MACE East has been in our minds since we started thinking about branching out. We first tried to branch out with a mini-mace South but it was a dismal failure with no one preregistering. Then we went all-in with a MACE West in Hickory, then moved it to Asheville, and that is now entering it’s 6th year. MACE East resurfaced when we heard about a LARP event in Germany being held on a decommissioned destroyer. The USS North Carolina immediately came to my mind, but I really did not think anyone would take it seriously. MACE West was enough for us to handle, I felt.
Low and behold, there was some pretty strong interest and after some investigation into prices seemed very doable. So we did a site visit in May and looked at several hotels to base it out of. We also took a tour of the Battleship and where we might host gaming. Long story short, the battleship end of this idea fell through due to construction delays on the room we were going to use. It probably was for the best because we really needed to put out feelers on how well this event would do in general before we committed to the extra cost and logistics issues two sites would present.
We picked some dates in January but as it turns out, the hotel could only accommodate an affordable price the second weekend in January. Although that was too close to our big event MACE, as well as the Holidays, we decided to give it a try. What we did not look into was how close it was to other events and as it turned out, it was on the same weekend as a fandom and gaming event two hours away. That was our mistake and we hope to correct that in the future. Lessons we preach to other cons, we did not heed and that was our own laziness getting in the way.
We went into this with a very positive feeling. As time went on and I put out the GM call the game schedule began to grow. In the end, despite struggles in finding a Pathfinder Society coordinator, we had a pretty decent schedule of over 100 games. At least it was decent for a first year gaming con. MACE West first year was very comparable in this respect. However, the hotel was considerably less expensive for MACE West.
Day one started out later than usual for us because we did not want to add on the expense of another hotel stay for the staff. We needed to save money however we could. Travelling over 3 hours to Wilmington was a challenge with 3 kids but we made it. They were as excited about a new location as we were. I set up fairly quickly and watched the gamers trickle in.
Attendance was light at first but by Saturday we had a decent crowd and the rooms were noisy. We obviously had enough of the dedicated core gamers of the area and surrounding towns that once they left, word would get out next year. I think one lesson I draw from this event is that gamers suffer from a serious deprivation of community. Meaning they have no idea that gaming can be a community and have no idea how to plug in. So they suffer from this by not knowing about events like ours.
To explain, we had several people come in and tell us that they had only heard about our event a few days prior. Now, grant it, we planned this 2 weeks after the Holidays when most people are focused on family and celebration, but we have been working at this for a lot longer than that. I ask them how did they find out about things like this. They said word of mouth. I am glad they found out about it, but there are many ways people can plug in to find out about things faster. Don’t be surprised that you just found out about our event if you strictly rely on word of mouth. I am amazed that word of mouth reached these guys at all for our first year but glad it did.
I think most gamers are a very conflicted group of people. They engage in an inherently social activity but many are naturally anti-social or at least socially awkward. But they also have a instinctive urge to play more games. What better place than at a convention? However, they have no idea or choose to ignore the fact that they are part of a bigger community and don’t choose to plug into that community. They think by just showing up to a game store and playing a few games, that’s enough. However, it can reach far beyond that if they are willing to plug in.
Being a small business that has a limited budget, we can only do so much to reach the gamer. We can send flyers or posters to the game stores, but there is no telling what the store will do with them. We also spam the heck out of every list, social networking site and web site we can. But not everyone is plugged in and relies too much on conventional means to find out about things. How much are you going to pay attention to a flyer or poster in a store that has an array of advertisements for everything. Can you see our tree in a forest of trees? That assumes the store actually lays them out. I respectfully expect any store to act first in their own self-interests and if they do not see any benefit to encouraging their patrons going to our event, then they will just toss our flyers in the trash. And I don’t blame them. I am also not saying that it is common, but I know it has happened.
So this con presented us with a problem we have had before but took for granted because our success on the west side of the state. Reaching the gamers. It is like we are starting fresh. We have to hit those game stores harder and reach them in ways we have had to do in a while.
Also, our measure of minimum success needs to be adjusted. We called MACE West year one a success with a minimum amount of attendance we got. We got about the same attendance but at a more expensive hotel. We probably needed about twice the attendance we got to truly call it a true success financially. However, we do feel like we hit many communities and all will talk us up for next year. I just wish we had 50 or so more people.
There were some failures and all can be related back to miscommunication and lack of follow-through on both sides of the ball. Some promises were made by the local game and comic stores that were not followed through with, and it hurt us in places, like our tournaments and our vendor room. It was disappointing but I understand. We were too close to the holidays and many could not plan around them. We are a new thing and it is hard to plan staffing around it. We heard back from all parties involved and smoothed things over. We also got emails from other attendees aware of the situation and begged us not to judge the community on these failures. This was refreshing and we definitely came out of the experience feeling appreciated and wanted.
Wilmington is a great community that is dying for a gaming convention. It is a great opportunity for us to expand and we will probably continue to do so. The gaming that tables that made went well. I had a good time and many others said as much as Sunday rolled around. Overall, I think MACE East has a lot of potential.