Monday, August 18, 2014

Beaing A Convention Lead Ain't Easy

Being the convention hopper that I am, I hear this statement more often then not: "I can make a better convention."

The average attendee doesn't know what goes into creating and building a convention of any type. This applies to geeky stuff like anime and comic books, to crafting conventions, cat conventions (yes those DO exist-there's a Bullsh*t episode about it), pen conventions, and everything in between. If there's a product for it, there's a convention as well. But I don't want to get too far off topic-here. Most people don't see the nuts and bolts of what makes a show run. They pay their ticket/pass, walk around, talk to fans and "celebrities", and shop. They don't see the months, sometimes years, spent getting staff together, planning where to hold the event, raising money, spending the money to reserve event space, raising more money, hiring employees, working on panels, guidebooks, schedules, record labels (if you get a band to come in and play for your shindig), feeding people, I's a lot of stuff to take into account. Most first year conventions start out small. I can't remember a convention that I've been to for a first time where the attendance was larger then a thousand people. This gives the staff a chance to figure out what works, what doesn't, and time to grow and accommodate new rules as they progress. You don't dump all of your funds into your first hooray out into the world - there are too many logistics to handle that you are asking for trouble by going too big, too fast.

Well, someone probably should have told Video Gamers United, or VGU, held in Washington D.C. over the weekend. After a year and a half of planning, they went as big as they could go. A $100k budget spent on marketing, renting out a large space at the Washington Convention Center, even pulling a two-story tall Donkey Kong replica for $8 grand to make the old school gamers smile. They probably should have thought better about where they spent their money.

High ambitions does not necessarily mean high rewards. Their goal was to get 25,000 people for the first year. Lofty. According to Curtis Smith, a corporate sponsorship consultant and co-founder of the event, similar conventions in the area rake in 50,000 people. I had to Google this to verify, because the only conventions I know around the D.C. area with a similar size would be PAX East (which did have an initial attendance of 55k+ people, but it was coming off the heels of PAX Prime in Seattle, who for almost a decade had quality, dedicated awesome gaming time that people could rely on - having that type of following made it easy for East to achieve a high attendance rate). And then there's Otakon in the Baltimore, Maryland area which has about 22 thousand-ish people on a yearly basis, but again is a long-standing convention that started small, and this is a multi-media/geek event: video games, anime, manga, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. It's not solely a gaming convention. Otherwise, I'm not seeing any others in the region that would hit that 50k+ people mark.

By now you have probably figured out that VGU did not fare as well as the two organizers would have liked. They estimate that roughly 7,000 people registered - but that does not necessarily mean that they showed up or paid (some pre-reg centers don't have you pay until you arrive). Even at $75 a ticket for 7k people they did not break even once they factor in the gaming prizes (multiple $10,000 cash awards were offered), paying for rental fees, refunding several passes for misinformation, paying the celebrities that attended, food...well when you break it all down they didn't have enough in ticket sales to cover everything. The space was the size of 3 football fields and on a Saturday afternoon, notably the busiest time of any convention, one of the security guards only counted 600 people in the space with 4 in the registration line.

That is what we call an oopsie. They could have done without that Donkey Kong statue. Wonder where they are going to store that thing...or asking the Air Force to bring in a jet for people to look at. That probably cost much more then what their pockets needed to take.

But this story of a convention gone too big right out the gate is a testament to those who think that running a con is easy. It's not. Read the story and you'll see just how simple it can be to screw things up, and how painstakingly long it takes just to create the darn thing in the first place.

It also did not help that the Pokémon World Championship was being held at the same time, in the same convention center for free. Whoops. I don't think the VGU duo thought about the implications. Retro-gaming and Pokémon don't really go hand in hand.

To their credit, they want to try again next year. Hopefully they have learned from their mistakes and tone it down...

I think we can go bigger.” Organizer Cesar Diaz

*head desk*


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