RavenCon 2014 – A follow up
This is a follow up to RavenCon 2014 – Virginia sci-fi and gaming
I have received enough feedback from my RavenCon review that I felt that a follow up was needed. From this feedback, I think there are some beneficial lessons that can help with convention management, gaming coordinating, as well as one’s convention experience. Getting the full perspective of a con is not always easy. I sometimes find more insight after the con. Since RavenCon, I have spoken with a senior convention staff member as well as a game designer/publisher that attended. Their feedback to my first review is what lead me to this follow up. This is not intended to be a retraction or an “apology.” I stand by what I wrote in my initial review. I just truly feel that after the feedback I received that there is more of a tale to tell about RavenCon.
One challenge every con manager faces is space management. It’s rare that a convention finds the perfect space for its event. As a con manager, you are balancing the cost of the space with the ambiguous projections of what you think your con will make that coming year. Attendance is a big part of space management. Traffic flows, event space allocation and vendor/fan table placement are all effected by attendance projections. Past attendance is the number one factor in those projections but other factors can affect it as well – popularity of your guests, economy, hotel room costs, etc.
I called RavenCon a small con, and from a gamer’s perspective, I think it still can be considered that. However, now that the official numbers have been released, I have to amend that statement. RavenCon had 1100 people in attendance and that is by no means a small con. With respect to cons of its nature, this would rank up there in the medium to large sized event. I was very surprised at these numbers. The space was well managed from this perspective, so much so that it disguised the numbers well. The hotel they have has a great convention space. It has what I would call a little “character” and it has a lot of small, medium and large rooms spread out over 2 main floors. This kind of con space can easily disguise attendance numbers.
A good con space like this can also be a double edged sword. Managing and judging traffic flow is a huge part of con management. When you are trying to please various vendors, exhibitors, demo-teams, fan groups and authors, it can be a frustrating thing. As you will see in my later comments, the way gaming was placed caused some displeasure to one particular game designer. In all the above examples, everyone wants visibility; everyone wants to be seen in the flow of traffic. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t please everyone. Also, unfortunately, when your con has other priorities and areas of focus, peripheral items like gaming get left in the dark.
As I said in my previous review, there are several types of gaming events that a gaming coordinator has to juggle. You have games that need preregistration, and games that don’t; games that have limited seating and games that can manage their seating on their own. One of the types that I deal with are what I would call “demo tables.” They are open gaming tables set up by a game publisher or designer, and all they want is to be in the middle of the traffic flow to maximize their player potential. They don’t need a schedule but it would be nice if they have some kind of visibility on the schedule. They manage their player seats and schedule, unless they want to set aside special time for tournaments. Tournaments need to be scheduled and usually have a limited amount of seats. With the advent of Kickstarter, these types of gaming events are more and more common. Kickstarter has made it easier for small designers to get their ideas to production, so more of more of these designers are showing up at small to medium sized gaming cons.
The mistake that some sci-fi cons make is treating all gaming the same. They assume, for example, that demo tables will do well if they are stuck in the same room as other gaming. And depending on the product, sometimes that may be true. However, in most cases, simple demo tables do better if they are out in the middle of the traffic. For a sci-fi con, a place somewhere between the gamers and non-gamers would be ideal. In many cases, non-gamers will still sit down for a 30 minute to hour demo. If you tuck these guys away with the other gamers, you re limiting their exposure and also making a statement that gamers are an area of interest that you want contained in their own little corner. That’s not very welcoming to some gamers.
Unfortunately, this game designer/publisher that I talked to had that experience at RavenCon. He felt tucked away in a corner and under-exposed for what he wanted to show off. As much as gamers like a room to themselves, game designer and publishers like exposure to a wider audience. There are gamers that just want to be left alone but there are also gamers that like to cross over into mainstream fans. There are games that primarily appeal to gamers but there are also games that are “gateway” games, that most mainstream fans would get into. A good coordinator would know how to balance those in the space they have.
However, this does go back to the particular “character” of the RavenCon space. Traffic flow is harder to predict in a split level convention space. However, to be honest, there were places that could be used for open demo space that was more visible than the gaming room itself. It has taken me a while to discern between the various game and gamer types and a lot of trial and error. I left a few publishers and designers unhappy because I misplaced them or they simply did not get the traffic they wanted. It’s not an exact science. It’s more an instinct thing, and a gaming coordinator has to make an effort to get to know his or her game masters to get a good sense of things.
With numbers like RavenCon is getting, it can only get better. One of the areas that has a lot of potential is gaming. RavenCon can easily reach 1500 through gaming alone. However, without proper management, that potential can not be properly tapped and you run the risk of alienating a lot of potential gaming attendees. Word spreads fast among gamers if a con is not friendly to gamers. If that word is negative, gaming at your con can stagnate. I have seen it happen.