Conventions and Events - Running a small con
Posted by: Neil Smith On: Feb 20th 2010 edited
how to make a small con a success?
I don't know. Really. All that we do, to make things happen, is provide a time and a venue for gamers to arrive and have fun. It's the attendees that bring the awesome, not anything imposed by the organisers. The only way we can really help that to happen is to get the word out about the con, and keep getting it out, so plenty of people attend. If you have enough gamers in one place, someone will be doing something you'll want to try.
Our collected wisdom on running the event is on the Concrete Cow Howto page.
Also, it's not just me. Scott Dorward and James Mullen do a lot to make things happen, such as corralling Guests of Honour. Other members of the MK RPG club help out with bits and pieces, such as collecting entrance money.
what are the strengths and weaknesses of the format?
The feedback we've got is somewhat biased, because the people who talk to us are the people who attend the day. What people like is that the day is small and friendly, and it's quite easy to fit into a busy family life. A weekend con is typically four days out, which is quite an undertaking. The downside is that the catchment area is smaller: people are more prepared to travel a long way for a full weekend of gaming.
Also, doing a one-day event is a lot less hassle to organise. The venue is cheap to hire, so we don't have worries about covering those costs should the day go badly. That also means we don't need to get money in advance through bookings, so we don't have to worry about tracking it all. We also don't need to find accommodation, bars, and the like. Organising a weekend event is a lot more work, and would probably require us to get organised to do it!
how do you manage relations with participants, games companies, other interested groups such as CE?
Generally, by sending them emails and asking nicely. Really. Most people are only too willing to help when and where they can: everyone's engaged with RPGs because they love it, not to make a fast buck.
We talk to participants via various web forums, and by distributing flyers at all the cons we can get to; we distribute flyers for other cons if people ask. The hardest people to reach are the non-con-going, non-internet-using majority of local gamers. We put up posters in local shops, try to get announcements in local papers, but we've not cracked that one yet.
Traders have generally approached us first. We were wary of having traders along, purely because we weren't sure there would be enough business to make the day worthwhile to them. The traders who do come, Leisure Games and Reaper's Revenge, know the score and are happy with the money they make on the day.
We also look up game company demo teams and ask them to attend.
We get CE participation by badgering them mercilessly.
do you see CC as a template for other local conventions?
Yes, and I hope people will organise similar events. The demand seems to be there, and there are a few similar events cropping up in the calendar. I think there's space for both the large, 3-4 day cons and the small, local, one-day events.
If you have more questions, ask away!
Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Feb 22nd 2010
Thanks for posting that Neil.
Have you ever considerered making CC into a 2-day con? How much more difficult would that be? And would it be worth it?
Posted by: Neil Smith On: Feb 22nd 2010
Andrew Kenrick:Have you ever considerered making CC into a 2-day con? How much more difficult would that be? And would it be worth it?
Yes, we have. It's the traditional format, and would increase our catchment area, possibly increasing numbers. That has to be balanced against the low costs (time, money, and familial brownie points) for attending a one-day event. When we asked people about making Concrete Cow a weekend event, we were surprised to discover that about half the attendees preferred the one-day format.
Making it a weekend event would also require more organisation. First, there's the need to find a venue that has gaming space, bars, and sleeping space, all on one site; there aren't many of those around. That has higher total and upfront costs, so we'd need to ensure that we can underwrite any shortfall as well as getting commitment from attendees that they will attend. That means we'd need people to register and pay before the event, so we'd have to track and hold that money.
I'm sure there'd be other things we'd need to think about. If we were to go down the weekend route, I'd be buying lots of beers for people like Mike Mason and Darran Sims (who have professional experience organising such events) to get as much advice as I could.
But anyway, the one-day event seems to fill a need and be popular. Concrete Cow is what it is and there seems to be no pressing need to change what we do. We typically get just over 50 attendees to each event. So long as those numbers hold up, I'm content to leave the format as it is.
But turning this around, some questions for you guys. Does the idea of having Guests of Honour attract you to an event, or does it have no effect on your decision to attend? Would that answer change depending on who we had as a Guest of Honour? If you've been to Concrete Cow, what would you change? If you've not been, what would make you come?
Posted by: Gary Bowerbank On: Feb 23rd 2010
Speaking as a punter, I like CC because its small and reasonably convenient. I've decided the night before to attend an event when my calendar has suddenly opened up and that's all fine and dandy.
I personally don't feel there's enough going on to make it worth being a two day thing. It very much feels like a gaming group get together (in a good way), rather than strictly a convention in the more traditional sense and this is its charm I think.
Price point is another biggie. I'm happy paying a fiver, plus petrol money. There was talk of making it bigger or charging a tenner. Okay, its only a fiver difference, but its double the current price and once you've included the fuel costs, I'd have to think even more carefully about going. So, in other words, trying to do something bigger and brighter might reduce its appeal (like you've said about finding the time etc).
CC has currently got a very friendly, homely feel and lots of people who attend cons go there as well as a means of catching up and getting some different gaming in, in a fairly convenient and inexpensive package. Little things like this could certainly appear more round the country and get a modest, but good enough attendance.
I think the formula mainly works as it is. Personally, I have a wry smile when I read "Guest of Honour", but to be fair CC does it in exactly the right way - i.e. gets people to show up and work like a dog running games and pimping wares. "Guests" who turn up to just schmooze or live the rock star dream are deluding themselves. Its an inclusive hooby we're in and that should go for whoever turns up, whether they get a free pass to get in or not. Word.
Keep up the good work Milton Keynes boys, you're doing it "right" - don't change it unless you have to.
Posted by: Neil Smith On: Feb 23rd 2010
Thanks for the kind words, Gaz. It's nice to know we're doing something right!
Gary Bowerbank:Little things like [Concrete Cow] could certainly appear more round the country and get a modest, but good enough attendance.
I'd like to think so. It would be nice to see more events of this type appear. Even getting a dozen or so people counts as a success. I'll support any such moves, if I can.
Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Feb 24th 2010
Neil Smith:But turning this around, some questions for you guys. Does the idea of having Guests of Honour attract you to an event, or does it have no effect on your decision to attend? Would that answer change depending on who we had as a Guest of Honour? If you've been to Concrete Cow, what would you change? If you've not been, what would make you come?
The guests of honour thing isn't, for me, a big draw. But, on the flipside, it's nice to see people like Rich (to use the most recent example) be invited as a GoH. It says something about CC viewing small press, grass roots publishing as on a equal footing with the big boys of the games 'industry'.
Having been to only one CC, my experience is limited. It was a great, informal event that I thoroughly enjoyed. Gary makes a valid point: you seem to be doing things right. I'd be delighted to see similar one day, informal conventions springing up around the country.
Posted by: Neil Smith On: Feb 24th 2010
So, the question is, what can we do to help that happen? Aren't a bunch of you CE types northerners? How about setting up a one-day con up north somewhere? Autumn's a crowded part of the calendar, but aiming to do something next spring could be a good idea.
Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Feb 27th 2010
Neil Smith:So, the question is, what can we do to help that happen? Aren't a bunch of you CE types northerners? How about setting up a one-day con up north somewhere? Autumn's a crowded part of the calendar, but aiming to do something next spring could be a good idea.
It's a very valid point. Early spring is kind of dominated by Conpulsion, which knocks that time period of of the park. April/May might work well, though. Or, even better, summer: the universities are shut down (thus removing a chunk of your user base, but with a 30 person con, numbers aren't the key thing), making space readily available. Then again, there are plenty of function rooms that could suffice for a small con.
One thing I would like to see is a move to reach beyond the traditional RPG player base. Doing something in conjunction with, for example, the Scottish Storytelling Centre here in Edinburgh would be very interesting. Picking slected games and presenting it as a games and collaborative fiction event. Perhaps even deliberately not advertising it around the roleplaying community. That's not a slam on said community, but I personally would be really interested in seeing how a radically different crowd approached the medium.
Posted by: Neil Smith On: Mar 2nd 2010 edited
Both good ideas. I don't think they're exclusive, either: you could do both. A games day for the established RPG base would be great fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Doing something around the storytelling centre would be good, too. They seem to do lots of events, so perhaps you could piggyback on one of those? There is the idea that designing a game is a form of literary criticism, as the designer identifies one or two things that are characteristic of that type of story. And collaborative story-telling is fun, too.
Go for it! I'll help with what I can.
[Edited to add: The Scotting Storytelling Centre has already done something like this. From their Storylab page:
"a Gamemaker workshop at the Storytelling Centre gave young people the chance to use the latest software to explore storytelling through computer gaming"
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