AtomaCon, Looking Back and Lessons Learned

I spent the weekend at a local fandom/literary convention. I have to admit that this was my first real experience with a fandom convention and I am not sure how I really feel about it. Being a gamer at a fandom convention that is not focused on gaming was a unique experience. This article will explore my thoughts and observations about this convention. There are lessons to be learned for anyone involved in convention organizing.

For the purposes of transparency, I helped to organize the gaming track at this convention, AtomaCon. Let’s first explore the gaming side of the event and then we’ll move onto other areas. Despite my modest efforts to wrangle up volunteers to run some RPGs and demo boardgames, I think we did all right in this area. The volunteers were there and willing and able to teach or demo a huge array of boardgames for anyone that was interested. Likewise, the roleplaying gamemasters were ready to run RPGs for the masses. Except the masses were not there!

Even though the volunteers were ready, the demand was very light to say the least. Of the nine RPG sessions scheduled, only one actually happened and that was more happen stance than anything else. Boardgames were all ready to go, A variety of games were set up to entice passersby, but the player-base just wasn’t there. Leading up to the event, the event staff was unsure what the demand for gaming would be and it turned out to be less than I initially suspected. Passersby would come and go, but many times there was not enough players for most games. Though we made every effort to get people into 2 or 3 player games. I really feel bad for the roleplay GMs that were on hand to run D&D Adventure League, Pathfinder Society and a handful of indie RPGs. They were prepared and had no players, save the one game of Pathfinder Society.

There a several factors that played into this end result. First, advertising of the gaming track could have been considerably more robust. The staff of the event is not solely at fault here, but instead it’s a combination of issues. Yes, the staff could have done more, but at what cost and where? The staff does not really consisted of gamers, but instead of fandom and literary knowledgeable folks. I personally could have done more in terms of advertising and promoting, but I took some of this for granted by assuming there would be more gamers intrinsic to the event itself. I was clearly wrong! I should note that the local gaming community was virtually unresponsive to repeated social media posts about the event, including the gaming track, made by myself or by the staff.

Second, it appeared to me that there were attendance issues at the event. I spoke with the staff at some length and there were competing events in town this same weekend that also draw authors and artists. Never having attended this event, I don’t know how much lower the attendance level were, but it was very noticeable. For the sake of comparison, almost every event I have attended this year has had lower than normal attendance with the exception of one event which showed measured growth.

Third, many of the con-goers were interested in the panels and shopping and that is awesome! It left the game room susceptible to being a congregation spot for the younger attendees. At face value, I have no problem with the younger crowd getting involved with gaming, the issue I found was that because the organizers also had console videos gaming events on the schedule and co-located them in the gaming room, we couldn’t compete for their attention. Lastly, did you know video gamers are obnoxiously loud? That, I believe, was a factor why some folks may not have come to the gaming room to see what we had going on.

So, what lessons did I learn about gaming at this event? Most importantly, increase the advertising efforts through social media, through local game clubs and maybe consider local print media for the convention itself. Secondarily, I would avoid putting video gamers in with boardgamers and roleplayers. The noise level is more than distracting. Lastly, there needs to be a viable way to promote on site and draw gamers and non-gamers into the gaming area. To that end, the gaming track need to be scalable and responsive to the number of gamers present. What does this really mean? It means, managing the volunteer pool and physical resources wisely and smartly as the ebbs and flows of gaming changing over the course of a day.

So, what else did I do at the convention? I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel about creating non-literally blogs with a good friend of mine. We had a great conversation with those in attendance and it was great experience! I would gladly sit on discussion panels again this and other events in the future.

I got the chance to meet and chat with a very diverse group of authors and artists and we informally discussed lots of the trends and topics within the publishing realm. I was amazed that despite the known fact that I am not a published author (literary or otherwise) that I was able to impart my knowledge and experiences with platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon. Several of the authors I spoke with had no idea about how crowd funding campaigns could potentially help them reach a wider audience and bring more projects to the market in a  more timely fashion. Maybe I should consider developing a presentation for this and incorporate into what I can bring to the table when I attend conventions.

I was fortunate to have a short chat or two with my buddy Matt from Guardians of the Geekery podcast about what else? Podcasting and recording. I am exploring several different avenues for recording a variety of different gaming related content and Matt is a wealth of information after having spent many years in the radio industry. Thanks to Matt I will be researching several different software applications that I might be able to incorporate into my plans.

Now, let’s talk about cosplay! For that know me from convention circles, you’ll recall I am not a fan of cosplay. To be fair, I do appreciate well done traditional costuming, but the anime inspired costumes and furries disturb me to no end! I can’t express this enough and that is one of the reasons I generally avoid fandom type conventions. I did see a few very cool costumes and lots of artistic expressions with those costuming efforts. Conversely, I saw quite a bit of anime inspired customs, but mostly on the young girls. I should remind those without kids, teenage girls are far to giggly and hyper!

As important as promoting gaming in whatever way we did, I was able to promote the blog and converse with folks that were interested in what the blog was about, what my goals of the blog were and how I am working to meet those goals. Some may recall I have writing heavily about diversity lately, another blogger and author who has a passion for diversity in other fandom circles invited me to get involved in a project she has ongoing on her blog and website. I hope to be able to write more about this project once I wrap my head what it is she is trying to do and how I can get involved with it.

Has my opinion and general aversion to fandom conventions changed after AtomaCon? In short, yes to some extent. In the future, I would consider attending this event again and others in the region as a way of connecting with other demographic groups in the overarching hobby. It will also be a way for me to expose more people to my passion, gaming! Connecting with others that have similar interests (in and out of the gaming hobby) is always worth my time and effort. Would I volunteer to organize the gaming at AtomaCon again? I would, but as I mentioned above, I would tackle things differently and work more closely with the staff.

~ Modoc

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