Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FORGE CON post-mortem

DISCLAIMER: I'm friends with the people who run Forge. The shortest length of time I've known one of them is 13 years.

TL;DR Forge attendance was pretty good for a small sized con and they used some great tactics to get people into the exhibit hall and really check out all of the booths. The staff was really great to vendors. I will return next year.

Helping Vendors
The exhibit hall was free so we got some traffic from people coming into the convention center to shop,eat or go to Rupp for high school graduations.

Although I'm friends with the Forge guys, I really didn't know a lot about the show besides it was going to be a gaming convention. Now that I've seen it in action, I'm even more excited about future Forge Con shows.

They've developed two ways of really driving attendees to make sure to look at every booth and interact with exhibitors.  Everybody who buys a badge has stats printed on the back of their badge for a character. They can level up that character by playing demos at vendor booths or participating in various events. This idea seemed to work wonderfully for driving business to my booth neighbors, Frog Dice.

The other tactic was a scavenger hunt where all of the items were from various vendor booths and were items that weren't products. So I obviously wasn't running any demos but people would still make sure to stop and look over my booth in case I had one of the scavenger hunt items. When attendees found something from the scavenger hunt, I believe they were supposed to take a picture of it on their phone and bring back all of the photos of the items to collect their prize. Their prize would be an item for the character on the back of their badge. I thought the pictures were also a great idea, especially if the vendors start bringing odd objects with their companies name,etc on it because then attendees would have that info right in their phone.

Now for the reason people care about their characters. On Sunday attendees can take their character/badge and special equipment from the scavenger hut over to a table where they fight waves of bad guys in a survival mode type of setting. The number of waves you survive determines what level prize you get. I believe most of the prizes were donated by vendors and frankly they could have been better. Once bigger vendors arrive or bigger profits are expected from vendors (resulting in better prizes) I can only imagine how big of a draw this could be. Forge also records which faction you chose your character to represent so then all of the faction's waves are added up and this is used to determine the Forge War storyline. I believe particularly successful characters' names will be used in the writing of future lore. Now think about this whole Forge War thing. It's a logistical nightmare. The mini game rules are super simplified but even then it still demands a lot of preparation time, execution time and volunteers. It's obviously a something that the Forge staff felt would be a core component for the Forge attendee experience. I just hope they can manage the logistics as this convention grows. Forge War convinces me that the direction this con will take is towards gaming in a more focused fashion.

Besides these, I personally witnessed the Forge staff bending over backwards to help two vendors who were numskulls in my opinion and had created problems for themselves that the Forge staff then had to help them out of.

Execution
It seemed like things went pretty smoothly for their first year. Apparently the convention tried to setup 3 foot pipe and drape rather than 8 foot and so Forge had to ask them to change that to the agreed upon size and it sounded as though the host was reluctant. Then it looked like they had on energy saver settings and were finally harassed into turning lights to full power on Saturday morning.
My only real criticism is that some attendees bought badges and obviously didn't realize that they didn't need one to go into the exhibit hall. There were plenty of signs showing that it was free though so I don't know how much Forge should really try to hammer it home to people but I felt bad for a couple of old people that bought badges and told me they weren't going to play any games.

Vendors. It was the first year of Forge so I think they took what they could get as far as vendors. I know I tried to get a couple of artists I knew to sign up and they wouldn't because it was the first year. I can tell the Forge crew want to make a strictly gaming convention but many of the vendors had nothing to do with gaming much less comics. A fellow vendor told me that they went to a local restaurant with their badge and the waitress asked what burlesque has to do with gaming. For this first year, I suspect it was first come first serve. At the same time, the burlesque group consisted of extroverts and they probably did a better job of advertising and making people aware of Forge than a normal vendor might have. There were several vendors that showed up late or closed up shop early or left their booth unmanned for significant amounts of time. They're jerks.  It was a small show and when you do that sort of thing it makes the show look unprofessional and hurts the other attendees. My fine artist friends say that it is better to be shown in a gallery next to high quality work than next to an amateur. Contrary to popular belief it doesn't make you look better, it just lowers the value of everything else in the room as the perceived quality of the gallery drops. I want people around me that can at least PRETEND to be professional for three days.

Lexington Convention Center. The layout of that building is terrible. Parking was close and free for badge holders. At least I never paid but that may have been due to showing up early and leaving late. ALCOHOL. Attendees can get beer in the convention center and can walk into any exhibit hall,etc. Gaming and alcohol go together like peanut butter and jelly so this is a nice feature. Not sure it should be allowed into the exhibit hall where beer can be spilled on products but I'm a big supporter of it being allowed into the conference rooms where people are gaming,etc. I actually think it's something greatly missed at cons like GenCon where attendees have to sneak it into their soda bottles or flasks for those late night games.

WISH LIST
PRIZES.I feel like these guys remember a GenCon from ten years ago where WotC said "We REALLY want you to play OUR games," by offering prizes to attendees that participated in demos of their games. From there the Forge staff said no no, "We REALLY want you to play games!". To continue that spirit, I'd like them to use some of their profits to perhaps buy a Forge War prize that attracts people that believe they don't like games. Could they get some frat guys to come in and play Dragon Dice, etc so that they might win a new iPad or something when they get to do the Forge War? I'm a bit of a gaming evangelical so I think gaming has this perception of being anti-social when really it can be a really social activity that people outside of our subculture would enjoy if they give it a chance.

VENDORS. All of the vendors seemed like wonderful people...but... I'd like to see the vendors narrowed down to being only gaming related. They mention comics but it doesn't seem to really be much of a focus in the way they sell their convention. Personally I always find it really lame when there are middle men at cons. I don't care to see shops at conventions. If I'm at a con, I want to be buying direct.

CELEBRITY. I REAAAAALLLY don't want to see any celebrities appear at the con. That's a comic convention staple so I'm really afraid they'll start doing that. Lexington Comic and Toy Con happened a month before and I believe the Power Rangers had a line out the door waiting for signatures. Maybe I'm an elitist prick that's giving a suggestion that hurts their profits but I hope they never sell out and go for the cheap gimmick of celebrity. Think of it as ruining the branding of the convention. If there were any celebrity stuff at Forge I would hope it would be tied into gaming. For instance I hear Bruce Campbell is a gamer so it would be cool if there was a chance to play _____ with Bruce Campbell as gamemaster. Or play MtG with so and so. Or you know how they have celebrity poker, why not a celebrity gaming tournament of a different sort. Celebrity call of duty tournament,etc. That would be highly entertaining in my opinion.

7 comments:

bearcatkayt said...

I can agree with the majority of your review.

There's only one line that irks me, and I highly doubt that it is meant in any sort of malicious manner, but I'd just like to clarify.

"A fellow vendor told me that they went to a local restaurant with their badge and the waitress asked what burlesque has to do with gaming. For this first year, I suspect it was first come first serve. At the same time, the burlesque group consisted of extroverts and they probably did a better job of advertising and making people aware of Forge than a normal vendor might have."

The burlesque and sideshow troupes that were present are managed and run by me, as well as the booth that was right next door us--Amazing Wonders. The troupes were allowed a booth in the convention because we performed Friday and Saturday afternoons & evenings in the bar at the Hyatt as the entertainment portion of the convention...sort of the "Spouse Activities/Entertainment" portion of GenCon, and because, like I've said, I don't even know how much sleep I lost over this convention. :]

I appreciate the extrovert comment, I really do. Especially since a good chunk of my time was spent towards helping the guys at FORGE and promoting the shit out of them every chance I had.

I know we seemed really out of place and that stood out like a sore thumb to us once we had a review meeting the Monday after the convention. We WERE out of place...because not only was it our first con as a troupe, but we had no idea what we were getting into. I'd like to work to put a better spin on our booth for next year and perhaps clarify to attendees that we are ENTERTAINMENT for the evenings...which then it only makes sense for us to be able to sell our merchandise [which also needs a facelift for next year's con].

Essentially, I feel like it was a first year for a lot of people, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to get the word out about FORGE and my troupes and store respectively. I think a lot of what your review says will be a big help to the guys running it and I was glad to see your booth present, because your artwork is beautiful. :] I've already framed my print.

<3KaytiMack

bearcatkayt said...

I can agree with the majority of your review.

There's only one line that irks me, and I highly doubt that it is meant in any sort of malicious manner, but I'd just like to clarify.

"A fellow vendor told me that they went to a local restaurant with their badge and the waitress asked what burlesque has to do with gaming. For this first year, I suspect it was first come first serve. At the same time, the burlesque group consisted of extroverts and they probably did a better job of advertising and making people aware of Forge than a normal vendor might have."

The burlesque and sideshow troupes that were present were managed and run by me, as well as the booth that was right next door us--Amazing Wonders Gaming & Hobby Center. The troupes were allowed a booth in the convention because we performed Friday and Saturday afternoons & evenings in the bar at the Hyatt as the entertainment portion of the convention...sort of the "Spouse Activities/Entertainment" portion of GenCon, and because, like I've said, I don't even know how much sleep I lost over this convention. :]

I appreciate the "extrovert" comment, I really do. Especially since a good chunk of my time was spent towards helping the guys at FORGE and promoting the shit out of them every chance I had.

I know we seemed really out of place and that stood out like a sore thumb to us once we had a review meeting the Monday after the convention. We WERE out of place...because not only was it our first con as a troupe, but we had no idea what we were getting into. I'd like to work to put a better spin on our booth for next year and perhaps clarify to attendees that we are ENTERTAINMENT for the evenings...which then it only makes sense for us to be able to sell our merchandise [which also needs a facelift for next year's con].

Essentially, I feel like it was a first year for a lot of people, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to get the word out about FORGE and my troupes and store respectively. I think a lot of what your review says will be a big help to the guys running it and I was glad to see your booth present, because your artwork is beautiful. :] I've already framed my print.

<3KaytiMack

bearcatkayt said...

BAH!!!! IT POSTED TWICE!! I'M BLOGGER-RETARDED. [sorry]

Joe Slucher said...

Kayti-I certainly didn't mean anything malicious by that comment and you seem to understand that it's a bit divergent from the other stuff there. Glad you like the print!
When that other vendor mentioned the waitresses comment I just thought ,"hey they knew what the heck Forge was!" and I attributed that knowledge to your presence. I tried to get word out about myself being there but I'm pretty sure you couldn't have asked a random waitress in downtown Lexington and have had them know. So that's a big boon for a first year con.

Now that you've mentioned the spouse activities of GenCon it does make sense and I've actually been to conventions that featured after hours fire-dancing (my favorite) and fire-breathing, so off-topic stuff can really be great. It was just such a small con that it makes it seem like it's a major part of the con rather than a supporting event. I think Gencon had about 250k events last year and probably 50 were spouse activities so it probably goes unnnoticed by the attendees who aren't attending those specific events. So yeah it's a bit tricky where burlesque was great for raising awareness and promotion. I think I may just be rambling now. Hope I'm not making things worse. :)

So do you go to GenCon? It seems like the burlesque stuff would be a great event in the convention center for after hours kind of like how GenCon has the evening parties or the big gatherings at the Ram and the like. I thought it was kind of unfortunate that at Forge everybody from the vendors to the attendees just split and seemed to go to their rooms/home. There wasn't a lot of socializing between vendors and attendees and I think the burlesque could be great for bridging that gap. I'm just not as sure about a booth in the exhibit hall.

Miss Linda said...

As a spouse/extremely casual gamer, I feel qualified to speak to the importance of spouse activies. Yes, the balance may have been off, but this is the con's first year. That's also why none of the major game companies were there-the cons needs to grow more before that will happen. Yes, it might be easier to buy direct from the company, but you might not save any money doing it-they charge retail, just like everybody else. Also, your "middlemen" may have stock that's hard to find or out of print. Most of the shops there were local, so by shopping with them, you're supporting gaming in your community.
As for Deadly Sins and Tinderbox, many of them are gamers themselves. Two of them actually work in a game shop, and I think it's important to note that they were helping to run demos for Amazing Wonders. At the very least they deserve to be in the artist's alley, and they certainly have more right to be in the exhibit hall than that crappy perler bead table. Seriously, if you're going to sell a child's craft toy as "art", you need to do something more than iron fuse beads together. Any monkey with an iron, graph paper and free time can do what that booth had for sale.

Joe Slucher said...

I understand that the show is too small to have the big vendors yet. I put the narrowing down of vendors on my wish list for the future. My middle men comment wasn't about getting stuff cheap. It's because I've produced games so I tend to try not to buy used games so that I know the publishers are getting money from the sale.

I'm not trying to chase anybody out of the vendor hall. I don't work for Forge. As far as the vendor hall goes, Forge really doesn't owe anything to the attendees because it's free for anybody to enter. So it's all probably moot to the Forge staff.

SaintHax said...

I like celebrities at Cons, as long as they are chosen appropriately. If the Con isn't about comics, then leave out the comic pencilers/inkers/writers/etc. It was nice to see Richard Lee Byers at GenCon about two years after I read of book of his I loved. Who wouldn't want to see Felicia Day at a Con? And she happens to like gaming.