I swear I live in the wrong part of the country. All the huge amazing conventions are either in the northeast or on the left coast. Don’t get me wrong there some great conventions in the southeast, but nothing like PAXEast, PAXWest, Origins, GENCON, GaryCon (ok, not huge, just amazing) and many more. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great conventions in the southeast like Storm-Con, Dragon*Con, Connooga, MegaCon, and PrezCon just to name a few. Despite these conventions being great events, they lack the size and draw of the previously mentioned conventions, ok, well, the one exception to this might be Dragon*Con. It’s huge, but more of a party.
I have been pondering what truly makes a convention attractive to con-goers, but defining this is not easy! Everyone attends conventions for different reasons. For example, I attend to meet up with old friends and generally to play roleplaying games and given the chance I would love to meet some of the authors and publishers of my favorite games. Others might attend to try out the latest and greatest games to hit the market. While others are there for the cosplaying and anime attractions. As someone in the industry, both as a convention organizer and blogger, it is important for me to zero in on individual motivations.
Attracting people and motivating them to attend a convention is a challenge. First, we have to offer a rich and robust game schedule. This takes volunteers and dedicated individuals that enjoy organizing and running games for attendees. Zeroing in on Gamemaster motivations is a separate topic. Diversity is the first key to success for any convention, regardless of size. Attendees at a game convention are there first and foremost to play games. Whatever those specific games are is important! They are also there for a myriad of other real and viable reasons and knowing your audience is crucial to success.
The same thought process can be applied to individual gaming groups too. Clubs and groups are most notably a microcosm of a convention, in a sense. Players join groups and clubs for many of the same reasons already mentioned. So, it is equally as important for club organizers to know and understand the dynamics of the group and what motivates each person to attend and keep attending. It also will help organizers to more fully understand what may have prompted someone to leave the group.
Locally, the game club I helped to start nearly eight years ago has morphed and changed in a variety of ways over the intervening years. Everything from being almost expressly focused on wargames to being more of a mix of Euro games with a splattering of RPGs and wargames thrown in for good measure from time to time. The group has no dues (never did) yet it still exists. Members have come and gone over the years depending on what it is they wanted out of the game club.
The club itself is really a microcosm of the local convention scene, specifically the events I am part of. Due to the ever-evolving nature of the club, it has been hard to really zero in on what motivates the club members to attend local conventions, but in focusing more on their motivations, I am seeing parallels between the group’s motivations and convention goer motivations. The parallels are striking. For example, the club was founded on the idea of no dues; no one at the time wanted to pay to play. That model has been in effect since its inception. This anti pay to play motivation can be seen in the attendance level of club members at local conventions and small events that charge admission. Conversely, there is a modest number of club members that will travel out of the local area to attend conventions. I see parallels in what types of games club members like to play and with those that travel out of the local area to attend events, in some cases, they are traveling to play these games or even meet an author (in the case of RPGs) or designer (in the case of boardgames). When these same game types are held locally some, but not all will attend. That pesky pay to play mindset rears up again. I admit that there are other motivations at play than these two things when it comes to deciding on how to spend one’s entertainment money. None-the-less, there are parallels developing that I am just beginning to watch how they develop.
Bringing this full circle, it is imperative to learn, understand and act upon people’s motivations when it comes to organizing any type of convention, special event or even a club. the ‘build it and they will come” model only works in Field of Dreams. This model has no place in the dynamic and ever-changing gaming environment.
Lastly, I would like to point that Mrs. Modoc has vetoed the idea of moving to another part of the country just to facilitate convention going!
The above was written in March of 2015. Here we are four years later and my observations continue. Since writing the article, I am no longer organizing the areas biggest gaming convention, Storm-Con. In fact, the convention had to close its doors due to skyrocketing costs for local venues (damn tourist area) and changes in the local gaming scene. Today, the local gaming scene is in many ways more fractured than it was even four years ago. From my observations, the fracturing seems to be directed related to several factors — changes in gamer motivations and desires, ever-changing gamer population, and a rising trend of private gaming.
The local game club still meets every other Saturday to play games at the largest FLGS in town and on the second Saturday of the month they help a local coffee shop promote an in-house gaming event. I try to attend game days and nights when my schedule permits; some months are better than others. All of their events are free and will remain free for the foreseeable future.
Despite the game club gatherings, local gamers seem far more disconnected from one another than in years past. Game days and nights with the local club has varying attendance levels from one event to next. Yet, there are many people in the club’s Facebook group, but the folks that are still active seem to gather in smaller more private groups and some host public gatherings throughout the area. Some, given the chance, use the club’s Facebook group to occasionally promote their events. While the community-at-large benefits, the local club does not. This goes back to motivations again. Ironically, as I am written this addendum to the original article, a local club member who hosts a small game night event once a month in the next town over just posted to Facebook to promote his event. I wonder if he even attends the club’s events?
Everyone games and gathers for many different reasons. For me, a lot of the time I will go to gatherings and play very little; finding myself partaking more in the social aspects of gaming. Some come out to try new games, others come out to see friends and play whatever hits the table, and still, others come out to these events to find players for their favorite game(s). As stated in the original article, group organizers need to try to identify what motivates people to come out and be part of the game group, club, or attend a specific event. Taking the time to understand motives, can pay dividends in how the group or event promotes itself, it’s gatherings, and how it interacts with the local community.
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