Convention Scheduling

One of the hardest things to do in gaming is simply to get everyone to show up at the same time. In that light, it’s a minor miracle that conventions happen at all. Nevertheless, I think the process by which we choose what to do at a convention could be vastly improved. This was made clear to me once again as I went through scheduling my TotalCon games.

As you may already know, I hit my first snafu trying to sign up to run games. It wasn’t clear to me that the days would fill up and I’d be blocked out of running on certain days until suddenly it was announced that Friday and Saturday were both full up for RPGs. I scrambled to get stuff submitted for Thursday and Sunday, and despite looking like that might also fail, at the zero hour my games went through. Phew.

However, this year TotalCon has decided to experiment with selling special “early access” badges to a limited number of people who would then get to sign up for their games earlier than everyone else. I guess in the age of Freemium software this is not terribly surprising, but the consequences were unfortunate. My Thursday horror game sold out in early access, which on one hand is flattering, but on the other hand was disappointing to the crew that usually signs up for that game as none of them had bought early access badges. It was also a bit disappointing to me as I love playing with those folks.

Now the good news is that one of them reached out to me and we’ve been laying plans to get together for a game at a different time off the books. I’m glad we’re able to pull that together, but it’s also a little disappointing that we have to work around the system to make that happen. As for playing in games myself, I was on top of things and made a list of what I wanted to play and thus as soon as ticket sales opened I popped in and grabbed what I wanted. I have some friends though who were not as well prepared and are now casting about for ways to fill their time.

I remember many years ago, when registering for a convention was days of languidly paging through a printed book of options, filling in a form with multiple choices for each time, mailing it in, and then waiting a few weeks for your tickets to show up. I’m sure it was much worse on the other end for some poor sap who had to manually process and schedule all these games, but on the registration end the process was filled only with hope and excitement. It was like being a kid paging through the Toys R Us catalog circling everything you liked and wondering which treasures Santa might actually bring.

Technology, in the process of making things “more efficient” has at the same time turned it into an anxious, stressful activity. If you’re paying attention, you sit eagerly in front of the computer for the exact minute registration opens, then fight against slow loading web pages hoping your stuff gets processed before others snatch up all the good games. The page fails to load, you swear, and then you try again until it works. Or, you miss all this, and two days later discover all the good games are full and you are stuck trying to find something vaguely fun and wondering why you signed up to go in the first place.

Various conventions are now trying to address this. As mentioned above, TotalCon will sell you an early access badge, so if you’re willing to spend more and are lucky enough to get one before they sell out, I bet registration is a breeze. GaryCon I think does it better with their “featured games” category. I swore against it at the time as I didn’t really understand it (they could have had better documentation about it), but now I think I have a better appreciation. Basically they identify the high popularity games in advance and mark them as “featured”. Then based on your badge type you can only sign up for a certain number of featured games – one for a silver badge, two for a gold badge, etc. Even at the highest level though the number is still pretty low, so it forces you to pick the featured game or games you really want, and then give up on some of the others, thus making room for everyone to get into at least one game they’re really excited about.

I suppose all this is a symptom of the growing industry. I don’t mean the RPG industry, I mean the convention running industry. Every convention I go to seems to get more crowded each year. This should be a good thing, right? I suppose it just needs to reach that tipping point where some enterprising person or people realize supply is not keeping up with demand and thus increases supply – ie. more conventions start to sprout up.

If I cast my gaze into my crystal ball, I’d say we’ll also see these conventions start to be more specialized. Eg, we’ll see more “OSR” conventions, “Indy” conventions, “D&D 5e” conventions, or possibly even a convention devoted solely to the game Traveller. I think that will ultimately be a good thing — folks like myself won’t be blocked from running a game because too many tables are being devoted to Pathfinder Society, as the conventions I run games at won’t have Pathfinder Society games. There will be a whole separate convention just for those games.

That, I suppose, or the bubble will pop. We shall see.

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