So what else can I use it for?  Well actually that's what I'd like to ask you.

What must-have apps do I need?
What's the best dice roller out there for Android?
What campaign management tools are out there?
If I wanted to record audio (not necessarily podcasts but something) what app should I choose?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Scottish Tabletop Games Convention Scene

Off the back of my post(s) about Conpulsion and indeed the multiple references to conventions throughout the blog of late I figured I should share my thoughts on "The Scottish Tabletop Games Convention Scene".

To do that I need to be clear about what I mean when I say Tabletop Games Convention.

Ok so be clear then Dave!

A tabletop games convention is an event where attendees are there primarily to play games.  A convention is invariably about the act of participation in the hobby in which you are conventioneering erm upon...

Ok so that's simple enough Dave, but why are you defining it like that?

Well...  In Scotland we're blessed with a reasonable number of Wargames Shows (note: not conventions) like the fantastic Carronade in Falkirk. There are others such as Claymore, Wappinshaw, Targe and Skelp.  I've not attended any other than Carronade (600ish attendees this year) and whilst I'm not a wargamer I do enjoy attending.
So why aren't these conventions?

Play is not at the core of these events for the attendees. Yes there are games being played but these are primarily showcase events with an element of participation events too. The core of these shows (based on my limited understanding granted) is the traders who are there to sell products to attendees and obviously to present the variety of options available within the wargaming format.
This is an important distinction because these events are largely (stress largely) separate from the Convention calendar in Scotland.

So that brings me to what Conventions do we have?

Well... Other than Conpulsion we don't really have any. Or more precisely if there are any I've no idea where or indeed when they are and trust me, I've looked!
Yep there used to be Conflagration in Glasgow run by the university and there used to be Drakcon in Aberdeen (which was primarily a D&D Living Greyhawk event) but other than that? Oh wait there's D-Con in Dundee but that's an Anime convention with gaming (primarily CCGs) bolted on.

So where are the gaming conventions? Well the rest of the UK has several as Phil Master's UK Convention Calendar demonstrates but none are in Scotland.


Probably too big a question to answer I suspect but I'll have a stab at it.

Conventions are not simple things to organise.  I'm a project manager by trade and I've organised gaming clubs and obviously ran events on a small scale when I had KoA but that's not the same. All that means though is that I empathise with those who do organise conventions (and indeed shows like Carronade).

The thing is that there's really no money in it.  Sure there is some money in it but we're not taking about serious profit making entities here.  So that means that the people who are doing it are usually balancing it with Real Life(tm) type stuff.
Even the most successful convention in the UK i.e. UK Games Expo, is run by a team of largely volunteers who share a desire to create such an event and do so largely through spare time and forgiving families!

So is it simply down to there not being any people with similar intentions / desires in Scotland? Maybe.

Reflecting a little on my previous post about the negatives of Conpulsion, I'm sure that the team who organise that go into it with the best of intentions but the question is whether they are committed to meeting the desire required to make it "the best that it can be"?  Without knowing really any of those involved I can't really comment but as an outsider looking and based on the evidence I have the only answer I have is no.

The other possibility is that there just isn't appetite for a convention scene in Scotland.  I fear that this is actually the truth of the situation.  I recall a conversation I had post KoA closure with someone (who shall remain nameless) about the Scottish Gaming Community.  I'll distill that semi-rant (hey my business had just ceased to be, I was allowed to rant) into a few comments.

  • There is no Scottish Gaming Community - at least in the sense that we do not have a joined up community of people across the hobby.
  • Gamers are primarily aligned with a combination of game clubs (of which we have many) and game stores (of which we have several).  Their allegiance tends to form around those entities first and foremost and unless a convention (or wider community event for that matter) offers something more than what their club or store offers to them on a day-to-day basis then they are not interested / motivated in supporting it.
These 2 elements combine to suggest (stress suggest) that we have a largely casual gaming population with a couple of exceptions in relation to CCG/TCG tournaments and some wargaming tournaments where there is a clamour from those audiences to attend.

I'm going to close this post with a question and would welcome feedback on what I've said so far.  Even with all that I've said above I do believe that Scotland could have a strong and distinct (if discreet) convention scene and I have some thoughts on how to address that but that's likely a future post.

So the question I find myself asking is - What would a Table Games Convention have to offer to get a 500+ attendance?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Gen Con 2014 - Event Booking

Given the experience of booking accommodation that we had for Gen Con I felt I should do one on the Event Booking.

This was a multi step process -

What To Do?

The event catalogue is a monstrous spreadsheet (that could do with some data refinement but that's me being picky) with at this time almost 10,000 events in it.
This was released on the 9th May and I spent something in the region of 14 hours looking at it over the first week, if not more...  actually I think it was more but I'm going to go with 14 hours...

14 hours?!?!  What's the problem?

Well... as you'll be aware from previous Gen Con posts one of my motivations to go is to play / buy / experience Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition but from reviewing the event catalogue there are a LOT of other things I wanted to do to (unsurprisingly!).

Wednesday wise there are a whole host Trade Related events.  Some are specifically aimed at retailers but others are aimed at other aspects of the trade business.  Now normally this wouldn't be open to non-Trade people but thanks to the wizardry of the internet I have been granted Press access which is awesome!

Thursday through to Sunday there were too many options.  TOO MANY!!!  However I managed to narrow it down to around 30 events that I would be putting on my wish list.

Wish List?

Oh yeah, the system for getting into games involves the submission of a wish list at a specific time and then waiting for the website to come and tell you what you actually got.

Sounds fairly straight forward but when there are TOO MANY things to choose from it becomes very difficult to shorten that list and then assign a priority to events.

To help with this I arranged to meet up with my partners in Gen Con and we went through the event list.  This was additionally supported by the excellent fan website which was regularly updated every 6 hours to reflect changes in the catalogue.

Submitting Wish List!

This was the bit where I think things conspired against me...

Wish Lists were to be submitted at 5pm UK Time on Sunday 18th May.
I was co-running the 2nd East Neuk Tabletop Games meetup from 2pm to 5pm that same day.
Given the problems with the hotel system I expected the web access to be a nightmare.
I was reliant upon the pub across from the ENT venue to have a decent internet speed.

Ultimately at 4:45 I left ENT to head for the pub.
At 5:00 (and maybe 1 second) I clicked SUBMIT!
The planets must've been aligned or something as I (and +Greg Barr as I was submitting his at the same time) got pretty much the priority events that we wanted.
Given that they're expecting upwards of 50,000 attendees this year I find it amazing that the website didn't crash.  Indeed it didn't even seem to get slow.

Huge praise for the Gen Con web team on that front!

Since then there's been some tweaking of the event list by the team but everything seemed to be settled.

So that's that then?

Well no, more events have been uploaded since the initial launch and indeed tonight (8th June) had another 1,000+ events being listed and I've stayed up late (I get up for work at 5:15am) to see what new games are listed.  There were a couple of things I knew would be listed but there was only 1 sure fire event I really wanted to make sure I got in to.

Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur - An Atomic Robo RPG event run by Mike Olson (who created the RPG).

And I GOT IN!  Woohoo! For Science!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Conpulsion 2014 - The negatives.

This post has taken a wee bit longer than I had originally thought it would, in part because of "real life" but also I wanted to make sure I wasn't just coming across as a moaner.  No guarantees on that front though!

Couple of scene settings comments before we leap into the detail.
  • I take no pleasure out of this. I believe that Scotland should have a thriving tabletop gaming convention scene and most of my thoughts are borne of frustration that we don't have that...
  • I'm going to approach this post from an independent (if not entirely impartial) assessment of Conpulsion as a convention
  • I don't live in Edinburgh and am not (and never have been) an Edinburgh student so maybe I miss out on news etc...
  • I'm treating the con as a commercial entity as after all there is a transaction taking place with attendees and as such a professional service should be the result
  • As I said in my first post about Conpulsion 2014, I don't go to play games
  • Convention attendees plan ahead to attend.  By that I mean unless it's on their doorstep the attendee has to consider things like accommodation, parking and the like.  In my case that came to ~£150 for 2 nights in a hotel (Fri and Sat night) and parking on the Saturday
So with these comments in mind I hearby give you my critique of Conpulsion 2014.

Unfortunately Conpulsion 2014 failed in a number of areas.  Somewhat ironically a number of these failings can be associated with technology, I say ironically as the theme for Conpulsion 2014 was Innovation...

Website - The website for Conpulsion has always been a bit of an annoyance for me.  It is rarely up to date although the past 2 conventions have seen a marked improvement on that front.  Unfortunately for 2014 quite the opposite happened...
  • Broken Wordpress installation - I don't know how else to describe it other than "broken" as the navigation was awful. Whether that was down to technical difficulties or not I'm unsure and if it was that then where was the plan B?  Facebook?  Oh we'll come to that...  A proper Plan B with some sort of communication to explain would have made sense.  There are plenty of alternative Blog solutions out there not least of which is Wordpress' own portal.
  • Content - Next to no content on games that were on offer right up to the weekend itself. There was a list of RPGs that were on offer but what about the other stuff?
  • Card Gaming events? Nothing on the website until 5 days prior to the event, and the information that was there was mixed at best with different details being stored in different parts of the website.
  • Guests?  Limited if any information on guests that were coming until almost 2 weeks before the event.
  • Wargames?  Other stuff?  Talks?  Bring & Buy?  Charity Auction?  Sketchy information at best...
Oh but most of this was on Facebook! is probably one of the responses to this, and to be fair most it was on Facebook.  The problem being is that it wasn't joined up on Facebook...
  • 2 portals for Conpulsion on Facebook - A Group and A Page.  That's fair enough, but at least ensure they are aligned by posting on both consistently...
  • Actually there were 3 portals on Facebook...  There was also a Facebook group for the Wargames which nobody seemed to know about unless you already knew someone on the group.  I say "was" as it's since been deleted which is frustrating.
This really shouldn't be hard.
Communication is about sending a coherent message.
Marketing / Promotion is about re-impressing that coherent message onto the audience time and time again to capture their interest.
Conpulsion 2014 from the perspective of internet communications and marketing failed to deliver on both of these fronts.

Internally at the event things were reasonably well run in that events seemed to stick to their allocated slots but there was a challenge in finding out where to sign up for events.
In previous years there was a dedicated (and well sign posted) area for event sign up.  Indeed last year they had a pre-registration early sign up service for games too.
If these things existed this year then it wasn't clear either from the website (as per above), the programme or the general signage within the venue.
Many people I spoke to said they just didn't know where to go to sign up for RPGs and so ended up not playing in any which isn't great...

Now apparently the convention had 350 unique attendees over the weekend.
Those 350 attendees include 2 card game events that brought in approximately 90 attendees so the "core" of the convention attracted 260 unique attendees.
If that's really the case then I've no idea where these 260 unique attendees were as there were times over the weekend when the venue felt deserted...

There's more I could write here about the challenges that Conpulsion faced this year and indeed there are others of a more permanent nature (venue not being exclusive to the event) which need slightly better planning for.

As I said in my previous post though I had a good time but that was less to do with Conpulsion than it was to do with the excuse to meet up with friends.

Also worth pointing out that I plan to follow this up with another post on the convention scene in Scotland and how I feel it could be significantly better than it currently is.