Convention Season: Big Bad Con

[This is the third in my series of game convention retrospectives, in an attempt to draw general conclusions about improving attendees’ and organizers’ convention experience.]

The Con of my Heart: Big Bad Con

(Oakland Airport Hilton, San Francisco Bay Area)

Big Bad Con was only in its second year, and we volunteered both times to host Games on Demand as well as regularly scheduled games, and supply the lending library of games.  The event, held on the first weekend in October from Friday Through Sunday, strongly focuses on role-playing games though we saw some board games as well this year; the intention is to add gradually once the core of the convention is well established.

(Things that went well, things that went poorly: after the cut.)

Things that went well at Big Bad Con: Perhaps because it is so new and not set in its ways, Big Bad Con does a fantastic job of getting the word out and using social media.  Even though it’s much smaller than many other older conventions, potential attendees get updates and tidbits much more often so it stays on our radar screen.

Event information is plentiful and easy to find, both on the Website and at the convention.  For example, schedules are printed both on a giant grid near the registration desk and on small room-specific grids posted at each door, as well as being included in the program; tables are marked clearly on the table and at the door of each room; and the cutest innovation, the schedule of specific events you have signed up for is listed on the back of your badge.

Speaking of which, offering advance online sign-ups for games allows you to know in advance what games you will be playing.  It’s particularly nice for people who come from out of town and therefore have higher expenses for travel, hotel room, and meals — it’s so frustrating to take your precious vacation time to travel to a convention, pay all that money, and discover you didn’t make it into any of the games you’re interested in; game designer Ryan Macklin had a very good blog post on the topic last year.

Naturally, having the games fill up early could mean there is little left for people who register late, so in order to offer everyone quality gaming, Big Bad Con organizes a solid Games on Demand section (RPGs only this year, but likely to expand to board games in the future). At all times there were tables and GMs dedicated to running drop-in games for orphaned players, with hosts playing matchmaker.  And don’t imagine that those are the Charlie-Brown-Christmas-tree GMs; on the contrary, I found high-quality gaming in that room, including playing games with their designers.

Big Bad Con shows a sense of innovation: for example, the colourful buttons you can collect for participating in various activities, the events like the GM competition, the morning run, breakfast and evening talks with game designers, that nifty schedule on badges, etc.  Not only that, but they showed responsiveness to comments and made several improvements based on 2011 feedback (for example, regarding the heat and noise in certain gaming areas; they tweaked Games on Demand to be more active and structured; etc.)

They also show social responsibility by donating all profits to Doctors Without Borders, and collecting food donations for the local food bank (you even got a button for contributing.)  Finally, this is anecdotal observation on my part since I have no statistics to turn to, but I believe gender balance is much better than at any other gaming convention I have ever attended, and other attendees I discussed this with agreed.

Things that went poorly: ???  I have pretty much nothing but compliments for Big Bad Con this year; all my suggestions from last year have been addressed.

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3 thoughts on “Convention Season: Big Bad Con

  1. I agree. Big Bad Con is the model that all conventions should follow.

    I have two small complaints about the con, but they are more quibbles than beefs.

    1) The amenities near the hotel are not so good. They aren’t terrible either, but I was not impressed by hotel food services and there are a limited number of non-hotel restaurants withing walking distance. Neither of these is a deal breaker, and I understand that there are other potential benefits to the venue that might outweigh these problems.

    2) Because a lot of the games are set in rooms down a single hallway at the convention, there is a tendency for that hallway to fill up with chatting gamers, making passage difficult. Not sure what can be done about that, but it did annoy me a bit.

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