Seminar : Using Games To Build Community

Sooo…..  This is the 2nd time I’ve posted this.  Thanks to the wonders of the Blogger Android app I managed to wipe the original post.  Fortunately I had the content of the post in an email I sent to Dustin.  Needless to say the Blogger Android app has been removed from my phone and tablet to avoid the same thing happening again…

I’ll be the first to admit that with hindsight I wasn’t the target audience for this seminar.

That actually disappoints me as I really wanted to be the target audience but I feel that Dustin (the organiser) had to tailor his pitch to a largely generic level to ensure he covered the variety of bases that the wide audience would need support in.
That said, I felt it was too light and not entirely sure what people took away from it other than “must do stuff” around choosing areas to organise events in and how to partner with FLGS’ etc.
My view is that specific elements of community and choice of venue to enable that community to grow could have been expanded on.  Limited time to do that in many respects as it was a 1 hour seminar but I would have looked at things similar to previous topics in this blog.

Venue – Everything about choosing your venue needs to be based on engagement, this is both for the internals and the externals of that venue.
Externally the venue has to be –

  • Signposted : So people need to know that there is something inside the venue associated with games.  This can be posters and other signage but from a tabletop hobby market it has to be clear of the types of games that will be on offer whilst still remaining relatively neutral on the level of “geek” association.
  • Welcoming : Everything about the externals of the venue needs to enhance the likelihood of people wanting to enter. Avoid the stereotype of blacked out windows etc.  People need to see in to ensure that they can see it’s a venue they want to go into.
  • Accessible : Can a wheelchair get in? Can a kids pram/buggy get in? These ideally shouldn’t involve a need to invoke a secondary method such as an elevator.  Accessible also applies to things like security and “do I need a badge/pass” to get in? Ideally not although appreciate in certain environments that isn’t an option.
  • Restrictions : Does the venue have any restrictions based on age or other elements? E.g. there was 1 gentleman who talked about his gaming community meeting up in a bar. I’m unclear on the laws in the US and indeed if they vary by state but in the UK under-18s aren’t allowed to enter a bar without that bar having a food license or indeed some sort of family license (which is usually time bound),  I personally think that bars are a bad choice if you’re trying to include the younger communities not just because of the licensing but also because parents may not be keen on having their kids attend a bar.

Internally the venue has to be –

  • Signposted : Again this is key.  Where does the community meet? In a FLGS/FLCS scenario that should be much clearer however in most other scenarios signposting internally may be required or at the very least there needs to be someone available throughout the session to direct people to the correct location.
  • Welcoming : Again the interior has to present the atmosphere that it is welcoming to the community.  Social elements like cliques can be perceived without actually existing plus the “politeness” element of not wanting to interrupt a group of people whilst they’re engaged in games is something that needs to be addressed.  This could be managed through having “spotters” to handle that engagement with the new attendees.
  • Layout : Ideally the layout should be semi-flexible so that different combinations of tables/chairs can be used to accommodate different games and/or events.  If that’s not an option, e.g. where the layout is fixed booth type tables/chairs then this can be a challenge to ensure the new attendees can see opportunity to join in.

Targeting your community – Knowing how to target and who to target is very difficult without knowing about existing play groups and understanding more about what sort of appetite exists within the wider community.
So how do you start that?

  • Format : If there is a pre-existing community, such as the one you may be in or one that you have had previous involvement in then that’s as good a starting point as any. If there’s a pre-existing board/card/war/roleplay gaming community then use that format as the starting point with the expectation and open mindedness to be able to support other formats.
  • Branding : Giving anything a name gives it identity and a brand that can use to refer to it. The easiest trap to fall into here is to brand it based on the format of the game being played. Naming the community as a roleplaying group may result in the silent exclusion of those who don’t “do” roleplaying as they perceive the community as only playing that format of game. The flipside is that anything more generic may mean it slips under the radar of existing gamers who think you’re something else.  E.g. when I opted for the name Kingdom Of Adventure it was obvious to me what that meant but when speaking to people who became customers some thought it was a soft play area for kids. So branding (for want of a better term) is key.
  • Frequency : This depends on a variety of things; your available time and the venue’s available time probably being the greater influences on the frequency.  What’s important is that you set a schedule, stick to it and promote the future dates in every piece of marketing you have. So if you meeting every 2nd and 4th Sunday then don’t break that routine and ensure that everyone knows that’s when things are.  For some events a more frequent schedule can be better but the key to promoting the frequency and schedule regularly is that this presents attendees an opportunity to “invest” in the community.  Without that community investment it is harder to build momentum and harder to grow overall.
  • Event Format : This is in many respects driven by the format of the event, however don’t assume you have to go for formal tournament based play by default.  Competitive games work just as well in a casual format as they do in a tournament format.  It’s true that tournaments will drive commitment to the community but at the same time it can be off putting to new players.  If it’s CCG/TCGs that are being played then a tournament enables better community cohesion and integration as it’s not just people playing in their own “sub-communities” and are simply sharing the location, not that there’s anything wrong with that per se but it does dilute the identiy of the community a bit.
  • Promotion : Nothing beats word of mouth, ask everyone that you know if they are interested in trying the games out and if not ask them to ask their friends. Plenty of people are willing to give things a try and simply not everything is for everyone. Other promotion will depend on budget and time.  Social media promotion can work for you and be free too. I’m not talking about advertising on Facebook more the use of key phrases especially when it comes to your location / region.  Using hashtags on Twitter for your region can also draw people into the community but that the social media element really depends on how rural or urban your community is going to be based.  More rural is likely going to work better through word of mouth or posters. For ENT we’ve used posters to good effect thanks to Alan mostly. Having something recognisable to a gamer (current or lapsed) will perk their interest but at the same time if you’re looking to target non-gamers then it needs to be more obvious what the community is about.

Each of these elements above come under the umbrella term of “barriers to entry“.

Every barrier that is put in front of a potential attendee at an event is something that the event organiser needs to either remove or mitigate to give every opportunity for new attendees to participate in the hobby.

These are the things that every event organiser has to overcome to enable the greatest chance of success for their event.