Con in a Box - Resources for boardgaming convention directors

This blog is dedicated to helping boardgaming convention directors run successful cons.

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Games Library

Eric Engelmann
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Games Library

Many boardgaming conventions offer a library of games attendees can play during the con, generally for open gaming, but also for when copies are needed for tournament play.

I've seen four styles of library management, often used in combination.
1. The con director has a decent personal collection he presents
2. A local gaming group has a collection they lend (I'm working on an idea to have portions of the con library distributed to local clubs until the next con, to increase use and reduce library transport and storage constraints)
3. Attendees bring their own games and shelve them for communal use
4. You outsource the library function to a company like http://gencongameslibrary.com/ Their current minimum library is 1000 games, with your con paying lodging, meals, admissions and a fee for wear and tear. Probably not the best choice for a small con, but it's inspired me to offer my own library (about 300 games) for just the cost of the hotel (or your spare bedroom), meals, and con admission. The catch is that your con must be in a place my wife would like to visit and only a day or two of driving away from Maryland, unless it's in California's wine country, Washington State, or Colorado. I've since found two others: https://www.facebook.com/GulfCoastPokemon/ and https://www.facebook.com/alexandre.bernard.716?fref=gc&dti=5...

Library issues
1. Shrinkage - While actual theft of games is pretty unusual, even when there are few or no lending controls, games do occasionally get carted away, and sometimes not recovered until noticed a year or more later. Based on my limited experience at mid-Atlantic cons, this number may be something like one game per 200 attendees. I've seen a recent trend of base and expansion game contents co-mingling, which can be a problem when you have multiple library contributors. I now make a point to check expansion box contents when it could be an issue.
2. Damage - Mix games with food, drink, carpet designed to hide stains, unfamiliarity with components and packaging, and rushing between events, and you are sure to eventually lose or get sticky or stained bits. Collect all the "found" bits and take them to the following local cons, so players who eventually discover they are missing a key game bit can recover it from the bit basket.

Best Games for Your Library
Because there will be a lot of gamer mixing, it's a great idea to have a large variety of popular and short games. Some players will be keen to try the very latest titles and expansions. Others will enjoy playing a classic their local club no longer brings to the table. Especially at larger cons, some will enjoy getting together a table of players to play something especially long, obscure, quirky, or extra challenging. For example, from a field that included 800 games, including most of the top 100 BGG tiles, the top three games played from the library at the Winter Game Fest, Jan 2015, were Machi Koro, Splendor, and Thurn & Taxis.

Presenting and Managing Your Library
1. Easy-to-assemble (and stack/store) plastic shelves work great for board games libraries. Make sure they stack and travel well. I bought what looked like a great set at a great price from CostCo, but discovered that the disassembled shelves are a huge pain to store and transport because they were't completely rectangular and couldn't be stacked (they slide off stacks during transport). Here's what I use for my own cons: https://www.hardwareonlinestore.com/index.php?option=com_vir...
2. Label each game with owner's name (con, person, club, etc.) and contact info, so they can get back (sooner or later) to the owner. I've just started using a cut strip of white painter's tape with a label attached to the top, since this makes the game just a bit more valuable when you eventually sell or trade it. Avery 55163 repositionable labels are an interesting option. Here's an example for the Congress of Gamers library with logo text. http://emsps.com/cog/administration/CoGLibraryLabel.GIF Note that I constructed the graphic (logo and text with PowerPoint) then pasted it into each label in the Avery Template.
3. An inventory (with BGG links) you publish on the con's web site can help with marketing.
4. A check out/in system can be helpful for identifying missing parts or other game problems, usage statistics, and possibly reducing some portion of inventory shrinkage. Clipboards with pencil taped to a string and tied to a clipboard works well for me. Here's a template for the form http://emsps.com/cog/downloads/librarycheckouttemplate.pptx
5. A bag of parts bags can be helpful, especially if you have new games, which seldom have enough parts bags for efficient storage. I bought 1000 2 mil 4"x6" zip bags on eBay, delivered, for $14.50. Sell the excess in your auction store.

Donations
1. Larger cons can often get free library copies from companies who recognize cons as amazing marketing opportunities. Any size con can ask for and often get some level of participation. This could be a pseudo-employee game demo staff (and they come with a copy of the game), a promo item as a prize, a play-to-win copy of a game, or a demo copy for the con library. Here's what little info we have on which publishers respond to requests from small cons: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/61156/getting-support-gam...

This from Russ Rupe: ...I'm both a small publisher and a small convention organizer.

As a publisher, when asked for prize support, I will visit the con's website. If it has one that is not a pile of crap (i.e. showing some level of effort, organization, and dedication) then I tend to say yes to prize support if the convention can give me a reasonable assurance that my game will get played in a busy room of attendees. How they give it away afterwards doesn't matter a lot to me. What matters to me is that it hits the table in a crowded room and does not sit in shrink on a prize table for the whole weekend.
...for Tennessee Game Days...we tried Play to Win a few years back and liked it. ...we stumbled upon the idea of a Tour of Gaming Destinations ...gamers join an experienced Tour Guide who leads them through a roster of 2-4 games with a similar broad theme (co-op, deck building, dice, space, trains, area control, total conquest, etc.). When you complete a game, you get a literal stamp on your passport (which doubles as your con badge and program), and you get a digital stamp in our computer which acts as a ball in the hopper for door prizes. Every attendee gets 1 stamp per day, but Touring attendees get that plus 1 per Tour game (2 for really long games), increasing their odds greatly that their name will get drawn.

Each publisher can submit 1 game that we will guarantee gets put in a Tour; the rest of their donations are put on the prize table or the silent charity auction for the food bank (their choice). So, if a publisher sends us some uh...dusty titles, they'll be put to good use but not necessarily featured in a Tour. If they send several strong titles, we may put them all in a Tour.

When we draw a name for prizes, that attendee chooses from all the games on the prize table. That way they aren't constrained to winning a game they played but maybe didn't like. And if they liked a game a lot, they don't try to game the system (play it over and over to get more balls in the hopper).


2. Gamers will sometimes donate games to your con library. Ask! Include a "donation by" sticker or card on/in the box and an optional reference in your online listing. Make sure donors understand that games that see little play will eventually be traded or sold.

3. Vendors/exhibitors will often make you a great deal on games in lieu of space rental. Give them plenty of time to order games for you and to order stock for their convention sales/exhibit area to accommodate sales to newly introduced players.
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Sun Mar 1, 2015 10:19 pm
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Marketing Your Convention

Eric Engelmann
United States
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Marketing

Bigger isn't necessarily better, but larger attendance permits some activities a smaller con can't support. Caution! As your con grows, so does risk. It will usually get MORE expensive to rent space per gamer, and require more dedicated volunteers, or paid staff, etc. A con you and your gaming friends have fun running for 150 people can become a nightmarish, expensive disaster when you expand to 400. It's best to carefully manage growth.

Back to marketing.
Besides the repeat attendance a well executed con generates, growth generally happens through good marketing. For now, I'll just create a list of marketing activities for smaller cons. Details will eventually follow.

More important than anything else, build a database with names, email, phone, and volunteer status of potential attendees. I've just used Excel, but will be looking for better/alternate options from other con directors.

1. Reserve space WAY in advance and start marketing early. A year is not too long. Don't forget to give the facility the info they need to market your event to their other users.
2. Market directly to local gaming groups, including relevant Meetup.com groups. I've started sending a note to the Meetup.com page contact, giving them a heads-up of the con dates six weeks in advance, and offering to host their meetup at the con. For the meetups you can visit, distributing a one sheet flyer listing date, location, and the expected activities which local clubs don't provide is the minimum.
3. Submit your con details to con calendar sites.
Here are a few I know of:
http://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Game_Conventions
http://casualgamerevolution.com/game-cons-2017
http://boardgamegeek.com/forum/32/boardgamegeek/conventions
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gaming_conventions (they'll remove any con that doesn't cite plentiful traditional media coverage)
http://gameconventioncentral.com/
http://www.upcomingcons.com/gaming-conventions (They have never added any of my cons, despite multiple submissions. Note even a reply. If your con isn't HUGE, don't bother.)
https://www.findgamers.us/conventions (They have never added any of my cons, despite multiple submissions. Note even a reply. If your con isn't HUGE, don't bother.)
http://www.eventsforgamers.com/ (I've not yet seen them list a small con)
Many game publishers have calendars for events featuring their games. Documenting and maintaining them all is a LOT of work, but I've started a list in the comment below.

4. Visit cons up to two hours drive away from your venue and place flyers. I need a section with flier design principles and templates. Recruit GMs while there. Also see if the con director would like you to fill any holes in their games library. If so, bring games and shelves with your con's prominent labels on them. I need a section on how to recruit and manage GMs.
5. Try to involve local gaming stores. They may have a bulletin board for posting notices, and you might even recruit them as a con vendor.
6. Do a Craig's List "Event" post a week before the con and refresh the day before. I also create a For Sale post for the Auction Store feature of my cons. The auction store ad has worked well for me.
7. If you have local colleges/universities/high schools, see if they have a bulletin board you can post on.
8. Send notices to local media. Most newspapers, local magazines, television stations, and radio stations have a community calendar of events that is free for posting. Identify them and write text in advance, so you can bang through them one month out when you are really busy with other con prep activities. Include a Yelp listing (for example, http://www.yelp.com/events/rockville-congress-of-gamers )
9. Suggest that local http://meetup.com gaming groups (set distance to 50 miles) use your venue and time for their meetup. Be sure to mention the recruiting potential.
10. Pay to place ads on appropriate gaming web sites, local convention programs, etc. A small, local con should probably focus on reciprocal marketing with other semi-local cons unless it's a solid tourism location. Advertising is expensive and should be highly focused on just those who might attend. BGG offers 50000 local gamer impressions for $50. Check specs and PPT templates in this blog. It's easily the best advertising deal I've ever seen.
11. Post your con "Event" on Yelp. This was super-tedious for me the first time, and I'm probably still doing this sub-optimally, but I'll share what appears to work best for me. First, go to yelp.com and create an event under the category "Festivals and Fairs". Search in Yelp never discovers events, so it's unlikely anyone will see an event in a large metro area until a week or so before the event. Of course, share the link to the event with your crew and have them click appropriately to indicate interest and then comment on how great it is for first time attendees. For these general public fora, use text and photos that appeal to families and hip millenials rather than hard core gamers. Here's my latest Yelp entry: https://www.yelp.com/events/falls-church-congress-of-gamers-...
12. Post your con on Eventbrite. Unless you want them to run everything for you, just offer a few tickets through PayPal. The process seems easy. Warning! This is my first time trying Eventbrite, and I haven't researched how they get their cut yet. I'm just using them for advertising. Here's a recent posting using them: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/board-game-convention-in-tysons... For these general public fora, use text and photos that appeal to families and hip millenials rather than hard core gamers.
13. Post your event on WhoFish.com Here's my most recent posting using them: hmmm... I created one, but can't FIND it. That's bad. Maybe it takes a long time. For these general public fora, use text and photos that appeal to families and hip millenials rather than hard core gamers.
14. Post your event in https://allevents.in/ For these general public fora, use text and photos that appeal to families and hip millenials rather than hard core gamers.
15. Post your event in https://us.eventbu.com/ For these general public fora, use text and photos that appeal to families and hip millenials rather than hard core gamers.
16. BGG entries. For each scheduled game at your con, visit the game's entry in BGG, then, under the Forums, organized play section, create an entry for your con's game event.

Clearly, marketing can involve a lot of work. If you are REALLY lucky, you may find a volunteer for this.

If you want to reach out to gaming newbs, you might include something on your web site that explains what a board game convention is like. I like this short video for that: [url]https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YnG-...
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Flyer Design Principles and Examples
In this section, I'll try to provide some basic principles of effective flyer design and links to some flyer templates you could start with.
1. A flyer's core job is to get people to visit your web site.
2. It's better to have an eye-catching image and title than a lot of detailed text. People walking past a bulletin board or table of literature need to notice your flyer. If they are at all interested, they will visit the con web site listed on the flyer. Bulletin board placements will benefit from tear-off tabs with "Gaming Con" and the web site URL.
3. Pick a memorable theme you can keep for years, just updating features as your con evolves.
4. If you can afford a designer or (lucky you!) have a talented volunteer, do what you can to persuade them to use a tool you can easily edit. If you aren't an Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop expert, beg them to design with something you can use, probably PowerPoint. Explain to the designer how the flyer will be used, that you will be frequently making minor edits, and that you will mostly be printing in black and white (which is much cheaper). Here's the design I use for Congress of Gamers. Note the local theme, large design elements, and PPT for easy edit of text. http://emsps.com/cog/downloads/flyer2017.ppt
And a version with tear-off tabs for posting on bulletin boards.
http://emsps.com/cog/downloads/flyer2017withhangtabs.pptx

Business cards
If you want to be able to hand out business cards for your con (very handy if you spend time at other boardgaming events), here's the design template I use for Congress of Gamers. Uses Avery compatible 8371 card stock. http://emsps.com/cog/downloads/bizcardCOG2017.pptx

Calendar invite file
I add calendar invites to my cons in email, web site, etc. announcements. Just create an ICS file, place it on your web site, and share the link to it. For example, http://emsps.com/cog/summer/downloads/Congress_of_Gamers.ics
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Sun Mar 1, 2015 10:15 pm
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So you want to run a con...

Eric Engelmann
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Why would you want to run a con?
Aspiring convention directors may be motivated to run a con by:
1. Riches - Not happening, but a very modest, supplemental income could be possible.
2. Glory - Nope, but perhaps the respect and appreciation of your gaming community.
3. Legacy - Building something you can feel good about.
4. Gaming benefits - You probably don't get to play much at your own con, but running a con could provide some useful benefits to a con owner who is also a gamer. "Conventioning" could even become your new favorite game.
5. Philanthropy - Creating a great opportunity for fellow gamers to do something you both love.

It's a lot of work to organize and execute even a very modest convention, especially your very first one, and new directors typically underestimate this. It may make sense to find a con director who would be willing to partner with you in building a con that doesn't directly compete with his. As of today, I'm now open to proposals, myself. info@emsps.com

There's always some risk.
There could be theft. Not much of this ever occurs in the board gaming community, assuming you avoid attracting collectible card games.

Facilities could be damaged. Board gamers aren't rowdy, but may be more enthusiastic than skillful when moving, setting up, and taking down equipment. Remind volunteers that equipment is fragile and expensive, and to call you if something doesn't operate easily. Having a couple of portable, super sturdy chairs for use by very large gamers will help ensure their safety.

Your con could lose money. I've seen a long-time veteran con director try a new con concept, only to get a couple thousand dollars in education on what doesn't work. You may want to start small and spread the risk among several clubs and individuals. You might be blessed with a financially comfortable local gamer who could largely fund or guarantee against some level of loss. Ask!

Someone might sue you. Very unlikely, but theoretically possible. If you can't shake the fear, ask your insurance agent to write a policy to cover the event.
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Tue Oct 7, 2014 7:29 pm
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