May 28, 2022

#TheACDC January 2022 After Action Review

Armchair Dragoons Public Affairs Office, 21 January 2022

This was our 4th ACDC, if you count the one we called the “Virtual Dragoons Assembly” because we thought the name looked fine on paper and never really tried to say it out loud.  Some things we’ve fully cracked the code on, like having our graphics all correctly-sized.  Other things we’re still figuring out as we go, and honestly, some of them are moving targets (more on this below).

All of our virtual conventions have included talk shows with designers & publishers, happy hours with our team, and seminar presentations from game design students and historians, and a whole lot of games.  We keep tweaking the game offerings a bit as we go, but they are always the focus.

ACDC-Jan-2022-Banner


ORIGINAL OPORD 21-342LIVESTREAM ARCHIVE ~ AAR


Events & Comparisons

This ACDC saw the broadest array of event types, genres, durations, and time frames compared to our previous 3 events.  This gave the audience a lot to choose from for games, from dogfighting in space to post-apocalyptic role-playing to COIN-in-ancient-Gaul to Cold-War-goes-hot to Napoleonic slugfests.  We had multiple pre-publication games that you could try before they’re even available, and new companies we enjoyed highlighting.

Our total event count went 28 – 55 – 53 – 63, across all four ACDCs.  However, that’s the total number of submitted events, and there’s been anywhere from 3-5 that we’ve lost each year to cancelations, either because we lost a GM, or lack of registration, or a technical issue.  Still, it speaks to the expansion of the virtual convention world that our event count is steadily rising over time.  The split this time was 43 game sessions and 20 talk shows / seminars1.

Similarly, our total badge count has tracked from 62 – 108 – 92 – 123.  In conjunction with our event counts, it looks like the January ACDC is a healthy convention weekend, and the Summers might be a little tougher to pull off, especially if it’s not a regular, recurring event, or if it’s competing with other events at the same time (as last summer did with Connections US).

 

Your Turn to Sound Off

As always, we’ve asked participants to fill out a short survey with feedback on the convention.  Several of the questions have remained the same across all of our conventions, as we’d like to be able to identify trends, and benchmark against our previous performance.

“Did you have a good time?” 
This one has trended “Hell yes” from 59% – 63% – 53% – 47%. Not sure why it’s down a bit this time, but we did also get rid of any “nope” votes, and we’ve never had a “Hell meh” vote.

ACDC-Jan2022-Feedback-1

 

“What did you think of the event selections?”
The top option has trended 36% – 42% – 50% – 53%. Seems like we’re doing a better job of offering some variety.  That said, this is only the second time we got any votes for “It was disappointing”.  Look, over 94% positive is pretty good, so we don’t want to downplay that, but can we do something about those bottom 2 options without negatively impacting the top 2?  Gotta look into that.

ACDC-Jan2022-Feedback-2

 

Registration through Tabletop.events is pretty well understood by the audience at this point.  Some folks are still experiencing it for the first time, but a lot of you have seen the platform over and over.  Oh, and Origins is now shifting to TTE, also.
Everyone seems to be OK with a $5 price range for the cost of a virtual convention weekend, and we anticipate that holding steady for our ACDC’s for the foreseeable future.  We did experiment a bit with offering discounted early-bird registration, which folks did take advantage of once they realized what they were.

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Looks like our plan for MLK Weekend every year is a good one.  We might occasionally do some one-offs outside of this plan, but you can expect that mid-January every year we’re going to have a convention.  That said, there could be some self-selection bias at work here.  If this is a bad weekend for you to attend, you likely weren’t here to tell us that, right?

ACDC-Jan2022-Feedback-4

 

What are some specific quotes from the audience?

We asked “If there’s one thing we need to make sure we sustain for next time, what is it?”

More boot camps for new/novice wargamers.

I really enjoyed the multi-designer WWIII panel, so something similar

The panels and demos of the GUWS.

An RPG Session

The welcoming and friendly atmosphere for an online event. That was great!

Kriegspiel!

There were a lot of positive comments on the WW3 designers panel, so that’s definitely a feather in Moe’s cap, as he’s the one that put that together2.  That also tells us to maybe look at another panel like that for future design discussions.

 

We also asked “If there’s one thing we need to improve for next time, what is it?”

More variance in the content

Can you not schedule FMF at the same time as anything else I’m interested in?

Some of the game sessions, like the Kriegsspiel, were scheduled for too long, six hours?!?

Remind me not to go on a trip with the wife which effectively nixed any opportunity to play

Event descriptions for the schedule.

More to do on Sundays

The sparse event descriptions was a valid concern, and one we need to address for next time.  Some had nothing, and others only had a sentence at most.  We need better event descriptions across the board.

 

A few specific feedback items that we want to call out to address head on:

Last year, someone told us “More non historical wargames choices.
OK, so we did that.  We still had Ad Astra’s Squadron Strike space dogfighting on the schedule 3 times. We had 2 iterations of Robotech Reconstruction, and the T2K RPG.  Ryan Heilman brought back Last One Standing, and Fleet Marine Force takes place ostensibly in 2050.  And we had to cancel at least 3 of those for lack of attendance.  While we are constrained based on what the GMs are willing to offer, we’re always willing to try to respond to feedback from the participants, but sometimes it backfires on us.

Make sure that you do not conflict with MMP Winter Offensive.

Can’t help that one, guys.  If they use MLK weekend, then we’re going to conflict with each other.  There’s only so many long weekends we’ve got to work with to try to pull this off, and once you get into February, there are even more time constraints from both personal and professional angles.

Use BoardGameArena.com
That’s up to each GM.  We’re already asking the volunteer their time, and the pool of GMs that are proficient in both (1) teaching / guiding a game, AND (2) competent in doing so with an online platform is pretty small.  We’re not going to force our volunteers into specific boxes.  They’re already giving so much of themselves to make this happen that we can at least give them the flexibility to operate where they are most comfortable.

Maybe I missed it, but was there an online store?
So there was a store selling ACDC-branded merchandise, if that’s what this refers to.
However, there was not any sort of online equivalent to a vendor hall.  We’ve tried 3 different ways to get some sort of online vendor hall working and all of them seemed especially clunky and unpleasant to use.  Rather than half-ass it again this time, we just nixed it until we can come up with a better idea.

 

Some additional extended feedback from some of the participants

It was a major improvement from the previous edition at all levels. The quality of Game Masters was really good and the offer was very wide and covers all corners of wargaming without discrimination. The organization of the tech support was without a fault that I could notice and everyone was at their best behaviour

I wish there had been better ways to comminicate with other attendees. There was the General channel, but that seemed to mainly used for annoucements. A channel for general talking would have nice, it could have been text only.

I was a little disappointed by the lackluster response to non-WWII, non-CWGH3 events. In particular, the Robotech Reconstruction seminar didn’t have any attendees other than myself and it seems to be an excellent introduction to the various COIN systems as well as a good on-ramp to wargames.

Tight scheduling. I get that in-person conventions have to be packed into a limited time span because everyone has to take off from their real lives—and I get why *that* is a good thing. But would it work to spread a digital convention over, say, 9 days—two weekends of gaming, and evening seminars?

I entered the convention kind of dubious about how I would enjoy this. To be honest, as we enter the third year of this pandemic, I am working from home, so I am on my screen all the time (which, to be fair, I did before), but now I can be on a headset as well 8 hours a day. So, the prospect of a weekend of looking at a screen and wearing a headset was less than enamoring, hence my late signup (and general non-participation in other digital conventions to date). However, the mix of both lectures/panels and actual play events looked interesting, and the chance to support some online friends (i.e., Sebastian Bae and his teaching efforts) convinced me to sign up.

The WarGame Bootcamp guys are excellent. They had many tips for using Vassal, as well as a great introduction to Horse & Musket. Plus it’s a great opportunity to get me off my butt and doing those things.

The challenge of spreading out over an entire week is one of staffing & scheduling, but also of critical mass.  Part of what makes a convention, a convention is the broader community that coalesces around the event while it’s happening.  It’s tough to find a good way to replicate that over 9 days without attendees all being in the same place, as over 9 days there are a lot of distractions to pull people away from the con, not the least of which is work.

 

Areas to Improve

Last summer, we said:

We’ve heard over the first 2 ACDCs that the seminar presentation process was lacking.  We were trying to find a way to keep the seminars semi-exclusive to the paying customers as a way to reward their commitment to the convention, while still lowering any burden to watching / participating.  What we learned during Connections Online was that Streamyard/YouTube was the right approach, and that the key benefit for the audience was the parallel interaction through the Discord channels that allowed them to chat along with each other during the seminars.  The saved YouTube videos that are available for future viewing are also a must-have.  

We’ve since refined this approach a bit.  Some of the talk shows and happy hours are open to the public – let’s show off what a great time we’re having at The ACDC! – while others are ‘unlisted’ YouTube links whose URLs are only shared in our Discord.  This allows convention attendees live access to the event, and exclusive participation in the live chat, without the clumsy Discord-to-YouTube cut & paste for comments.  After the event, we flip those live videos from ‘unlisted’ to ‘public’ and off we go.  We tried this during MystaraCon back in November and it worked well enough to replicate here

 

We’re still working on the ‘right’ answer for the technical and help documentation.  What’s probably needed are some basic cheat sheets for each area of the conference (Discord, VASSAL, TTS, seminar interaction, registration) with links to other sources for more details as needed.

Yep, still need to work on this one, and not just for the attendees, but also for the setup team (good SOPs are gold!) and the GMs.  We relied a little too heavily on “hey, we’ve done this several times already” and that was an unnecessary barrier to new folks trying a digital convention for the first time.  This is a priority going forward and anyone wanting to help out should definitely ping Brant to do so.

 

We heard over and over that the publicity needed work.  We’re going to try to improve that by including some advertising budget for next time, but we’re also going to try to partner with as many other content sites as possible to promote the next convention when we’re ready to make it happen. 

We even had multiple feedback comments about this, such as:

Getting the word out. And really need to open registration maybe a week earlier and then events a week after.

More advertising for the convention as a whole and the games themselves

Publicity- I attended a previous ACDC event and got no direct notice of this event.

We did partner with some additional sites to help promote the event, but can definitely do more going forward.  We do need to re-investigate the idea of spending some ad dollars on some social media presence to help get the word out.

 

The trend seems to people people looking for ‘big’ games and events that are beyond their ability (or motivation) to organize for themselves… there seems to be evidence that those sorts of ‘big event’ games are a definite draw.

Huh.  Funny, but those “big” events mostly fell apart this time.  We had to cancel several for lack of attendance.  No, we’re not sure what that means, either.

 

Something Completely Different

Last time, our “something different” was the live show from Gamer’s Armory.  This time, we opened the show from there again, but added Nate from The Gimpy Gamer live on-site to the show, too!

So we needed a different “something different” and for that, we tried a “Keynote Talk” that gave us a chance to toot our own bugles about the Dragoons, and provide a little history and perspective to what we do, and how we want to try to do it, and offer a venue for the audience to talk back to us directly about what they thought of our community.

What did you guys think?  Too self-indulgent?  Too rambling?  Not enough people to make it worthwhile?

 

Overall?

This was our ‘biggest’ event yet in terms of both events and participants.  It was incrementally larger than last January, but it was still an upward trend.  Feedback continues to be largely positive, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore the concerns and suggestions that people bring to our attention.  We just need to formulate good ways to do tackle them.

Meanwhile, we greatly appreciate the support and participation of our audience.  You guys are awesome and we’d be nowhere without you.

 

Oh yeah, and the next ACDC?  Already on our event calendar!  13-15 January, 2023.  See you there!


ORIGINAL OPORD 21-342LIVESTREAM ARCHIVE ~ AAR


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Footnotes

  1. To compare, in June 2021 we had 34 & 19.
  2. Moe, don’t let it go to your head, but well done!
  3. Cold War Goes Hot

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

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