[This is the fourth in my series of game convention retrospectives, in an attempt to draw general conclusions about improving attendees’ and organizers’ convention experience.]
Foray into SFF Land: Convolution
Convolution was its very first year, held on the first weekend in November; it’s a little off the beaten path for us because it’s a science-fiction and fantasy convention, but they were trying to get a small gaming section established and we were asked to run games. We live minutes from the location, so we agreed.
There was a very nice space dedicated to games of all types during the day and a different one, also very aesthetically pleasing, for the evenings. Games included live-action role-playing (LARP), card games (Steve Jackson was a guest and there was a Munchkin tournament), a few board games, and a little bit of tabletop role-playing.
To be honest, the draw of SFF conventions rather escapes me because I am not much into costuming or autographs, nor do I have aspirations to becoming a novelist, so that doesn’t leave much to do; a visit of the dealers’ room, and that’s about it. So I will be a bit more limited in my comments because my focus was gaming and I did not attend the bulk of activities.
(Things that went well, things that went poorly: after the cut.)
Things that went well at Convolution: The hotel looks attractive, and the spaces dedicated to gaming in particular looked very good. The organizers also made pretty good use of social media, though the Website lagged behind; little of the buzz generated talked about gaming, however. Convolution also showed social responsibility by collecting food donations for a local food bank; however, this could have been made more visible on the Website. I appreciated that the staff was generally very friendly. The Marketplace (dealers’ room) had a good variety of merchants, artists, publishers, etc.
Convention-goers I spoke to on Sunday sounded like they had had a good weekend; merchants less so, but I imagine that is true of most conventions.
Things that went poorly: The Website was a bit limited, and the list of gaming events didn’t show up until less than two weeks before the convention; even so, my games and Edmund’s (which formed half of the RPGs!) never appeared on the site list at all. Nor in the program; the official “souvenir booklet” (what I think of as the program at other cons) was apparently printed as early as September, so there was little actual programming information in it and it had to be supplemented by a half-size “pocket program guide.” I don’t understand this; with Dragonflight I deal with a number of printing firms and I’ve always been able to get our program printed one week before the event. And attendance is higher!
It was also difficult to find rooms, especially with another convention going on in the same hotel that weekend; here too there were too few signs to direct attendees where they needed to go. Staff coordination and communication seemed lacking, and complicated by the fact that there were several different operation centres; the various staff members I spoke to all seemed ignorant of one another’s role. To top it off, here too there seemed to be database problems (and here too, I can’t tell whether they were operator- or software-related). And though I was assured by various people that there was lots of staff and volunteers, it seemed to me that there was a lack of personnel so that those on duty were overworked and exhausted.
Because the lack of buzz about games, their almost nonexistence on the Website and the gaps in the programs, as well as the lack of signs to identify the gaming areas, game attendance was very low; many events (most?) did not have enough players to run. However, I think LARPs did better, hardly surprising given that a big draw of the convention appeared to be cosplay. (I did not see that much cosplay except for organizers, but I didn’t really look for it and there was a well-attended masked ball on Saturday night.)
Finally, and that’s primarily a hotel flaw, adapted access for disabled persons was awful. It was hard to find ramps, escalators and elevators, and the other convention had cordoned off sections which made it very difficult to even get to the elevators. I saw some people with canes struggling up the long flights of stairs who definitely should not have had to.
As a question more than a critique, I wonder a lot about financial performance. In gaming conventions, the bulk of revenue comes from the number of hotel rooms that get rented; for each above a certain number specified in the rental contract, the convention gets a discount on the facilities cost. If on the other hand they fail to meet their minimum specified number of room rentals from attendees, they have to make up the difference out of pocket.
Now I realise that SFF conventions must have a different financial structure; for example, I don’t know how much the vendors pay for a table in the dealers’ room compared to gaming conventions. But I also know that there were a lot of prominent guests (authors and artists) who need to be paid for their presence, something usually rarer and more limited in gaming conventions. There was the lavish souvenir booklet on glossy paper and the pocket program guide, there were the swag bags (flimsy, but still need to be paid for), the logo pens, the refrigerator magnets, etc. Perhaps sponsors pay for all of these, but if so, they were discreet sponsors. On the other hand again, I spoke to a number of people from out-of-town, so maybe they have a better room rental average. I hope so.