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.