[This is the first in my series of game convention retrospectives, in an attempt to draw general conclusions about improving attendees’ and organizers’ convention experience.]
A Happy Surprise: Dragonflight
Dragonflight Game Convention was in its 33rd edition under the auspices of the same non-profit volunteer group, and keeps a local focus. Over the years, it has fluctuated between 350 and 600 attendees over the entire weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), which is always the second in August. Although it started with a focus on role-playing, nowadays its strongest are is board gaming and wargaming. Miniatures gaming used to be strong, but has been decimated in the last couple of years (more on this in a moment.)
Edmund and I have been volunteering as staff with Dragonflight since 2007; even after we moved away, we kept on doing as much as we could from far away, like promo and event organization; in particular, I’ve been preparing the convention program since 2008. This year, because of the kindness of the Dragonflight organizers and our friends’ generosity, we were able to attend for the first time in years.
(Things that went well, things that went poorly: after the cut.)
Things that went well at Dragonflight: First, this convention is notable for its community feel. There is a certain cheerfulness and comradery that is very pleasant. The Board Games and Wargames area continues to be the centrepiece of the convention, as it has been for many year, and the role-playing section did quite well too, with most games getting enough players to run. There are lots of choices of activities too, and enough games of various types, plus the dealers’ room, video room, etc., to always have something to do.
Things that went poorly: In advance of the convention, a couple of things failed — and what’s more, they fail consistently year after year. First, Dragonflight is still not very good at getting the buzz out, particularly through social media. However, there is some progress on that front but much more is needed.
Second, the Website continues to be a problem; we’ve had skilled but unresponsive Webmasters, responsive but unskilled ones, and now we seem to have no one who is really in charge of the site. As a result, for example, for the second year in a row I have added ebook versions of the program in .mobi and .ePub formats but twice in a row I was unable to find someone to post the files, let alone actually advertise their availability (in addition to the PDF and print formats).*
And finally, the Great Miniatures Debacle. Miniatures gaming used to be quite healthy at Dragonflight but it took a bad hit back in 2011 when it was discovered at the last possible moment that the person who was in charge of the Games Workshop-sponsored Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 tournaments had not in fact actually organized anything. A number of people who had purchased convention badges just to attend these events had to be reimbursed, but remained understandably furious.
The problem could have been corrected this year, when a number of interesting miniatures events were organized by volunteers, including a Privateer Press-sponsored Warmachine tournament — but the staff person who was in charge of miniatures games this year simply did not spend the time needed to nurse this division back to health and completely failed to get out the word about the new events. Between the lack of confidence resulting from the 2011 pull-out and the lack of publicity about the very real events in 2012, hardly anyone showed up for these games.
* Yeah, I will probably volunteer to handle it for next year.