Jul 122014
 

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Again… I’ll start with the links:

TsunamiCon Kickstarter
TsunamiCon Website
TsunamiCon Facebook Page
Tsunami GameDay Summer 2014
Prismatic Tsunami YouTube Page (TsunamiCon VLOGs)
Prismatic Tsunami Community Website (Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast)

For TsunamiCon 2014 to happen, the first thing we needed (other than a potential revenue stream) was a venue.  After discussing our general needs, Shaun and I hit the streets.  We knew we wanted a hotel, as that would better service our interest in drawing attendees from outside the market.  Naturally, there is no particular shortage of hotels in Wichita with potentially viable convention space, so we had to start sorting through the available criteria.  We compiled a principle list of venues with which either of us had any previous experience, with a particular emphasis on popular venues for other conventions, then began eliminating options based on prior experience, location, and reputed cost.  With a stack of eight venues remaining, we took a day to visit each hotel in turn and meet with a sales rep to explore our options.

Interestingly enough, Hotel At Old Town was my very first suggestion.  My wife and I had visited their convention center while investigating wedding venues several years prior, and I had been fairly enchanted with the place.  The four of us quickly realized that we had never heard of anyone running a fan convention at the venue, which did raise a few red flags, but also made it both intriguing and exciting.  Old Town would be an amazing place for a convention, and the convention center would fit perfectly the con we had begun to envision at this point.  It seemed remarkably appropriate, then, when the hotel quickly landed in our top 3 selections after visiting with the various venues.

Rather than discuss what didn’t work so well at other hotels – hotel rules and expectations, prohibitive costs, availability, and sometimes just the prevailing attitude of the sales rep – allow me to share the experience that sold us on this particular location.  I was curious to gauge the reaction of such a classy establishment when we presented our idea, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The sales rep seemed not only surprised at our interest in the venue, but excited at the prospect.  As it happens, we were right… they had never hosted such an event.  Their “convention center” was primarily employed for weddings and business conferences.  The in-house catering would undoubtedly jump at the chance to try something different.  (Said jumping has, as it turned out, come with its own set of complications, but that’s jumping ahead quite a bit.  Forgive the pun.)

The hotel would gladly rent us the building for the entire three days.  In fact, their primary interest was in booking rooms, so if we managed to book enough rooms for that weekend, we could see some serious discounts for renting the space.  (More hotels should do that, by the way… it’s kinda brilliant.)

The Pros:  The price (which was actually on the low end for local venues), 10,000 square feet with a lot of versatility, a locally-owned business that doesn’t answer to a corporate stepladder, a staff that was accustomed to setting up events with lots of tables and such, the quality of the hotel, the location in Old Town, free parking in an attached parking garage, a police substation at the end of the block, the unique quality it lent to our event because no one has been there for a convention.

The Cons:  All food and drink must come from in-house catering, we had to negotiate catering and setup with said company independently, the price of hotel rooms (which, for our housing block, are ridiculously cheap given the quality, but certainly not among the cheapest in town), the requirement that we close down at midnight, a deposit and early cancellation fee that seemed untenable for our event.

Once we had settled on Hotel At Old Town as our favorite selection, that last point became our primary focus.  We had to find a way to raise some money up front to secure the venue, and we couldn’t officially schedule the con until that happened.  (Heck, we even had to figure out a way to raise the money for our business license with the State of Kansas.)  We set a tentative goal of running the convention in March of 2014.  I started constructing the details for a Kickstarter campaign to run through the holidays, and we designed a VIG program to start trying to bring in the people we knew would be excited to make it happen.

Crowdsourcing was a crucial element of the process.  In this case, once we had the money to secure the venue, we could make an official announcement about the dates and pull the trigger on the Kickstarter campaign.  I had a friend of mine – Jim Pinto of Post World Games – draw up a logo for what was now clearly a 2014 convention, and we started reaching out to friends who could help run events at the con and would certainly be willing to pitch in and buy tickets early.  Our VIG packages had a lot of cool – if still fairly theoretical – perks:  plenty of convention swag, access to a VIG lounge, and access to special gaming events.  Unfortunately, we were quickly confronted by a couple of simple truths.

  1. As good as the VIG packages looked on paper, we had not yet announced the dates or location for the con, and there was no sense of implied urgency.
  2. Our local community just doesn’t do a lot of spending well ahead of time.  Even if I try to sell GameDay badges online at a discount in the weeks before an event, I rarely have more than a few people buy in and still sell a slew of them on site.

To make a long story short, we went through the process of rescheduling our entire convention – with no one the wiser but us, of course – three times before we were able to make an official announcement.  It was April before we had enough money to proceed… five months after we started planning, and with even our originally scheduled convention date in the rear view mirror.  Finally, we set about working up a contract with the hotel.  We renegotiated the early cancellation policy to give us a more realistic chance of timing out both our Kickstarter campaign and the actual schedule for the con.  We hammered out our price points, hit social media with an actual date, and started counting down to a Kickstarter campaign that would – hopefully – provide us with an actual opportunity to run a national gaming convention right here in Wichita.

Of course, we still had a few more major wrinkles to work out… and the clock was suddenly ticking.

Jul 062014
 

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During a recent appearance on Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, Stork suggested I somehow record the details of the convention planning experience for posterity.  I’ve actually always been a fan of trying to include the outside world in my more unusual endeavors…  When I went into the studio a few years ago to record a blues album, for example, I produced a series of video blogs to share the experience.  I imagined it would be particularly exciting for people who had never seen the inside of a real recording studio or had no personal aspirations to record an album but might be curious about the process.  It was a lot of fun.

So now I’m planning a national gaming convention here in my hometown.  Again… not something everyone gets to do, or has any intention of ever doing, but it’s definitely an experience worth sharing.  Before I get started, let me share a couple of links in case you’re interested in the convention:

TsunamiCon Kickstarter
TsunamiCon Website
TsunamiCon Facebook Page
Prismatic Tsunami YouTube Page (TsunamiCon VLOGs)
Prismatic Tsunami Community Website (Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast)

TsunamiCon 2014 started as an off-hand comment on one of our early podcasts a couple years ago.  We had just run the first of many Tsunami GameDay events at our FLGS, an experience that not only connected us with an existing community of gamers in Wichita but also planted the very first seeds of the idea of running a larger game con.  Other conventions in our area usually had game rooms, but they were more of an off-hand addition to the conventions more prevalent features.  Within a matter of months, our own GameDay events were sporting a larger degree of participation than the game rooms at the local cons.  (Of course, it helps that our events are free.)

Tsunami GameDay is just what it sounds like.  We take over the store for the day, set up pre-registration online for anyone wanting to run or participate in RPGs, then set up a bunch of tables for casual gamers and go to it.  We tie the whole event together with fun tournaments, charity events, prize drawings, and a live podcast at the end of the day.  I sell badges for the event to help cover promotional costs, but it’s absolutely free to participate.  We hold these events about once per season, and the crowd is bigger at every GameDay.

Our next GameDay, if you’re interested, is July 26th.

From these humble beginnings, a plan for a national convention emerged.  I should probably clarify at this point that I am neither independently wealthy nor financially well-connected.  Conventional wisdom said that running a convention was a task for someone who had cash to throw into the void.  I do not.  Neither do my contemporaries.

It was early last year when I discovered that convention funding efforts had begun to take serious root on Kickstarter, a site with which I was already intimately familiar (much to my spouse’s chagrin *grins*).  A number of national conventions had funded right here in the Midwest.  It was like a breath of fresh air across the landscape of my personal ambitions.  I just lacked two things… any kind of serious game con experience, and a strong enough community to support it.  I solved both problems, as it happens, by tapping the experience of some of the enthusiastic folk who attended our GameDay events.

Shaun and Liz Duncan soon joined the effort.  I had experience organizing and running events and my wife Jonikka had experience managing business finances, but we needed people who knew what a game con should look and feel like and how to connect with our local community.  Shaun and Liz had been convention-hopping for more than a decade, and they often ran the game rooms for local cons.  Our first TsunamiCon planning session was last November.  We organized a business structure, starting outlining our needs and plotting the details, and created a plan for raising funds to help get things started.

TsunamiCon had taken it’s first big step toward becoming a real thing, and we were determined to make it happen.  We just had a few significant obstacles ahead of us… obstacles that ultimately changed the shape of the con at every turn.  In this series, I’ll tackle each stage of the process and try to bring the experience to life in the days ahead.  You know… for posterity.