Monday, 2 June 2014

Day 153 - On building conventions - Required 420750, Achieved 401483

Been a while since I wrote a convention report and I’ve never written one from an Organisers point of view, which is strange, because I’ve been organising this section of Games Expo for a number of years now.

Most people don’t realise the amount of work it takes to put something this size together, it’s not the same as one day conventions when you’ve got a single hall for a few hours in the middle of the day and all you have to do in the evening is make sure that everyone knows where the aftercon party is.  That may seem obvious to a lot of people, but there’s still a core out there who believe that they turn up and just because they turn up, so everything must work.

For those that don’t know, I run the games section at Expo, that encompasses the entire roleplaying games, room allocations, special events and tournaments, and then on the days of the Expo, I cover the front desk to make sure there’s a senior person always available to the public.

We’re at the sharp end of the stick, if a member of the public has a problem, the first point of call is usually the people they can see, and that’s us.  Everyone knows where to find us, and then there’s the matter of which shirt they look at.  Technically the Expo organiser shirts are Maroon in colouration, but I can tell you know that when people look, the shirt is Red.

And we all know Red shirts are expendable...

Not here, that’s for sure, I see comparatively little of the show itself every year, because for every little problem that we solve, there’s another one just around the corner, and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. 

So that’s where we start, the staff that work the front desk have to be polite, at all times, no matter the question, no matter the way in which its delivered, we have to be nice. For most of the people going to the Expo, they are just the sort of people we love to get at the event, they’re gamers, they’re the family of gamers, and they’re just there to have a good time.

It’s when you get an issue like someone needs disabled access in one of the few areas that the hotel does not provide that access.
It’s when you get someone turning up three minutes before an event starts saying they’ve changed their mind and want a refund when you know you can’t resell that ticket and them dropping out may cause a problem in the tournament itself.
It’s when you get someone wanting to do something that you know you can’t let them do, but they’re determined to do it anyway...

That’s when we need to be at our best, when everyone else is at their worst.

But that’s not the most of it, for us to be able to make sure there’s a solution, we already have to have everything in place to begin with.  The rooms need to be allocated, the trade halls need to be laid out to the centimetre, tournament space needs to be allocated, umpires selected, and not just any umpires, umpires that have no allegiance to any club or group, lest there’s any suggestion of impropriety.

We normally start planning within a month of Expo finishing, gives all of us time to have something in our life that’s not Expo.  Don’t get me wrong, every person, from the top to the bottom, does this because they want to.  We don’t have conscripted labour here, even though of a certainty there’s not enough money in it to replace a full time job, and certainly we’d earn more taking a second job at Mcdonalds, but there is no better thing than to be working in an industry you want to, doing a job you want to, and most importantly, helping a hobby you love.

Just after Essen, we open the trade bookings, and if last year is anything to go by, everyone got in there within not weeks, but days, and there’s something to be noted there.  In previous years, we’d still have space till early march, there wouldn’t be much of it to be sure, but there’d be some... Now we’re to the stage where we don’t have that time any more, anyone asking for space in the months leading up to Expo is likely to be disappointed, because the waiting list is long and there’s a whole lot of people who’re on that list from some months earlier.

But that’s just the start, when all the trade space is gone, we need to make sure we’ve left enough space for the free gaming and the tournaments, because the decision was made when Expo was first created that it would be a show for gamers to play games and not just to buy them.  We need to allocate space for the RPG’s, and here’s the point that most people miss when it comes to RPG’s...

They don’t make money...

They do if you sell them, but they don’t when you’re running them. 

Between the cost of putting a GM up for the nights of the show, giving them basic expenses so it doesn’t cost them to come to the convention and run things for us and the amount of admin it takes to arrange 300+ games into six different areas and eight different slots, not to mention the amount of time it takes to get those GMs in the first place?

No contest...

To break even on that, we’d have to charge double what we do, and as much as people like playing RPG’s, they don’t like playing them at £1.50 an hour...

So we make that as a loss, but it’s important to understand that we make that loss because without roleplaying games, we wouldn’t be Games Expo, we’d be Board Expo, and there’s already other shows for boardgames only, this way we appeal to everyone, and because of that, more and more people come along and the divisions between the two different camps start to blur because most people play both at some point, and it’s good to see that we’re all just gamers at the end of the day.

Then there are guests, and with those guests, you’ve got to factor in getting them to us and then making sure we’ve got someone covering them for the whole time to make sure that their needs are covered in case we want them back again.  Then while they’re there, we need to make sure that they’ve got things to do, but not so many things that they don’t get to see the show.

Then Events! Tournaments, games, things you can’t find anywhere else.  Next year we’ve got even more unique things coming, and I can’t talk about them just yet, but examples for this year were the one hour taster sessions for RPGs and the Alien Laser Tag Zone (in which Expo triumphed over Esdevium...), the Dragons Den for prospective games designers to pitch their games at experienced developers and producers and many others.

We can’t do this with the team that we started with originally, so we’ve got specialists in to deal with the things that we can’t, from Paco Jean who deals with all our Seminars, to Matthew Comben who does the layout in the programme, and the unsung members of the team like Caroline and Lindsey in the office, who no-one ever sees, but they’re the glue that holds the rest of us together.

We’ve got one more year at the Hilton per the contract, and then who knows, but we need everyone that ever liked anything we ever did to be with us as we go forwards, because it may be us that build the show, but it’s you that make that show, and without you, it’s just us in an empty hotel, so what do you say?

Are you with us?