Starting a Milwaukee Convention?

rpghost

First Post
I’m in the very early stages of thinking about running a convention in the Milwaukee area in spring of 2008.

I own Game Universe ( http://www.game-universe.com ) which is one of the last (if the last) full service RPG/CCG stores in the area. All the 20+ year old stores have closed, several newer stores have also folded. Business here pays for itself, but it's not making much in the way of profit... so even with all the closures we don't see much new business from them (which follows the 10% rule that we’ve read about). So we thought it would be good to take a role in the community to help keep and create new gamers.

We are also one of the areas largest MTG events store (Chicago and Madison having pre-releases, but no such events in Milwaukee area at all). We have a large type-1 event following. We host all the regular release events and FNM.

So, here is where we're at:

GOALS:
- Promote our store and build residual business and name recognition (is this going to happen?) – Most of the regular MTG crowd will show and some from out of town, but those out of town MTG rarely buy from our store (unless they have prize money).
- Break even or make money on the weekend (MTG plays an important part here)
- Demo games and introduce players to new games (Publisher driven mostly)
-

FACILITY CHOICES:
- We could do a local collage for very cheap (10% overall sales)
- a small hall owned by a friend (free)
- the Midwest Center (were old GenCon was) on the cheap as they had a canceled event for late March (though I expect it's still expensive for us).
- rental hall with food and ample parking available
- a few other "oddball" sites that would be free or cheap-as-free, but nothing well suited to a convention.
One day or Two days? To do a large MTG event which I know will help or fully pay for the event, we’d probably need two days. But 1 would be simpler to book and cheaper… But that means starting very early and ending very late. Thoughts?

ADMINISTATION:
- I’m considering making use of our http://www.RPGe.com website for handling of scheduling and pre-registration. It was built for online-only cons, but it can be tweeked easy to handle this. Would online and pre-registration work for a small and new convention?
- Tables and chairs are usually costly, since I’m local I might as well buy them right? We have some 8 or 10 large tables and chairs to go with them already for our instore events.
- How much should we charge the players to attend the con?
- How many people should we plan to see attend? I’m guessing around 200-300. How much space do we need for that?
- Does it make sense to do all of this "in-house" or try to get some volunteers to help out?

DEALERS:
- As we're holding this as a "store" event, I'm assuming that getting other stores involved is sort of counter-productive. As far as perception goes, might it be worthwhile to offer space to some publishers?
- Should I allow MTG singles dealers?
- What would I charge dealers for a table?
-

PROMOTION:
- I own RPGNow.com and RPGShop.com and could use those for email notices to people in the Midwest.
- I have a lot of contacts to bring in dealers and guests to the show.
- Our grand opening weekend for GU was a big success with lots of guests and some 400 people coming through our store. We have some mailing and email address lists from this.
- We’re due to run some cable TV ads in the fall, we could mention the event then.
- We don’t do much radio ads anymore as they don’t do too well, would they work better for an event like this?
- Is there some way to partner or pay for promotion in the Chicago and Madison areas? Is it worth the bother since our main goal is to improve our store’s residual business?
-

EVENTS:
- A large Type-1 MTG (with large prizes like a set of moxes). We have a following with some 40 players at $20+ entry fee paying every couple months.
- We do release events but don’ t have rights to pre-releases (though we work with Barret Moy on JSS events who gets some allocations for them).
- MTG JSS event can probably be scheduled
- Regular sealed and contracted MTG events
- RPG Games
- Board Games
- We do not sell GAW products and a GAW store opened down the road from us. They are not very nice there (they badmouth us) and I’m reluctant to invite them. Would it be worth bringing the GAW crowd even though we don’t sell their products at GU?
- Costume? Worth the bother?
- Auction? While we have a lot of old “stuff” at the store that we’d love to get rid of, maybe handing them out as door prizes is a better idea? Should we outsource this?
- RPGA / living Greyhawk
-

SUPPORT:
- Would WOTC help pay for any ads or donate prizes or such?
- We would expect a good amount of the MIDWEST publishers to be excited about attending on the cheap.
- We have a lot of egger Indie publishers at RPGNow who should help promote us.
- Local collage game clubs and boardgame groups ?
- White Wolf Camarilla


Thoughts?

James
 

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vrykyl

Explorer
James,

You count Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd. among the interested publishers. Let us know how things look going forward.

Jamie Chambers
Vice President
Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd.
 

HinterWelt

First Post
HinterWelt would be interested assuming table fees were not out of line.

That said, i think you should not limit the dealers. If a retailer wants to show up, then let them. What I think you really want to do is strengthen your customer base and that can be done by ads and promotion free for your company as well as having the best possible con you can.

Just my take though.

Bill
 

rpghost

First Post
Thanks for the support Jamie... just bring Liz along will you? She used to work at our store for a few months. :)

Bill, I will keep the booth charge as low as possible. Hopefully free if you provide enough support. All depends on the venue charges really. It's my goal to pay for the con off the MTG tournaments so the rest just has to provide a fun environment.

I know I can get a few good guests to show to draw people (Frank Mentzer as already agreed this early). The only REAL question at this point is HOW big to make this... I could do it on the cheap and small with just MTG being the big focus, or we could try to support as much as we can and do 2 days. Still undecided.

Maybe an ENWorld Day could be scheuduled around then too? Though I'm out of ENWorld T-Shirts to hand out after throwing them to the crowds at last GenCon.

James
 

HinterWelt

First Post
rpghost said:
Thanks for the support Jamie... just bring Liz along will you? She used to work at our store for a few months. :)

Bill, I will keep the booth charge as low as possible. Hopefully free if you provide enough support. All depends on the venue charges really. It's my goal to pay for the con off the MTG tournaments so the rest just has to provide a fun environment.

I know I can get a few good guests to show to draw people (Frank Mentzer as already agreed this early). The only REAL question at this point is HOW big to make this... I could do it on the cheap and small with just MTG being the big focus, or we could try to support as much as we can and do 2 days. Still undecided.

Maybe an ENWorld Day could be scheuduled around then too? Though I'm out of ENWorld T-Shirts to hand out after throwing them to the crowds at last GenCon.

James

Well, I guess it comes down to what you think the shrinkage is due to. I assume you think it is related to the lack of conventions in the area so the question is, what worked in the past? I thought someone ran a Milwaukee con...an outfit that kind of took over after Gen Con left...I cannot recall their name to save my life but I seem to remember they were shooting for a fairly large con. I think the key you should focus on would be sustainable first and foremost. Maybe looking to getting an experienced con manager. A lot of times it is not the "events" that suck but the infrastructure. Gen Con a couple years back nearly killed itself based on huge lines, computer viruses and general poor infra-structure. So, I would look at what you think the largest con you can support is, then go from there and not the other way around. So, if you are going to do it all yourself, smaller. If you will have experienced team of con organizers, larger.

Also, date seems critical. When to have it almost seems more important than what you will have there. Something early maybe. Winter cons don't seem to do too great (for me it would be travel concerns) but something in May or June might be good.

As for funding it, I don't mind paying some for the booth just not Gen Con prices on a new con. So, yeah, I would cover rental fees for the table, chairs and backdrop (if any) and maybe a bit for the space. Maybe $50-$80? I know, you can;t nail it down and I am not asking you too but just trying to give a small press tolerance level for you. I am not sure that some would even be cool with that. Although, if you let them share tables at no additional price it would be a strong incentive.

Just some rambling thoughts.
Bill
 

PatrickLawinger

First Post
Troll Lord Games runs a gaming convention at Lake Geneva in June. Here is a link:

http://www.trolllord.com/newsite/events/lggc.html

I believe they'll be expanding next year. If nothing else, I am sure Steve would be happy to give some suggestions/advice about setting up your Con. Otherwise you might be interested in joining his.

The Trolls are great guys and both fun and easy to get along with.

Patrick
 

rpghost

First Post
I've written Steve and haven't heard back. Gary goes to that con and he tends to help out with the promotions I do too as long as it's pimping LA not D&D. :) But anyway, yeah, I'm willing to work with them or merge with them or whatever. Just need to talk some.

Bill I think you're right on... how much can we handle? Well that comes down to how much support we get. We don't want 10 games scheduled and only 2 attended. We don't want to charge vendors to show up and not have a good turn out of any RPG players (as the MTG would be the main draw)... so I'm torn between doing it ourselves and inviting other vendors (more cause if it's a flop I only hurt myself... though rarely anything I do flops that bad).

GAMA is April 20-24 2008 so I don't want to be near that time frame. So I find that March is a good time. Though June might work too. Might depend on the venue and pricing too.

James
 

HinterWelt

First Post
Agreed on the gauge the size issue. A tough call on that since you essentially must anticipate demand and attendance. I might suggest you do an invite only on vendors and give them the first year free. Make it clear that this is an experiment and if successful, next year you may start charging. This way you can control the "damage" of a flop so to speak and maximize a success.

Also, some cons have good traction getting groups like RPGA in and soliciting companies directly. Clash and I were just talking about an "Indie Game" con. We called is small press but yeah, semantics. The key here would be branding. I do not know if you want to be the "indie" con but a strong presence might be helpful. A strong brand (as you well know) can make all the difference but the wrong brand can hose you. The trick would be in scope and if you want to have it be more WOTC, D20 and mid tier companies, small press and fringey or an emphasis on something else (Wargaming, boardgames or something else).

Again, I am no expert at this just giving my take. Interesting idea if nothing else.

Bill
 

guildofblades

First Post
I also would consider time date for your con on or near the dates for Origins. Its a good time for a summer convention. Milwaulkee is far enough away from Columbus that only the big time gaming die hards would be heading down to Origins and those would probably attend your con also.

Vendors have abandoned support for Origins to such a degree local vendors might prefer to support a con more local to them instead and you guys have a large number of vendors in your area. With less companies attending Origins you might be able to entice non local vendors to support your conventions as well. Many no long worry about promoting at or attending Origins so a window for convention support that was previously booked for many companies now sits open.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
 


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