The Secrets of Organizing Convention Gaming 1
For 15+ years now, I have been organizing gaming for both small to medium gaming cons and sci-fi cons, at an average of 3 to 4 a year. Over the years, I have developed a system that seems to work pretty well. I used technology to the best of my advantage, within my skills. I first started with a simple tool using MS Access database, then built a simple web site around that, and eventually it grew to a full features site that I am still working on. Through those years, I learned a lot of lessons that might help others in the same efforts.
I think that my approach through the use of technology made a little difference from other efforts. It causes you to categorize and compartmentalize in many ways. My goal in the end was to show that our event was going to have games to play. No matter how the games were displayed, schedule or not, gamers need to know something is going on at your event if they are going to spend money on it. Some way or another, a gaming coordinator needs to find a way to communicate that to the public. I built my own solution but there are other options out there.
But there is more to this than simply scheduling things in slots. I first started scheduling things in 4 hours slots. Everything! While that was nice and structured, for games that took less time, that seemed a little unbalanced. I eventually developed an adaptive method. Over time, the internet had more and more resources for me to look up games, get data about them like average play length and I was able to adapt my methods to the various games lengths. This applied to primarily most board and cared games, there were other games that needed a m,ore flexible approach.
What I learned from this is one of the more important lessons – DO NOT treat all games the same. RPGs are different from board games. Miniature games are different from card games. All need to be handled differently because the players are different and have different expectations. On top of that, subcategories of each of these games are treated differently. Regular one-shot or general play RPGs are very different from organized play games. Historical minis are handled slight different from something like Warmachine or Warhammer. You need to figure those out before you start to include various areas of gaming.
I also went through various ways for people to sign up for games. In the early 2000s, I started with game registration onsite-only, with three-ring binders. As I became more and more internet savvy, I eventually evolved to some semblance of online sign up and then eventually OGRe was born. There are other solutions but they violate the my first and primary rule (which is board from the first lesson I mentioned) – do not treat all games the same. No real publically available solution does that.
Signing up becomes something gamers depend on. Some are very particular about it. Organized play is almost entirely dependent on it, which was one of the primary factors behind me writing OGRe. RPG player tend to focus on it more than board gamers, although some “hard core” board gamers or war gamers use it some. Miniature players can take it or leave it depending on what is on the schedule. Non-tournament games like epic historical skirmishes tend to get players to preregister while tournaments don’t as much unless it is required.
Some games need preregistration while others may not. Those games that have limited seating like one-shot RPGs where the adventure is home-brew tend to need it more than say board game demos that are there all weekend. However, more casual games like demos or short term games sometimes what to know there is at least interest in their games. Communication with the game masters is key, but can be difficult when you have hundreds of GMs to manage. I created a proposal form to help in that communication. I try to include all questions and aspects I would need to know about in that system, which in turn makes it a little complex but it definitely eliminates a lot of back and forth.
As each event ended, I want back and looked at what worked and what didn’t. Between both the Access database (which I still use for reporting and data management) and the OGRe web site, I would modify something in a way I thought would make it easier for people to determine the there basics of a gaming convention game – the What, Where and When.
In this series of articles, I would like to pass on some wisdom that I have learned that might help others do what I do. I am not bragging about what I do, because it is not perfect. For instance, the easiest way to break my system is expand it to a larger event. I am not sure my system would work for a con of 5000 people, with 1000 or so games on the schedule. Modifications would have to be made. I might end with an article about what would happen in that case. Hope this helps.