Gaming Conventions vs. Gaming at Sci-Fi Fandom Conventions
I have been involved with this niche of a community for almost 20 years. I have organized things from both ends of the spectrum. I have seen events numbering in the dozens and I have seen events numbering in the thousands. The largest event overall that I have been involved with and helped organize had nearly 1500 in attendance. No, I don’t think my opinions are definitive or absolute but I do feel they have some weight to them.
I think I got into this “business” at a time when things were changing considerably. Or maybe I stayed in it long enough to see the change in generations. Some things remained the same but as generations entered into the community, I saw a dynamic shift. Both fandom and gaming changed. From a fandom perspective, I was working on an old-school model established by the classic literary and Star Trek fans that started in the 70s and grew through the 80s. Meanwhile, media became more and more prominent in fandom, and literary less so. Although I struggled to keep the “my” convention rooted in the classic model, it still shifted considerably into the media arena. In the end, I saw it only shifting in a direction that lead it to success and growth, probably because we moved it with the market.
Ironically, the most successful year it had was with a literary guest only because he was associated to a very successful TV show based on his books. However, since then, the dynamic has shifted even further out of its foundation and into areas I have no interest in – cosplay, anime and video games. This seems to be a common shift throughout local fandom cons. With this shift is also an increase in price. For some reason, cosplayers are OK with paying 60% more for a convention just to fulfill their narcissistic needs. I am not sure how else to explain it. These cons have just gotten ridiculously over-priced.
At the same time, gaming cons have only subtly changed based on market shifts. A board game renaissance is sweeping the community, thanks to things like Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites. RPGs had their moment during the d20 boom and I saw that rise and fall. Now, it is stabilized but staying strong but nothing like board and card games. Everyone has a game idea and nine times out of ten, it’s about zombies or aliens. Or Cthulhu. Gaming cons adjust easily to these shifts and remain fairly solid in their attendance as long as they appeal across all generations. I have always enjoyed running purely gaming cons because gamers are easy to please. Give them a game, a table and a time, and they are happy.
Now that I am returning back to fandom conventions after a 3 year hiatus, I am seeing serious issues in ways that fandom sees gaming and how it fits at “their” conventions. This is not unique to today. When I was running both, I was able to control expectations of fandom committee and keep both happy. Unfortunately, fandom cons run by purely fandom people do not understand gamers. At all. At least in my experience. And now, with the price increase, they don’t get why gamers are not showing up.
When I ran things, I kept things affordable for everyone. I think fandom expect gamers to enjoy both the fandom and gaming side. So they justify the high price with that. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most gamers have a threshold and if there isn’t enough gaming for the price, then they are not attending. For small cons under 2000 people, $25 is probably the threshold I would pay. More than that, and you better have some good and organized gaming. The fandom side of the convention is a nice-to-have but 80% to 90% of gamers could not care less about it. Fandom have to understand that gamers are at a convention to game, nothing else. And that is all they want to pay for. Any gamer that happens to go out and enjoy a few moments of fandom fun is just gravy. I have encountered cons that have agreed to compromise on this and others that have not. I think those that do not lose out.
What I learned while being involved in both fandom and gaming cons is that only those of us “in the business” know the difference between them. The gamers and attendees don’t see a difference. I still get people asking me if we have cosplay at MACE, despite the fact that we clearly define ourselves as a tabletop gaming convention. People also ask if certain MACE-specific services and events will be at ConCarolinas. To me the difference is quite obvious but to the attendee, its a con. It doesn’t help when both cons are held in the same location.
What can be done? Fandom has to realize if they want gaming, they have to keep their price down. Gamers come to game, that’s it. That’s what they want to pay for. Everything else is nice but their focus is gaming. At the same time, gamers have to be more aware of the differences at each con and decide on what they want out of each. Space is going to be limited at fandom cons because there is so much else going on.
Does gaming have a place in the modern fandom convention? A lot depends on your demographic, community and staff. There should be at least one gamers on staff that has connections into the community, especially the local gaming community. You don’t have that, you are showing you have no interest in that community. Gamers can tell when they are not welcome. Price is important but if you put no effort into your gaming track, they won’t come, no matter how low your price is.
A subcategory of fandom cons is the classic comic con, which I won’t even try to get into. I still do not get comic cons and not sure if I ever will.