Sam “King of the Hilltop”
Hello! It’s good to be back! It was a busy weekend running events for Gencon Online and I am still tired. Whew! During the online convention though I had a few people ask me questions about running a virtual con. So, I decided it was best to boil down my experiences running conventions in person and virtually into 5 things I have learned. So, let’s dive in.
#1) Plan For Success, Prepare For Failure
This is an old adage but I like to see it in this wording. When running events for a con you need to be able to handle success and failure in various degrees because there is always a curve ball or unexpected thing that will happen. Some examples from Gencon Online might help illustrate the point:
We had originally planned to run 15 games at 6 players each of Cult of the Deep. Seemed like a good number for a publisher who hasn’t even launched their first game. However, within 24 hours of the catalog opening up for Gencon, we were starting to have sold out games. It was crazy! So, we had to pivot. I had a back-up plan that we could double the event size to 12 players and then split them to 2 different tables/games. We would still maintain our same times, we could increase the number who could attend, and most importantly it considered the fact that people wouldn’t show up. We submitted changes to run 30 games and we ended up running 27 games over the 4 day weekend.
If you have done any event planning, tournaments, game days, demos, or whatever involves sign-ups and planning, there is attrition. Not everyone shows up that is supposed to show up. It is very rare when that actually happens. So you have to be careful when planning events that you plan for that outcome. For us, it’s something we need to plan for because Cult of the Deep is currently a 4-8 player game. We can’t get too low or we are unable to play the game. So, I planned for both the best case scenario, everyone shows up and we add 1 or 2 other players who wanted to join. I also planned for a worse scenario where only 2 people show up out of 12. I did this by having myself and 1 other person help me run games everyday. We could be players, or we could pull out and just be a GM (Game Master or Demo person who then only helps when needed).
Another example of planning was to have a back-up to play the game. In person conventions have less problems with this but I would still recommend planning for it, aka “bring an extra game or two.” For Gencon Online we had our game ready for both Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia. Later in the article I’ll talk about another reason why we did this but part of the consideration is having a back-up plan when things go right or wrong. We had a number of games where people showed up not realizing the session was for Tabletop Simulator and assumed we had everything needed. Well, we had another version of the game to where if we had enough people and time, we could switch to a platform that was more accessible. The other option was to have them join a different game session where we were going to use Tabletopia. Worked out nicely there.
We also had a trouble moment when on Saturday night Tabletopia was overloaded for one of our sessions. Now in this case, we were able to sort of salvage the situation. We had part of the group play on Tabletop Simulator and we were able to get some Cult of the Deep community members volunteer to play so they had enough players. However, a portion of the group was unable to do that and so we were lucky a hero stepped in, Polyphon is his screen name in Discord. He was able to miraculously host our game on Tabletopia, even though everyone else couldn’t, I think due to his premium account. My hat off to you Polyphon, wherever you are. Sometimes even preparing for failure doesn’t work out but do what you can to mitigate failure and disaster, for luck favors the prepared. (Thank you Polyphon!)
#2) Follow The Rules and Guidelines
I have seen it too many times where people do not follow the rules and they end up being punished or losing out on potential opportunities. Whenever you go to a convention, do your research. Write down the rules, learn them. If you follow those rules, the event organizers will appreciate your diligence. It makes their lives easier, you will have a better knowledge of what is expected of you, and it makes for a smoother experience for everyone. Even if things don’t make sense to you sometimes, just go with the rules. Event people notice these things. You think they don’t know but they do. They might even let you slide a bit but when you need something, they know who you are. I have seen it time and time again where people who strive to follow the rules and guidelines need something from the Event Organizers and they are able to get it quickly. Be nice and follow the rules, the EOs (Event Organizers) are watching.
#3) Talk to The Event Organizers
This is something I try to do at every convention, in person or virtual. If you can have a good conversation with them, be nice and follow the rules (see above), they are more than happy many times to answer your questions. Questions like, “What is best way to advertise my game? How would you set-up your events?” They know the convention best and it is wise to use their knowledge to give you the best chance of success.
Now, I am glad I followed this idea when preparing for Gencon Online. I was going to try and do things that I normally do when prepping for a convention but they told me specifically, “If you want to get a lot of people to play your game, make sure your game events show up as close to day 1 of when the catalog is revealed as possible.” I was at first confused, who in the world would actually use a catalog to look at games, I just like to walk around and see what I see. I am not one to plan my days like that. However, this advice came from experience and so we followed it. We were met with overwhelming success.
Another piece of advice they gave was that we could request to have our games be free. We would have to apply for it by changing some things in the event and then emailing the event staff but we could do it. It worked wonders. Again, we were met with overwhelming success.
We also asked about what kinds of events to play, they said we should run “learn to play” events in conjunction with smaller demo events. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on the smaller demo events because I just didn’t have the manpower to make it happen. However, we did change all of our events with wording, “Learn to Play.” I think it helped because it’s wording that is familiar to Gencon attendees and it says what the game is, learn to play.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by these suggestions but blown away by the results. Good thing I listened and talked to the Event Organizers. They know their stuff. They know their audience very well. We also did additional things like post on social media, etc. but the grand majority of our incoming players came from the catalog and people looking to play a new game. This is not true of other cons, but for Gencon specifically, it’s very true.
This also comes into play at smaller conventions. Event Organizers tend to be well known in their small communities. When they talk about a game or suggest some people play a game, it happens. We have had this happen at multiple smaller local conventions we have attended as well as online. Now I am not saying go out and just use those people. That is wrong. They are people too and have a convention to run. So if you can help them run a better event by following the rules (see above) and providing something fun and interesting for attendees, they would greatly appreciate it. It’s a mutual benefit if you help each other. Support them, make their jobs easier or more fun, and they will usually do the same for you.
#4) Your Responsibility to Reach Out
This is something that I see a lot of people not doing at both virtual and in person conventions. It’s not the consumers’ job to find you, play your game, and interact with you. It’s your job. You are the one who needs to go out there and put yourselves on the line. Now at bigger companies, those things are viewed differently and I very much disagree with that sentiment but when you are a small company, this is even more true. You have to go out there and earn your fans and your community. There are no shortcuts here.
So what does this mean? For us, it meant to have more than one platform to play our game. We have both Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia. I prefer Tabletop Simulator in so many ways but there is a barrier to entry. $20 as of this writing, unless you got it on sale. However, even at $10, that is a barrier to entry. Which is why we went with Tabletopia as well because it is free for people. We had events for both platforms and I am so very glad we did. Not only because it meant we had a back-up plan (see above) but because it also meant we could reach out to more people. If I would have had the time, resources, and manpower to run it, I think I might have done Board Game Arena events as well.
We also asked people to sign-up for our newsletter once the game was done. Some would leave, others were late to a game (typical Gencon right?), any number of reasons. So we sent out a thank you note via the Gencon message system and in Discord as well. Just a friendly thank you and asked if they enjoyed the game. This led to some great feedback on the game that we are going to use to improve the experience but it also shows that we care, because we do! We want you to love the game and if you did, AWESOME! Come join us in our community areas, we love the game too! We were able to have some good conversations with people and it was a great time.
#5) Be Early
This one is an important one when running events. Be early. Now, not everyone needs to be there early but at least one person who is helping to run events needs to be there. We spaced our events so we could have a bit of a break in-between, which didn’t always happen but we planned for that issue by having more than one of us. If I needed to grab something to eat real fast and have a restroom break before the next game, the other person was able to sit in voice chat and talk to the attendees. This worked vice versa as well. We were able to support each other and be there early for the players. Honestly, sometimes we would get into some great conversations before we even started and it made the game experience even better as small rivalries and smack talk were born.
If you are looking for an exact number, at least 15 min. early waiting in voice chat. We found we almost always had 1 or 2 people show up 15-20 min. early. A couple of times we had people show up 30 min. early. Luckily, we were there and we always had someone in voice chat so we never missed those opportunities. Being early helps you to relax, get everyone settled in, and help you run a smooth game.
Every time I think I know everything and have it figured out, I am humbled. Even writing this article is a little tough but I honestly believe these are 5 things that can help you bring great success to running events. I have been volunteering to run convention events, demos, and tournaments for about 10 years now and these are things I have noticed that help to make an event a success.
Do you have any suggestions or tips you would like to share? Also, if anyone would like to talk Gencon Online numbers, I would be more than happy to share them with you. Just let me know in the comments on whatever platform this is posted or on here. Talk to you soon!