Brant Guillory, 6 August 2020
So yeah. We had a convention. It was online, and it was virtual, and it wasn’t what we’re all used to. But we darn sure took our best swing at it!
And we did, in fact, recreate a couple of the key facets of ‘convention life’ that we all miss:
- Games! We played a bunch of games
- Other events, like seminars, interviews, and panel discussions
- The exhibit hall
… to varying degrees of success.
What’s the feedback? We asked for feedback in 2 ways. We created a short survey for people to click through a few multiple-choice options, with a few quick open-text fields. We also solicited email input from a bunch of folks, especially the GMs.
Well, that’s a good start, no? That’s about 1/3 of the attendees responding, once you take out folks like me, or some of our seminar-speaker-only people.
Some more specific details:
Honestly, on our back end, the tabletop.events software was very easy to use with a pretty low learning curve. Without those sign-up tools, there’s -ZERO- chance we could’ve pulled this off in the time we had to work with. It gave us a solid platform from which to work and communicate with everyone, and the sign-up was just handled without our involvement. That was great.
The event selections could be broadened, absolutely. Part of that constraint was who was available for our GM pool, and which companies were able to react quickly enough to commit to the weekend we had. That said, we also cancelled at least 3 games that had no registrants, including a few we thought would get at least someone: Tannenberg, Nevsky, and Samurai. Adding just those 3 games back onto the calendar dramatically changes the breadth of offerings we had available. We also had sessions of Conflict of Heroes, Great Campaigns of the American Civil War, and Shakos get cancelled for lack of registrants, although all of those did have other sessions that got played.
What did get played?
So there was plenty of stuff to hit the table.
This was definitely an issue. In order to reduce the demands on the GM, we put the onus on the players to ensure they could properly connect to whatever the GM pulled out of the hat. While this allowed us to get a bunch of games on the calendar quickly, it left out some crucial ‘scaffolding’ to help get all of the players over the necessary technical humps to participation. This was even the subject of a longer reply on one of our AAR emails
The biggest thing I noted, and this will probably be better for subsequent goes, is there were the inevitable technology snafus given some of the people’s inexperience with it. This caused some delays, although nothing too outrageous. One thing that could help – GenCon put together a lot of ‘how to use this’ type videos in the last few weeks. Since wargaming can present specific challenges to those technologies, maybe have a video meeting setup where people can get a quick demo and ask questions, held a week or two before the events? And maybe even earlier – I saw you reaching out to wargamers on twitter and it seemed like they just thought the digital stuff was beyond them or you needed a huge, fast pc or something. I wonder if this kind of thing would get more of them over the hump?
These are all good ideas, and ones that need to be included in future planning considerations.
We were able to specify the platform as a part of the registration process, so players signing up for a game were well aware of the needed platform before committing to the game, but knowing what platform is being used doesn’t automatically impart any arcane knowledge of the usage of the platform. I can recognize that I need a moving truck to pack up my house but that doesn’t mean I know how to drive a big-ass moving truck.
The second valid technical issue that was raised was that of in-game communication. While we did set up Discord channels for every ‘table’ (it was another of the excellent features of the tabletop.events platform) there was some confusion as to whether or not the GM was using it. More proactive communication from the GM to us, and us to the players, would’ve helped smooth this out.
One of our biggest weaknesses was a ‘known’ going in: the vendor hall. How does one showcase exhibitors in a ‘virtual’ event like this. We gotta figure out a way to do better in the future.
Lock ‘n Load had their summer sale going on, and Enterprise Games and The Wargaming Company both offered specials during the show.
But both were also hampered by the fact that there weren’t specific events from them. It would’ve been a ton of fun to have a session or two of ESR from The Wargaming Company, or a talk from them about their uniform research, or book plate design, but alas the scheduling gods conspired against us.
Enterprise Games did have over a half-dozen people use the coupon code, and all of them were new mail-order customers (though at least one of them was a multi-year on-site Origins customer). So while it wasn’t a ton of monetary sales, it did get them in front of some new customers.
The vendor hall idea needs more work than anything else. Your suggestions below, or in our forums, are always welcome.
Was it a “convention”?
Well yes, it was, and the best we could do under the circumstances.
We had some of the usual complaints: too many things scheduled too close together, central info hub, cost (yes, it was $2 and we still got complaints about cost…. sheesh), etc.
But all day long, the Discord server we set up for the convention had some low-level chatter going on, like the hallway outside the exhibit/gaming halls in Columbus. There were folks saying ‘hi’ to each other, helping locate GMs online to get into games, and generally acting like a bunch of gamers at a convention.
It wasn’t truly possible to just ‘walk around’ the game room and look over anyone’s shoulder, but we tried to replicate it as best we could by streaming as much as possible. Not everything streamed cleanly, and not everyone was able to get their streaming up and running. Much like the player technical challenges above, we need to do a better job of prepping GMs for streaming/broadcasting to share their games.
“Virtual Dragoons Assembly”
The name was unwieldy. We needed something better. But we’d been talking for a year now about holding a “Dragoons Assembly” in real life for our forum-goers, away from Origins, where (1) we could play games instead of being the GMs, and (2) adult beverages were welcome. This was just a ‘virtual’ version of that loosely ‘planned’ Dragoons Assembly. But the name is a pain. We need a new name.
Look, it was never going to be perfect. We started planning on 12 June, announced it on 29 June, and by the end of July, we had a convention. Nothing moving that fast was going to be perfect.
But what we did have was an awesome cast of partners to join us, a bunch of kick-ass GMs who volunteered to lead players through their games, and several dozen players who showed up for a good time, and generally left happy with it.
Hard to argue with that, huh?
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