Armchair Dragoons Public Affairs Office, 23 January 2021
The Armchair Dragoons held our second online convention the weekend of 15-17 January, 2021. Our convention expanded from 1-1/2 days to 2-1/2 days, and the event count increased almost 50%.
What’s In A Name?
One of the most noticeable changes was the name. “Virtual Dragoons Assembly” was a mouthful and calling it a “VDA” sounds like you have a medical condition. “ArmChair Dragoons digital Convention” getting shortened to “ACDC” is easier to say, and less embarrassing to say in public. The hashtag of “#TheACDC” also works out well.
Events & Comparisons
As with all of our event programs – including our wargaming program at Origins – we try to offer multiple iterations of each game, to give players some flexibility in arranging their schedules. We don’t ever want to box people in where they have no degrees of freedom to modify their schedule by leaving them with only one option for an event time. What that means is that there are times when we end up canceling one run thru a game for lack of attendance, but the other time on the schedule will fill all of the seats.
At the VDA last July, after canceling out the zero-attendance events, we ended up with 13 game sessions, and 9 seminars / talk shows.
This time around, once we pulled out the zero’ed-out games, the final count was 28 games, and 13 seminars / talk shows, which more than doubled the game count. As before, whenever possible we tried to livestream the events, or record them for people to watch afterwards.
After our first one this past summer, other wargamers have continued with the idea of online conventions, expanding on and refining our original effort. Fortunately, the wargaming world is a rather welcoming one, and organizations like The Armchair Dragoons and SDHISTCON are happy to share information and lessons learned from their experiences to improve everyone’s events.
One of the lessons we took from the SDHISTCON team was the organization of their Discord server, with a greater number of rooms than we used last summer. With the increase in our event count, this was a big help in players finding the correct games.
Your Turn to Sound Off
Just like last year, we put together a short feedback survey for participants to provide us their thoughts. It’s not just lip service, either, as we really do pay attention to the feedback and try to incorporate it.
For example, last year we had a lot of feedback that participants needed some better technical assistance with learning TTS, VASSAL, and Discord. This year, we were able to bring in the Wargame Bootcamp guys to help players learn the ropes on the systems we use for these online conventions.
Another piece of feedback we got was to offer more options in globally-friendly time slots. So this time around we included events starting as early as 10am US/Eastern, which is early afternoon in Europe. Interestingly, none of our earlier Friday games had any registrants, despite being in a mid-evening window for our European players.
As to the actual feedback from The January ACDC?
Players had a good time! “Hell yes” went up from 59% to 63%, and more importantly, no one said “meh” this time.
click images to enlarge
Assessment of the event selection improved, too, which is good since we significantly broadened the available events types, and times. “Great variety” bumped up from 36% to 42%, and no one marked us in the bottom 2 blocks this time, which is an improvement over last summer.
Moreover, some of the participants surprised even themselves by taking a chance on something different in the convention setting
…most of what my buddy and I did was the Ad Astra space games, which was awesome in both the support from Ken and Mike and their custom homemade digital online play system for the games. It was very easy to jump in and I’m definitely going to be playing that online in the future. Which the interesting thing to me is, if this wasn’t a virtual con, I more than likely would have never signed up for a 4 hour ‘space’ game.
That’s the spirit of a convention right there – try something new and you might find a gem you never expected!
Our vendor count went up, too! Last year, we had 4 companies supporting us in various ways. This time, that number went up to 6: Lock ‘n Load Publishing, Academy Games, The Wargaming Company, DGS Games, Ad Astra Games, and Enterprise Games.
When putting together The ACDC, we made a conscious decision not to worry about door prizes or giveaways from the supporting vendors, and instead focused on trying to drive customers to support those vendor partners to help them make up for a lousy 2020 on the sales front. The good news is that the survey respondents that shopped our vendors did go up 18% to 26%. The bad news is that it was only 26%. We really need to get that rate up over 50% and support the companies that make our hobby possible.
Finally, the participants’ favorable assessment of our registration process also went up from 59% to 68%, and while there are still some people who aren’t fans, at least no one wants to nuke it from orbit this year. We also added a question this year about the registration cost, and it seems that the $3 cost is about right for the program we provide, and we hope to be able to keep the cost as close to this as possible as we move forward.
Areas to Improve
Something that wasn’t specifically called out in a survey item, but was mentioned in a few free-text comments is the need to provide some additional ‘help’ info, perhaps even included in the registration auto-reply. While we were able to increase the help docs this time, it seems we still didn’t go far enough, and need to make sure that (1) they’re more comprehensive, and (2) they’re more publicized. We will definitely work on this.
Another technical issue we need to explore for next time is a better system for presenting the seminars. The interplay between Discord and Zoom is not very smooth, and other than the built-in recording features, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to retain Zoom as the presentation platform if we can crack that nut in Discord, as we still want to post the seminars to YouTube once they’re done.
The last area of improvement we definitely want to tackle for the next ACDC in June is staffing. We are on the hunt for some volunteers to help with some of the planning and preparation, but also with the execution during the convention. Our first pool of potential recruits is usually the members of our forums, so pay attention to them if you’re interested in helping out and we’ll send up a flare there first in search of help.
One disappointment we had was that we found -zero- takers for the DGS Games’ Freeblades! events. We know that it can be difficult for a minis game to translate well to the digital realm, especially for a company whose minis look incredible in real life. Nonetheless, we wanted to try to broaden our offerings and bring the guys in for a chance to get their game in front of some new players, and unfortunately it just didn’t work out. While they were very understanding of the lack of participation, it still hurts that we weren’t able to deliver some players for them.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, it’s hard to characterize The ACDC as anything other than a success. People played a lot of games, made some new friends, learned a lot, and had fun. That’s ultimately our benchmark: people had fun. We hope to continue offering at least one ACDC each year, even once we get back to in-person conventions, and try to make each one better than the last.
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