Wednesday, 8 June 2016

UK Games Expo – Operations Report 2016

So it’s another year done, and this year, things…

Well, let’s just say it was busier than even I hoped, and I’m the wild optimist…

When the dust settled and we counted the numbers on the doors, we came up with 12500 uniques and 25000 over the course of the weekend, numbers that most of us had considered impossible to breach in England, but it seems that when you give everyone what they want, everyone comes along to share the fun.

I have a different perspective to those who come to the Expo, as I’ve never actually been to the Expo itself, having always been involved in the running of it all the way back to the beginning.  So my report doesn’t tend to be what I did and what I bought, but what went very well, what wasn’t ideal (even if no one saw it), and what we’re going to do to improve things next year.

What wasn’t ideal…

Open Gaming

This wasn’t something we could have affected ahead of time, but it has been commented on more than almost anything else.  The problem with having 5500 more unique attendee’s from the previous year (a 78% increase) is that we had no way of increasing the available space by 78% even accounting for using the NEC for all the trade.  With the Monarch monopolised by the X wing tournaments, we were left to rely on the Kings, the Palace, and the other, smaller suites.  We do have plans in place for being able to use more of the space in the NEC, but we are also aware of the less than ideal nature of the higher roofing in the NEC for acoustics.

Noise levels in the NEC

We had a serious problem with the volume levels on the Tannoy on Sunday, caused by the NEC losing operational control over their electronics, as a few of the traders will attest, this was not the only glitch in the electronics at the NEC, and is something that we’re going to have addressed before the next show.

Hall Layout

There were a number of complaints through the day regarding the size and positioning of stalls, many felt that a straight grid format would have been easier to navigate around and would have allowed the finding of stalls more easily.  The truth of the matter is that while such a grid would make things easier to navigate, it would also require all the traders to purchase stands in the exact right spaces at the exact right sizes, and as anyone who’s ever organised a show will know, that never happens.  We do what we can, but this will be something that cannot easily be resolved.

Timing between events

We’d walked the path a number of times before we got to the show, each time not taking too long to get there, but the problem that we encountered on the day was that while it’s possible to get between one and the other in a very short time, when you’re trying to get there and then back in an hour, it doesn’t leave you with much time to be able to do anything in between, particularly with the NEC being the size that it is.  To resolve this, the morning events at the Hilton are going to be brought forwards and a longer break between morning and afternoon implemented, which will allow people time enough to still book events all the way through, but also to get time in the trade hall without having to rush in, Essen Style with a shopping list, and then rush out again.

Ticketing and queues

The sheer number of additional people that arrived overwhelmed the ticket positions we had available, the queue was as wide as the booths and we couldn’t get more people out there without compromising the security for the till teams, we do have a few plans in place for next year however, more on that shortly.

What went very well…

The event itself has been very well received, there were a number of things that were popular beyond our expectations, and it’s those that we’re going to be looking to increase as years go on.  Some things of particular note however…

Artemis Simulator

Live events either do very well or fail utterly, there seems to be no middle ground in them, so we tend to make decisions based on what we think would be awesome and see how it goes. When we took on Wayne and his team, we were reasonably sure that it would prove popular…

It sold out before almost everything else and there wasn’t a single bad comment made, so we’re working with them again for the coming year, this time to have the possibility of playing not against a scenario, but against another team in the room next door, Wrath of Khan anyone…?

The Dark Room

Well, John is incomparable isn’t he…?  Convention organisers everywhere, pay heed, this guest not only entertains all weekend long, he pitches in with the cleardown on the show and raises the morale of all who encounter him…

Meals for GMs

Not something that was known to many outside of the actual GMs themselves, but we knew we had a problem last year when the GMs didn’t have enough time to get out of the game, get a meal, and get back in for the next game, so we instituted a system where the volunteer crew picked up orders on the first game and then made sure the food was available for the end of the first game.  Went very well, we’re going to continue with it for the years to come.

More Space

Not just in the main hall, but also in the games rooms, we were able to open things out significantly, and also in the rooms for organised play such as the RPGs and tournaments.  Both the GMs and players liked the additional space and it made for a better experience in the games, we might not be able to sustain the additional space in the games rooms, particularly when we need the space in the evening for the open gaming, but we are going to try.

Trade Hall

Bigger, broader, more varied, far more stands from overseas and far more support coming as a result of those stands being present.  We’re in talks with a number of the other publishers that haven’t been well represented at non-specialist conventions in England and we’ll report back on those when we have more information.

What we’re looking to improve next time…

Open Gaming

The misapprehension that many are under is that we just get all the space for free because of the number of rooms that we take at the hotel.  While we get a discounted rate, we do still have to pay for all the rooms. So when we opened the Palace on Thursday evening, and the Norfolk wing on Saturday night, the Hilton was taking in more money for it, but we knew that we had to get the space or all of those relying on us providing them space for games would go disappointed, and we don’t like disappointment.  We’ve got plans underway for 2017, because with 12500 uniques, we need far more space than we had this year.

More Organised Play

The games that we had were quickly sold out, to the point that when many got in on the Saturday, there were very few games left, and that’s a matter for me to solve.  Several hundred games at six players a time gives a few thousand places in games for people to play, but when you’ve got as many attendees as we do, that’s not even one game per person, and we (I) need to make that happen.  My primary focus in the coming year is to help build the communities, start mentoring programs for getting people into running games, not just playing them, and put something together so that new players and GMs can get what they need without having to travel far to get it.  It’s a tall order, but it can be done.


The issue we’ve always had with tournaments is that they’re high pressure environments that take a lot of concentration, and the larger tournaments take a lot of space as well as requiring a number of capable Umpires to run them.  There are constraints on what we can and cannot do, but we’re looking to implement areas where tournaments can be run without being crowded towards the end of the day by those wanting the empty seats for open gaming.

Things you can’t get at home

If there is one thing that we always look to do at Expo, it’s things that you can’t get from your regular weekly/monthly gaming group.  This year we brought on the Starship Simulator and a number of Live events, as well as an Epic Pathfinder game and a world Premiere D&D event.  Next year we’re looking to do the same, we already have the potential to have a hundred player D&D event, a live Murder Mystery that spans several rooms and lets the players investigate the crimes in minute detail before attempting to solve it.  We’ve been looking at escape rooms and similar live puzzles, because the things that get the most attention are the live events, and those take a lot more setup than many imagine.

Ticketing and queues

We talking with the NEC on how we could improve the ticketing and queues, and we’re considering online registration and printing of passes as well as mailing out of tickets and a number of other options, we understand there’s always going to be a rush on the day, but the more we can minimise that, the better it will be for all concerned.

And there’s a whole bunch of other things we’re going to do as well, but those will have to wait till we’ve got them finalised…

And we're always looking for new suggestions for things people want to see...

Be seeing you all next year…